Many elements make you the person you are. You are shaped by your race, your geographic location, and your genetic structure. Your personality is formed by your family, your friends, and the choices you make along the way. You are influenced by education, social affiliations and friendships.
All of us are formed by the company we keep. The company we keep includes the congregation you attend. Whether you are aware of it or not, the activities of your congregation create certain thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make you who you are. In this way, your congregation has formative power.
I was reminded of the importance of being part of a religious community when a clergy person described a project happening in his congregation. He told me about a booklet being produced by the staff called Rule of Life. The Rule of Life is a guidebook outlining what it means to be part of the congregation.
The pastor says, “We want to encourage people to live a certain way of life.” Part of the guidebook is written as a catechism with answers to be learned and recited. Other parts of the guide describe specific practices in which one participates as a member of the congregation: at noon every day we are going to pray this Psalm.
If you read Psalm 23 every day, that Psalm is going to become part of who you are. The virtue of trust represented in the lines of the Psalm will more likely become part of your heart, mind and soul.
What elements are most formative in a congregation?
Of course, it depends on the particular congregation. I have observed and experienced the following activities having a positive impact on adherents:
- Testimony, telling the story of their lives
- Religious practices, particularly worship, prayer, singing, study of scripture, and rites of passages or sacraments
- Reflection on practice: not just doing things but thinking about their impact with others
- Relationships including across generations
- Liminal experiences: pilgrimages, mission trips, cross-cultural experiences, spiritual retreats
Here is an exercise to consider doing with a congregational board, team or class.
Remember a time when a congregational experience formed or reinforced a positive attribute in you. Write down the experience. Take turns sharing the stories out loud. Listeners are invited to ask open, curious questions to enhance group reflection. What themes are evident? What further growth might the congregation support?
Sometimes funds are scarce. God has created the world abundant with water, trees, blue skies and people we love. Though we have what we need, we don’t have everything. In congregations, this lack is sometimes evident regarding budgets.
The finance team would like to increase the budget for youth ministry, but the cost for the new parking lot is an unpleasant surprise. Or, pledges are down because a major employer left town. There is a widening gap between income and expenses.
Sometimes a congregation’s board does have to decrease the budget. Tough decisions are part of leadership in a faith community, just as they are in a business or a family. It is common for leaders to have difficulty deciding where to make budget cuts and for how much. The discussions about budget cuts can be as unpleasant as the cuts themselves.
Here’s an idea that might be helpful if you face decreasing income. Try creating a budget for a period less than a year. Create a provisional first quarter budget or establish a half-year budget.
By shortening the time frame of your budget, you leave room for positive, unforeseen adaptations. You also feel the pain of shortfalls incrementally. The downside to this is that your congregation could be delaying a painful decision; pushing the inevitable down the path and hoping someone else doesn’t stumble over it later. However, shortening the timeline of your budget in times of scarcity can be a way for your congregation to be more nimble, to adjust more quickly to difficulties or opportunities.
During a recession, one congregation chose to freeze salaries, but only for the first quarter. The board agreed to revisit the decision after four months. When the time arrived for further consideration, giving had increased almost ten percent. This happened, in part, because the congregants knew about the provisional decision and many members boosted their offering because they wanted to support the hard working staff. As a result, each staff member received a two percent raise.
Resources you can use
When it comes to congregational budgeting, sometimes tried and true resources are among the best. Kennon Callahan’s Effective Church Finances is a practical book for clergy and laity alike.
When money is tight, illustrate the budget situation with more than numbers. Some congregations create narrative budgets, a way to represent income and expenses with graphs, illustrations, and even stories. The article Narrative Budgets, prepared by the Anglican Church of Canada, will provide you with more information.
If you have a specific budgeting question, use our chat function or email us to begin a conversation.
We want to help you move from scarcity to possibility.