5 Leadership Hedges Against Inflation for Your Church
Just when you thought the word “unprecedented” couldn’t possibly be used any more, we continue to climb into levels of inflation that haven’t been seen in over four decades.
In fact, the last time we saw inflation this high, the world was a completely different place.
- Bread had soared to the cost of 50 cents a loaf.
- Late-night TV was ruled by Johnny Carson.
- A newfangled invention called the modem was just released for personal computers (which had barely taken off).
- Ted Turner had just launched a TV station that broadcasted news 24 hours a day called the Cable News Network (“that’ll never work!”).
We find ourselves leading in an environment of increasing inflation. Although in the local church world, we may not see its impact right away, it is going to affect your church and mine.
Small business owners in your church are no doubt trying to puzzle out how to increase the fees that they charge for the services or goods they provide to combat inflation as it continues to rise. In a recent study by the US Labor Department, inflation had peaked at 7%, which is something that you and I need to take note of as leaders in this environment. [ref]
What difference does inflation make to our churches in this season?
Put most simply, inflation erodes an entire country’s spending power. As inflation continues to rise, the cost of goods continues to increase, and salaries try to match those levels. The entire country has a more and more difficult time purchasing goods with existing resources.
This was one of those financial earmarks that we were watching carefully at the end of 2021. In fact, most economists were advising waiting while we got through the Christmas season to see what would happen in the new year. But alas, inflation is continuing to rise. Our churches need to think carefully about how we react to this as we plan for our ministry for the rest of this year and beyond.
Here are a few articles to dig deeper into understanding inflation:
- Investment Executive: Fed to signal rate hike as it launches risky inflation fight.
- The Washington Post: Prices are rising all over the world, and leaders see no quick fix
- The Wall Street Journal: Inflation, Supply Chain, Omicron Expected to Take a Bigger Toll on Global Growth
In 2007, I had the opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe, which just happened to be in the midst of a rapid inflation increase. It was a heartbreaking time to be in the country because during the two weeks we were there, the cost of everything doubled. One of the key church leaders we had met with was converting donation dollars into building bricks. He was literally buying bricks to warehouse for future church building projects down the road that were yet to be authorized because although the Zimbabwean dollar was worth less and less with every passing day, he at least could have a giant pile of bricks under lock and guard that could be used in the future.
The current inflation that we’re experiencing isn’t going to be anywhere near that level, but it is something that we need to be thinking about carefully as we plan for the future.
This blog post really isn’t financial advice for your church. I would suggest that you need to secure solid financial advice from trusted individuals as you think about how to position your church financially for the future. What I want to talk about here is a series of things that we can do as leaders to help guard our churches from the impact of inflation in the coming year. You may hear such financial advice from your advisors as:
- Borrow now with interest rates at an all-time low. These are bound to go up, and now’s a good time to lock in rates.
- Refinance your mortgage. If you’re carrying any long-term debt, now might be a perfect time to either pay some of it off with the cash you have on hand or refinance for the future.
- Plan for a 25% wage increase. Although your wages are not likely to jump that high, it is a good to consider what would happen if the cost of your staffing were to jump by 25% overnight.
- Lock in long-term pricing. Now would be a good time to renegotiate every contract that you have to secure long-term pricing at today’s lower rates.
While this isn’t financial advice, the following leadership options could help your church as you deal with inflation in the coming weeks and months.
Leadership Hedges To Help Your Church In a Time of Inflation
When we talk about a leadership hedge, we’re referring to a protective move that you could do as a leadership team now to ensure that your church is prepared for inflation in the coming year. It’s about positioning your team and community to weather the storm of increasing fees and costs of doing what we do over the next 18 to 24 months.
Proactive Fundraising Plan
At its very core, inflation is about increasing the cost of services. The cost of “doing business” is going to be higher a year from now.
If we don’t continue to increase the amount of revenue that is coming in per individual giver, we could be caught in this gap with the costs of “doing business” increasing without the same happening to the revenue from our church.
What would it take to see a 7%–15% increase in revenue this year on a per giver basis?
This considers the total number of givers as well as the revenue per individual giver. It could include actions such as an active appreciation plan, where you reach out and ensure that people are clear on how thankful you are for your giving, or a year-end campaign—oftentimes, churches see a significant bump of anywhere between 10% to 15% in the last 45 days of the year. It might even include a plan to convert occasional givers into regular givers. For example, we all know that converting people to online giving is key to the financial health of our organizations going forward.
