|Screen cap from "Back to the Future, II", |
set in the future of 2015
Humanity has reckoned time in a variety of ways, even if each of those ways tends to be ironically for a season themselves. Some would say the Mayan calendar is now well overdue for a recalculation, being 2015 and no fall-out yet from 2012 rolling around.
Then again, the year 2015 is the "future" explored in the second Back to the Future film, and self-lacing Nikes are yet to be mass marketed. And sci-fi nerds around the world look at this 21st-century future askance, mournfully asking, "Where's my jetpack?"
As churches enter into 2015, we tend to breathe a sigh of relief that Advent and Christmas services are now fading away with Epiphany around the corner. Yet, just as pastors feel a moment's relief in sight, reality sinks back in. It's now January, and for many congregations, it is Annual Meeting time!
In late January, many churches will hold an annual meeting where the budget is presented, the reports of various committees and lay leaders are assembled into booklet form, and decisions (and quite a bit of indecision) awaits the congregants on the appointed Sunday later this month.
I wonder, however, if we do ourselves a great disservice planning the Annual Meeting so close on the heels of a major liturgical season that tends to absorb a great deal of energy, most certainly of the church's clergy and staff as well as many lay leaders. In many small membership churches, the Treasurer or the Church Clerk was also the same person playing Santa at the Christmas Dinner or in charge of ensuring the church lounge was laden with cookies and cider for the after-church Christmas Eve reception.
The end result is a repeating pattern of frustration mixed in with limited availability of lay volunteers, over-extended staff and an under current of procrastination adding to the slowness of reports being prepared, let alone edited, let alone ready for publication, let alone dutifully read by the congregants who may or may not have the information in hand in advance.
Realigning the church's business/fiscal year to match the rhythms of the liturgical calendar year itself will take its own due diligence. However, shuffling around a meeting date alone is not the answer. Instead, some adaptive change is needed, looking at the various issues with fresh eyes and making decisions together that will lead to several improvements within the organizational structure and ways and means of a congregation.
Just this week, the Facebook page for the ABCUSA Minister's Council had a group member recommend an article by the consultant Matthew Thomas. Addressing the church budget as a source of financial health, Thomas outlines ten characteristics that help a church aspire to greater budgetary purpose. Thomas' article is available via: http://www.designgroupinternational.com/blogs/sustainable-vision-with-matthew-thomas/financial-health-10-characteristics-of-healthy-budgets
I realize many colleagues will look at this article right now on the cusp of the budget being readied for publication and distribution and feel a quite understandable sense of frustration that the church budget being readied does not reflect many of these helpful indicators. "The ship has already sailed," we might say. And then we worry a bit for awhile after, realizing the gap between the way our church budget is prepared and the deep need for the church to address its financial culture, general accounting practices and the glaze that tends to overcome the eyes and attentiveness of most congregants when the church is talking about money.
I refrain from suggesting the popular New Year's tradition of making a resolution to do better. It may work for a noble few, but for most of us, we've already left resolutions made at New Year's behind within a few weeks.
Nonetheless, what possibilities might open up if we ask for some time at the Annual Meeting to address the situation outlined above and task our leadership to set a goal for the year to begin shifting the ways we conduct and carry out the business of the church?
To accomplish much of what Thomas outlines above will take time and effort. Shifting the culture within a congregation takes time, patience and will. Setting short and long-term goals will help you navigate the various challenges awaiting as you start looking at the major and minor issues that influence a church's financial decision making process or its governance structure (mostly hailing from a time when congregations were larger and involved just about as many people who attend today to cover all of the officer and committee positions!).
New Year's is a great time to look at the prospect of a new chapter awaiting your congregation. What will you write down to fill its pages with the accomplishments and challenges of the journey ahead of the ministry and mission of your church? Make sure that you also take stock of 2014 and prior times, so you can see where you've come from, what baggage you choose to keep carrying and what you're downsizing so you can remain faithful pilgrims on the journey of discipleship.
A New Year requires resolve more than resolutions. May you find time, patience and will as your tools for a blessed 2015!