Money saving tip for our church
December 16, 2006 4:08 PM   Subscribe

How can my mom's church save money?

My mom's church is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperately needs tips on money saving. They refuse to fundraise, hold raffles, etc. I'm trying to help her by coming up with ways with which they can save on costs, like replacing the incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Have any ideas?
posted by brokekid to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Amalgamate with with another nearby church? If the financial crisis is due to low numbers of attendees, it's probably going to be the only long-term solution.
posted by Jimbob at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2006

Here's a crazy one, but it might work.

Does the church have a steeple, or some otherwise point that is higher than its surroundings?

I've noticed some churches around here have put up cell phone towers in the steeples. It's not a LOT of money (couple of hundred dollars a month), but it's something.
posted by gregvr at 4:19 PM on December 16, 2006

"Here" meaning the suburbs north of Boston.
posted by gregvr at 4:19 PM on December 16, 2006

Wait--they're on the verge of bankruptcy, but they refuse to fundraise? Why?
posted by markcholden at 4:24 PM on December 16, 2006

What denomination is this church? That's important information.

Replacing incandescent bulbs to stave off bankruptcy in a major institution like a church is folly. Do they have any kind of trust or endowment? Investments? Real estate? Who handles their finances? Does the congregation know what's going on? What kind of income is there from donations and tithing now?
posted by bcwinters at 4:37 PM on December 16, 2006

if they don't want to increase their income, they can only cut -- savagely, bulbs don't do anything -- on expenses. tell them to fire everybody but the minister, who should find a part time job to help himself. as a church they're an untaxed entity, they'll be fine. if they really cannot cut it they can always merge later, as pointed out above
posted by matteo at 4:46 PM on December 16, 2006


Blessed are the self-sufficient, for theirs is the favor of the LORD. But the poor and bereft will be thrown into the fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Sacriligeous joking aside? Pride would be my wager,


Over time, a healthy church builds sufficient credit with its congregation and community to survive such catastrophes.

This credit is drawn upon via tastefully-conducted fundraisers and appeals for aid - the very methods which your mother's church has decided to eschew.

If sufficient credit does not exist, the church may need to abandon its building, sell the property, and (a) merge with another church, or (b) hold services in a high school cafeteria and rebuild the congregation through community outreach.
posted by The Confessor at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2006

I spent a couple years as a church secretary. It's surprising how much waste occurs in church offices, especially if members feel they can wander through and help themselves. (Hey, they donate to the church right?) Montoring and restricting the use of office supplies can make a big difference. Also, if they have a weekly church bulletin they may find "down-sizing" it or getting rid of it altogether will help, too.
posted by wallaby at 4:48 PM on December 16, 2006

Hoy, that's a big question with lots of parts.

The first question I have is: why are they nearly bankrupt? Loss of membership? Members aren't tithing enough due to employment difficulties? Energy and insurance costs? Building/maintenance costs? Water/sewer costs?

What's the budget (in rough numbers) -- are we talking $10K annually, semi-annually, monthly, weekly?

If the budget problem is related to loss of members, there is no real solution other than to share facilities with another church, either by merging the congregations or simply sharing a space. (I've been in a facility which houses Episcopalian and Reform Judaism and one which is a joint UCC/Presbyterian church. There are others.)

Give up the church building and meet in a school or other meeting place. Sure, they'll charge rent, but it's probably going to be less than maintaining a building (or two).

If it's part of a larger denomination, talk to the people at the district level about joining a group insurance program, or other money saving programs.

How much staff do they have? Do they really need that many?

None of the following will make much difference if the church is already on the brink, but:
Drop back to a part-time janitor/groundskeeper. Fix the faucets and the toilets. Get a set-back thermostat for the sanctuary and the fellowship hall and the classrooms and the minister's office. Clean the furnace and the ducts. Get dusk-to-dawn timers for the outside lights so they're not on during the day. Turn off the lights inside when there's no-one there. Turn off the extra refrigerator in the kitchen. Replace the old one which runs all the time.

