by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. 3/I4/18.
I received the question (below) from a former student. It is followed by my answer.
Pastor: “In seminary I seem to remember hearing that it was a desperate move to publish weekly giving/need financial info in the bulletin. If a church is on mission and helping congregation members buy in to that then the finances will come in from the people. Rather, by putting them in it seems we’re advertising to new visitors we care more for their money than their hearts. I can’t find anything other than blog posts (research data or book quotes elude me) in support of this idea. I’m at (church name), and this idea came up at board meeting last night with fairly wide support. We already make the monthly budget summary available in print and digital, so this feels desperate since our giving is way down. The treasure can also nearly directly correlate the drop in giving with unfulfilled mission promises from church leader (namely raising money for a building that hasn’t been built/spent in over 5 years).”
I don’t recall any research that has been conducted on this. But, usually when a church board makes this suggestion it’s because they feel it will increase giving if people know the church is in need. And that is true, it will do so among the people who are already committed to the church. And it will do so if these committed people have forgotten to give their offerings recently or have not given it because they thought the church is not in need.
But, most people (if they are moderately attached to a church) will know a church is in need when the church is encountering financial difficulties. There may be uncompleted maintenance issues or paid staff being let go. Usually financial difficulties are easy to spot for regular, committed congregants. Therefore there is a rationale for this approach and it might help, But I believe only slightly so.
If the board members are aware of congregants who have not been giving because of the above reasons, then rather than an impersonal announcement in the bulletin which might be missed, a personal visit by a board member would be more productive.
Let the board know this reasoning and they will see that publishing the budget in the bulletin will probably create little increased giving. But it might be a little … and that could be helpful.
The downside, to which the student is alluding, is that people who are not yet strongly attached to the church may feel that the church is a “sinking ship.” And it appears that it might be the case here. Therefore, the logical thinking is that publishing the budget might scare them away. And this might scare away some people, but mainly those who may be coming for the wrong reasons.
It is better in my mind to be forthright. In my consulting practice I have seen over the years that is best to be honest and forthright. Therefore publishing the budget may be helpful and even more so if it is prefaced with a short introductory sentence. Perhaps something that says: “We want to make our church family aware of our financial challenges and that we appreciate your prayers and input.”
Finally I’ve seen that putting a budget in the church bulletin can help newcomers understand where the money goes. Even a simple pie chart that shows the percentage of money that goes to staff, upkeep of facilities, outreach, etc. can help people see that an extraordinary amount of money is not going for personal or congregational purposes. However if it is, then that’s another problem you need to address.