As the multi-site church trend continues to grow, leaders are faced with the challenge of sustainability. Excitement for expanding the reach of the church to impact lives rallies support not only through generous giving but also through an increase in volunteering. But launching a satellite church is the easy part. This fast growth, church plants, and multiple locations and entities require new solutions to pastors' challenges.
Once the reality of maintaining the day to day operations of different geographically located churches sets in, leaders are faced with added responsibilities and financial requirements. Effective multi-site churches create a replica of the original campus in both vision and mission. So creating an extended mission environment in another location doesn't require any new thinking regarding the “how” to execute. The area that begins to feel the pain and increased demands from a multi-site environment is the finance or business office.
The Back Office Shouldn't Be Back of Mind
Back office efficiency isn’t at the forefront of the leadership’s minds until it becomes a problem. When leadership has a lack of visibility into the financial health of the entire church, poor decisions are made. Without clearly defined internal controls and approval workflows, spending can quickly spin out of control. The finance team tries to do more with less. More transactions, more reconciliations, and more reporting requirements have to be processed without an increase in available man hours.
Ministry is a Moving Target
Ministry is a moving target and, in the best of times, needs extra attention to manage cash flows and forecasts. As a church grows and expands its reach, either through satellite church efforts or outreach ministry initiatives, the need to have a finger on the financial pulse increases. The risk factor rises when real time visibility into financials is unavailable. Without good, timely data, leaders are forced to make decisions blindly. Going out on faith is generally a good thing in church, but running church finances on a “wing and a prayer” is never ideal.
Without good financial benchmarks and budget controls, cash can easily decrease while mission critical needs are increasing. The result is an escalating weekly cash burn rate that forces leadership to cut costs. Typically the first things to get cut are staff and then programs. Neither solution is beneficial to the growth of the church.
Cutting Programs for a Church is Like Cutting an Artery
Even during the worst of times, churches are resilient. Those that dedicate their lives to serving the church sharpen their pencils and work more hours to get the job done. As we all know, this is not sustainable and sometimes weathering the storm turns into closing up shop. A satellite location with great potential is not given a fair chance due to poor planning and management. Cutting programs for a church is like cutting an artery. The church is all about reaching lost souls and changing lives. Programs are the platforms where teaching, serving, and growing happens. Life itself happens in church.
Financial stability may not be the heart-beat of the church but it should be considered the church's roots, feeding nutrients to the tree of life. It is critical that we protect the financial operations of the church. That doesn’t mean load it up with staff and systems. Actually it is quite the opposite. Creativity is vibrant in a growing church and applies to the business side as well. Doing things the way they have always been done will get you the same results. If a church starts expanding its walls, then the finance department must make renovations as well. Think smarter. Figure out how to streamline current processes by making them efficient and eliminating the need to hire more staff. With the right tools and well planned workflows, you will spend less time on the transactional side of finance, and more time on analyzing and forecasting.
It is a great privilege for those in finance to serve the church with the gifts God has given them. Challenge the current processes. Create workflows and efficiencies that allow you to expand your reach in finance and provide up to date information for decision makers. We know that a good finance office doesn’t bring people to church, but with the right tools and efficient processes the mission of the church is never at risk.