She had the PCC’s full attention, because having greater outgoings than incomings is never a comfortable position to be in. But help was at hand.
“As you know, finances and accounts aren’t my area,” the Generous Giving Officer started, “I deal with the faith stuff; what Jesus says about how we might live generously. But between them, my two new team mates Nathan Bruce and Samantha Lee, can offer advice and support around how churches can be good stewards and spend income well, and how to make it easier to access that income in the first place.
“At the last meeting someone told me that you’re tied into a lot of long term contracts. Like for your photocopier, energy suppliers, insurance, etc.”
“Yes.” Richard shook his head gravely. “Our last treasurer was ill for a long time and things rather slipped. I’m going through our accounts and it seems we’re tied into contracts all over the place. We’ve got monthly outgoings with companies I’ve never heard of. Some of the rates are extortionate.”
“Well, they can help you to get under control. Suggest where to shop around. Discuss healthy finances and budgeting.”
“Now, onto the help they can offer with access to income. This is about your church making it as easy as possible for people to contribute financially. There’s plenty of easy changes you could make that’d make a big difference. First is signing up to the Parish Giving Scheme, but that’s definitely a conversation for another time because it’s a big topic.
“There are other changes you can easily make, in the meantime. Like linking your church website to Give.net so if anyone’s visiting your website and wants to make a financial contribution to your church, to your church roof fund for example, they just click a button.”
She paused for breath, and noted that there was what she interpreted as a baffled silence.
“Also,” she ventured carefully, “hot off the press: the Church of England’s piloting of new contactless giving system, so soon visitors will be able to give using their debit cards.” By the looks on some of their faces, this might be a step too far. It was as though she had suggested camel racing down the aisle as a way of upping their income. She was already aware she’d lost half the room when she mentioned the website.
Trying to quickly recover their confidence and good-will she continued, “The thing with technology, and giving via a website or by card reader, is that whilst it might not appeal to many people in your present congregation, and that’s fine by the way, it certainly would appeal to many younger people visiting for Christenings or weddings, or your Messy Church congregation. Many of them don’t really carry cash. At the moment, they can’t exercise their financial generosity when they come to your church. They’re…left out”
She added, “Giving people options makes the place feel even more accessible, open and welcoming.”
She knew this was exactly what St. Someone’s strived for. Rev John had briefed her that the church was really focussing on building a reputation as a friendly, relaxed and hospitable community.
Encouragingly, Claire said, “Me Mam would like that contactless card reader thing. She only comes to church now and again like, but she never carries cash. She’d definitely give to St. Someone’s if she could do it without having to remember to go to the cashpoint first.”
There were murmurs of “Hmmm” and some other noises that sounded quite positive emitting from various quarters of the PCC. But clearly no motion would be passed tonight.
“Well, these are just ideas the new team mates can talk to you about in the near future. Tonight is more about the culture change stuff. In fact why don’t we recap on what we’ve already discussed?”
“David!” Mary blasted. “The minutes, dear. The minutes! Tell us all what we’ve covered.”
Her husband shrank in his seat, cleared his throat, and read out from the extensive notes he’d made:
“Outgoings greater than incomings. Richard presented the accounts. We went over our answers to the generosity audit we’d been given last time. We’ve decided to be more transparent about our parish finances and our needs as a diocese, and explain what Parish Share is and what it pays for. Also use our magazine and website to tell people about different ways their generosity can serve God/the church. Then we talked about how our reserves are almost gone. Then our guest arrived. Then Tim said ‘Are you here to tell us to give more? Or tell us how to fleece other people of their money?’”
“Oh thanks very bloomin’ much!” Tim fumed.
“David, I don’t think we need a blow by blow account of all the things we’ve said.” Rev John put in.
“You’re not a court stenographer David!” steamed Mary melodramatically, and with much jowl shaking.
Rev John felt very sorry for David at this moment, but also rather impressed. The man could write with lightning speed. Had he really recorded every word? No wonder he was the Minutes Secretary. Incredible. And also worrying. What else had been recorded from previous PCC meetings? “Perhaps you might remove conversational comments and stick with the key decision points.” He suggested.
After quietly apologising to the room, David continued, “We did ‘My Money Story’. We discussed charging for after service refreshments. We had a majority vote against charging, as it doesn’t reflect true hospitality, and agreed to use our church income to cover the cost of refreshments. Kevin agreed to write this up for our magazine so people know why we’re making this change. We talked about short-term campaigns vs long-terms ones, and agreed a short-term stewardship campaign wouldn’t be the right way for us to go. Likely to influence only those who already give sacrificially. Mary said that.” He looked up, but she was still scowling, so he hurriedly continued,
“Then we discussed the ‘Our Generosity in numbers’ list and made our own for St. Someone’s. Everyone really liked this. Then you told us about managing our resources better and buying from the right companies. You said we could think about how we can use technology to make it easier for people to give. This’ll help with our immediate problems. And that’s all.”
“Gosh, that’s a lot!” said Rev John smiling widely, trying to distract anyone from dwelling on the revelation that David records every single word that comes out of PCC members’ mouths.
The PCC looked somewhere between stunned, impressed and confused at all that had been covered. It was dark outside. Claire tried, unsuccessfully, to casually look at her watch without being noticed.
“Yes. It is a lot. This is big culture change we’re talking about. But I really believe we have to give these new ideas a go if we’re going to see the results you need.” Heads nodded. There was certainly a real sense of hope among them, if tinged with fatigue.
She handed a piece of paper to each PCC member, and said, “There’s one final thing. It’s probably the biggest change you could make. It’ an easy, low-effort-big-impact way of communicating generosity. Loads of other churches are using it round here. But… I’m not going to go through this with you now. You’ve heard enough from me!” She began packing up. “You’ve got all you need in front of you.”
She shook Rev John’s hand (far less sweaty now) and addressing the silent room, said, “I want you to read this in your own time and reflect on whether you’re ready to make this change. Then I want you to try it.”
Any hint of lethargy was replaced by intrigue as members scanned the handout: ‘7 Simple Steps to Symbols of Generosity’.
At the door she turned back to the PCC and told them, “You can do it you know. You’ve got a generous community. Just give this a go. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
And that was that. Rev John felt the knots in his stomach dissolve, and that earlier flicker of hope properly took hold. They had all the tools they needed. They absolutely could do it. And they would.
As the final chairs were stacked and cups were washed, he began to read the handout, and he began to see a future where his congregation celebrated generosity in every single service. His heart leapt.