One of the ways I volunteer my time is to serve on my church’s consistory. It’s essentially the Board of Directors, making decisions about budgets, hiring, and strategic planning. If it happens in the church, we need to approve it, determine how to implement it, and get regular reports on the progress that’s made to complete it.
It’s an interesting view into running the church, getting to see behind the scenes. I’ve learned many things about the expenses associated with even a small church. One of the most important, if somewhat disillusioning, things I’ve learned it that money really does make the world go round. It’s nice to think that our churchs, mosques and synagogues are immune from the money-grubbing ways of the outside world. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. My church (and yours, if you are a church going person) has all the expenses of any other business, including salaries, building maintenance, and administrative expenses. If these things aren’t all paid, the church will fail to run, and might even fall into bankruptcy.
Furthermore, our church holds several investments, of which I was not even aware before joining the consistory. We have three mutual funds from Vanguard, which fell in value along with the rest of the market over the past year. These falling investments have put pressure on our finances, along with every other organization with exposure to the stock market.
Another lesson is that, as the number of volunteers decrease, the number of paid positions we need to fill increases. We’ve had to add at least two positions in the course of my one year tenure on the consistory, each requiring a salary to get the needed work done. As more work goes undone by volunteers, more employees are added, leading the remaining volunteers to feel as if they should be receiving a salary as well. And the cycle continues, with an ever larger portion of our work being done by paid professionals.
One particularly sharp lesson is that when the broader economy goes sour, the ripples can spread further than you’d initially believe. In part because of the economic downturn, the attendance at our church has been down and the offerings decreasing. Combined with the aforementioned investment declines and increasing number of staff members, and we’re finding ourselves in a financial crunch.
All of these have helped to put our church in a bad way financially. We are considering cutting down our giving to other churches and charities, looking at what functions we can do without, and even debating whether we should merge with our neighbors. In any case, there’s no chance that we’ll be able to continue the same way we’ve been going so far. In many ways, it’s much the same situation many individuals find themselves in currently, debating what needs to be removed from the budget in order to make ends meet.
I’m not writing this to bring anyone down, merely to describe some of the things I’ve learned as a volunteer with my church. It’s given me a valuable look at how the church is run, enabling me to have a better understanding of the money, time and effort needed to run a sizable organization. It’s been an enlightening experience, one I’d highly recommend to anyone who’d like to help their community and gain some first hand knowledge at how an organization like this functions.