All those little dribs and drabs of saving money won't help if the church is badly run or the congregation is shrinking. (Can you say 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic'?) They need to take a good, hard, honest look at their membership, and their expenses, and make some hard choices. They may need to cut salary or benefits or hours for employees. They may need to cut bait and close the church entirely.
posted by jlkr at 4:52 PM on December 16, 2006

For a lot of churches, maintenance of their property is the biggest cost. A lot of churches on the declines pay bills on *huge* buildings that are far too large for their small congregations. If they aren't interested in selling their property, would they consider renting out their building to another congregation? My church shares our space with another congregation, which holds services Saturday and Sunday evenings. What about extra land on the property? Would a developer be interested in buying/leasing the parking lot for condos? (sounds crazy, but several churches in NYC have made a good chunk of change doing that- my church has the chance, if the old farts afraid of change don't mess it up).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:54 PM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, what are their costs?

You have absolutely no way to know what they can cut back until they make a comprehensive inventory of where the money is going. And, if they're not fundraising, where are they getting money from to begin with?
posted by reklaw at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2006

(I imagine they're getting money from tithes/offerings from those in congregation, reklaw; I imagine when they say they aren't fundraising, that means they aren't doing special events to raise money. Maybe brokekid can clarify).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:20 PM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Church or not, the only way for any organization/entity to survive is to balance income and expense, at the very least.

How that happens depends on local circumstance and management.

Your question is notable for its lack of detail, so the advice you'll get is mostly based on speculation. If you get specific, maybe you'll get useful answers. Otherwise, common sense is about the only thing that might prove useful.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 6:08 PM on December 16, 2006

Until you give more info, brokekid, we can't do much to help come up with ideas.

Right now, I'm siding with jlkr: sell the building the church meets in, and meet in a school cafeteria. Remember: the building is not the church.

Are there no CPAs / financial advisers in the church's congregation?
posted by Alt F4 at 6:16 PM on December 16, 2006

If it's of any inspirational value: About 5 years ago, a local congregation started in a high school gym. Because of their focus on community outreach, they are now in a newly built, large building, and are very well respected in our city.

Just saying: taking some steps back doesn't mean things will continue to decline.
posted by The Deej at 8:02 PM on December 16, 2006

You need to get the financials and review them. It's hard to speculate about what will work without knowing what's not working now.

BTW, I did some work for a charity that rented a church basement for various programs. We were supposed to share utility costs and I discovered that the church was paying something like $2,000 a month for heat and hot water. Working with the utility company to review and address energy costs helped save a bundle. (We wrapped the pipes, turned down the hot water, changed the thermostat, put tape around doors/windows, etc.) But your church might also want to look at renting out portions of its space -- that's a good way to save, too.
posted by acoutu at 9:43 PM on December 16, 2006

Is there alot of space not in use? Church halls, extra offices etc.? Rent this space off to like minded arts or youth organizations. The timing generally works out. For example, I know of more than a few theatre companies that rent church space for offices/rehearsal. Theatres like old church halls for rehearsal becuase they generally have nice wide open spaces.Theatres rehearse in the day, and perform elsewhere. Hours that would probably work with most churches. And then the building is infused with creative and/or youthful energy.
posted by typewriter at 5:33 AM on December 17, 2006

Two congregations in our city merged. I don't know the circumstances, but one congregation (which I attended years ago) rented a church building, the other had its own building. For whatever reason, the renting congregation gave up the building. The resulting congregation was too big for the remaining building. Right now Sunday services are held in a high school gym while the church building is, I believe, used for offices, storage and logistics, youth groups and other weekly meetings, and special events. The new church seems to be thriving by paying rent on Sunday services space and mortgage/upkeep on a smaller permanent building.

The church I currently attend recently opened its facilities for a Korean congregation. We've had a combined service, but they meet in our larger Sunday school rooms for their services, which start 15 minutes after our third service starts. The Korean pastors are listed as associates on our bulletin.

My point in all this is that combining or sharing space with another church (perhaps one without their own building) is a viable solution and one that may save your mother's congregation's bacon.
posted by lhauser at 10:34 PM on December 17, 2006

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