Explore New & Novel Investing Strategies
Over the last two years is that many churches have increased their cash positions. As we went into the pandemic, we became more fiscally conservative and wanted to increase the total number of “weeks” of reserve funds that we had on hand in case of an emergency.
Many churches grew their cash on hand in a matter of weeks or months of an emergency stopgap. The problem with that is that the cash that we’re holding is slowly devaluing if it’s not returning at least 7% interest, which is not the case in a simple bank account. That cash is losing value, and unless we look carefully at how we’re investing it a year from now, the money that we’ve saved up over the last two years could be eroded significantly as the cost of what we do increases.
Now might be a good time to reexamine your portfolio risk and reward ratios and understand that this money is given to your church to help in case of a rainy day, and although in some ways we’re not free from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are through the most significant phase of it.
It would appear that there are sunnier days ahead on that front. You might want to take a more risk tolerant approach to your investment strategy knowing that you’re potentially not going to need this cash for years to come. You could even look to more novel approaches; in fact, we’ve seen a number of churches across the country who became sole owners of an LLC using these cash reserves to actually do active investment, including opening up an entrepreneurial venture, such as a coffee shop or a rental facility. (We’ll be talking more about this in the coming months at unSeminary to give you some practical help and guidance in this area.)
Increased Leadership Development Spending
Your team is the best hedge against uncertainty.
I’m not talking about increasing salaries, although this may be something that you need to look at in the coming months. Now is the time to double down on the resources that you provide to your staff to increase their leadership development. While the cash sitting in your bank account may not be earning you interest, if you were to raise the leadership capacity of your entire team this year, that would pay dividends not only in the short term but also for years to come.
This could be the year to spend more on conferences that can both inspire and equip your team. This could be the year that you hire coaches for various departments. Oftentimes, experts from the outside can provide a great shortcut to your team as they’re looking to reach new people and increase the overall effectiveness of their ministry. It could also be the year to add extra support in the way of part-time administrative help or remote staffing contracts that could be simpler to get out of in the long run but could provide a great lift to your leadership in this coming year.
Look for “Noticeable-Less” Cuts
One of the tough realities of leading in an inflation-driven environment is when you look carefully at the spending side of what we do.
I remember years ago, when we were in a period of reducing spending across the board, we cut back on the budget that our kids ministry team used in their craft budget and got it down to a really small amount. And to be honest, it was such a useless cut because it not only cut away at a core experience for our guests but also didn’t make a substantial difference to the overall operation of our organization.
We can’t cut the budget by 10% by limiting googly eyes in kids ministry. We need to look at significant items and ask the question as we come out of the pandemic: are there things that we need to cut that people will notice?
What is the pet project that our senior leadership team has held onto for too long that we just need to get rid of because it no longer helps us effectively for the future?
During the pandemic, are there things that we learned we don’t need that it’s now time for us to act on?
What can we cut that people would notice and would make a difference to the overall budget?
I suggest that looking for “noticeable-less” cuts around 10% is the way to start. These kinds of cuts will cause your leadership team to breathe deeply and ask if they really need this ministry area but could provide great long-term financial health for organizations on the other side once they’re gone.
Consider Tech Upgrades
I know this might seem like a strange point to make as you consider the option we just talked about, but this could actually be the perfect period to double down on your purchasing of tech equipment that could help multiply your ministry in years to come.
Is there enabling technology, such as RESI, that could help you launch new locations and that you’d rather spend today’s dollars on than dollars a year from now?
Accelerating purchases like this is a wise decision in this season; because of the inflationary effects of the loss of spending power, the money you have right now is more powerful than it will be a year from now. It will be more expensive to buy these items even then.
Look for items that will extend the reach of your church. This could include things such as new camera gear to add more capacity to your online experience. It could be something within your multi-site strategy that could help you open new campuses more quickly. This is a perfect time to consider more tech upgrades as you look to the future.
Still looking for more help as your church deals with inflation? Try this.
If you’re looking for the next steps to take coming out of this article, I would suggest three things:
- Get your team together. Let’s not hide from the fact that inflation is a real thing that’s happening around us. It has been a shift in our culture in the last year, and it will help your team to see inflation in their areas.
- Share this or similar articles about inflation to help them process and think through what might need to change in the life of your church.
- Discuss what actions you could take. Find actions that empower your entire team to help them take steps forward and ultimately grow as a community.
You can do this—your church will prevail if you continue to stand. At this point, you’ve been through the toughest season of leadership in a generation, and this trail on the impact of inflation will test the lessons that you’ve learned over the last two years of dealing with COVID-19. We’re cheering for you and are in your corner.