In both of the classes I teach at the seminary, I invite students to look at their congregation’s line item budget. Each semester I receive questions from a few students who find their congregation’s budget includes a comprehensive outline of congregational expenses but there’s nothing listed about income. They often wonder if there is a page missing. In so many congregations the income section of the spreadsheet would be quite boring because it would include just one item: money received through the offering. It’s so boring in fact that they don’t even account for this income on their line item budget. As I look toward congregational stewardship in 2030, I think some of the biggest changes will come not just on the expense side of a congregation’s budget but on the income side. I imagine that for the congregations who are surviving, and even thriving, in 2030 there will be more than one income source listed.
This isn’t to say the offering will no longer be important. The offering is a vital part of worship. And for so many congregation members giving during the service is an important part of their worship experience. While some of the urgency to give in-person during worship may go away with the rise of online church and options for recurring, online giving, eight years from now I know there will still be members who prefer to give in this way and we must offer them the opportunity to do so. However, I do hope that we might move beyond just monetary giving to other expressions of offering as worship.
More and more congregations are seeing that relying on just the money received in weekly donations from members to live into the mission God has called them into is no longer enough. Changes must be made on both the income and expenses side. These changes can realign our use of assets with the mission God has called us to join. As this is a series, today I’m going to focus specifically on the income side. What other income sources might we see on a congregation’s budget spreadsheet in 2030?
Rental income has premiered as a line item on many congregations’ budgets particularly over the last ten years. According to Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, 62% of congregations receive revenue from renting their space, however it only comprises about 7% of the congregations’ income. Much of this revenue comes from renting out space for one-time events like fundraisers, weddings, or conferences.
- What would it look like for congregations to have longer-term tenant relationships to use the spaces that stay vacant for most of the week?
Similarly, many congregations charge renters a fee that is way below market rate. They likely aren’t aware of the going market rate for space rental in their area. It makes sense for congregations to provide space at prices below market rent to tenants who align with their mission and aren’t able to pay market rent prices.
- What would it look like for congregations to get to know the market rental rate for their area? Then, create a tiered pricing structure that would allow opportunities for non-profits who are missionally aligned but have a limited budget as well as for-profit social enterprises who might have a larger budget available?
- Outside of the income, think about the partnership opportunities that might be created through these relationships to create even more impact in the community!
Often congregations don’t consider major gifts unless they are raising funds for a capital campaign or building project, but what might it look like to make solicitation of major gifts a more regular practice?
These major gifts of cash, stock, or property could be raised to fund special ministries, serve as “start up” capital for specific congregational projects, or fund part of the congregation’s annual budget.
If they are used for a special ministry/project, your congregation might decide to institute a policy that a certain percentage (maybe 10%?) of a major gift is given to the congregation’s annual budget to help sustain the congregation as they start and maintain special ministries.
This 10% could be seen as helping to fund the staff time, technology, and/or building maintenance of the congregation that this ministry utilizes.
Some of the congregations who are struggling to meet their expenses with the income from the offering are also congregations who have fairly large endowments. They are investment rich, but cash poor. Often these congregations are reluctant to spend any more than the minimum required of these reserved funds out of fear of losing this asset.
- What if endowment money was more widely used to fund ministry projects in the congregation and live out the congregation’s mission in the neighborhood?
- What if, like major gifts, each endowment gift included a portion going to the congregation’s annual budget?
These ideas may require a change in the rules of the endowment to allow new gifts to follow this pattern. If possible, talk to the previous donors’ (or their next of kin) to see if they would be open to following this new funding pattern.
Building Sale Revenue
Between the rise of digital church ministry, the increasing cost of building maintenance, and the realization that many congregations’ buildings no longer align with their mission, many congregations are selling part or all of their property. While it may be tempting to use this income to fund the congregation’s budget for as long as the money lasts, I’d encourage you to be more thoughtful about how this money is used.
- Which projects can it fund?
- How might it be invested so it can be used for years to come?
- Crowd-sourced Income: If your congregation starts a ministry that might reach a wider audience in the broader community (i.e. creating a pay-as-can cafe that fights hunger in your community or supporting a refugee family in your community), you might consider crowdfunding all or a piece of the project. This crowdfunding campaign can not only bring in income for that specific ministry, but may also introduce the congregation to people in their community who care about a specific cause who may never be present on a Sunday morning.
- Grant Funding: Often congregations assume that because they are a church they are not eligible for grant funding and that just isn’t the case. There are many granting agencies, small and large, that are open to funding projects from faith-based organizations.
- What if congregations sought grant funding to get a specific ministry project off the ground so there was less burden on the annual budget?
- What if a current ministry of the congregation (i.e.: an adult-day care, domestic violence shelter, after school program, etc.) was formed into a non-profit separate from the congregation so it could be eligible for federal and other types of secular funding?
- Social Enterprise Income: Many congregations are starting social enterprise businesses that allow them to live more deeply into their mission while also generating income for the congregation. This might take the form of a coffee shop, brewery, affordable or mixed use housing, art gallery, coworking space, or something else entirely. Unlike most church ministries, these businesses are set up to be both sustainable and income-generating while also living deeply into the congregation’s mission.
Today and into the future, I hope congregations will invite those starting new ministry projects to look not only at the expense side of the project but also the income side as well to see how the new ministry could be self-sustaining and potentially help to fund the congregation’s budget. There’s a lot of creative work we can do in this area.
As these new income sources come in, it’s imperative that congregations are clear about how much income is being generated and how this additional income will be used. Congregational generosity will still have an important place at the table: instead of being a “one-dish dinner” it’s now a favorite dish on the funding buffet. For congregational generosity to continue, congregation members need to know how their giving will be used and if it still makes a difference when income is coming in from other sources. This story needs to be told often and in many different ways or congregation members may assume the income from outside sources is more than enough to fund the church’s mission and ministry.