Coronavirus – financial response for churches
18 March 2020 (2.00pm)
The following is a letter sent to all Baptists Together Churches by Baptist Union Treasurer John Levick
We are in unprecedented times and, as we are not able to meet physically in our churches, it is important we remain one in Christ spiritually. I am aware that some are taking innovative approaches using the latest technology to provide links to our congregations.
By not meeting there will be financial implications and I set out below some guidance on how to manage your finances as we enter this new era.
For some you are no doubt already reviewing your finances, but for others I hope the guidance will help you to manage your church’s finances so that when we come out of the current situation you will be ready to move forward again.
I hope you have a budget for this year, but if not your starting point should be last year’s accounts.
In an initial review you should prayerfully identify those costs which could be saved because you are no longer using your buildings. You will need to take account if, for example, your minister continues to use a church office for study.
With no services, churches will lose income which comes in the offerings on a Sunday. Where your people are already giving by standing order or online you may want to communicate to them that the church will continue to incur costs and encourage them to maintain their giving. Where people normally give in the offering on Sunday, then encourage them to give by standing order or online.
Gift Aid can still be claimed as normal, but it is unlikely you will be able to claim under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme as this only applies to small giving by cash.
Interest on bank and other deposits has been low for many years but, with interest rates falling, your interest income will be lower than previously.
Where you rent your church premises to other users, any rental income will cease (with a few exceptions). They should not be allowed to continue to use your buildings. You should advise your users of the reasons for closure and the arrangements for notifying when the premises can start to be used again. Where you run, for example, a foodbank which requires an ongoing base then you should be guided by the foodbank trustees on use of the premises in a safe way. Similarly, if you run a Pre-School then that should continue until the government gives guidance for schools to be closed. If you have rented out a manse or other residential property then that should continue.
If you have income from activities you run as a church then this will cease.
Regrettably you may have people in your congregation who will either lose their employment or have to take unpaid leave. You will need to recognise that these people will be unlikely to be able to maintain their giving to the church.
Savings in expenditure will come from ceasing to use your church premises and from activities which were expected to be a cost to the church which will no longer take place.
Where you have a minister or team then you need to ensure that the church has the means to continue to meet all the costs of ministry, including stipend and expenses. With a dispersed congregation there may be additional costs for example for telephone calls, as pastoral activity increases to support people isolated.
You need to identify your fixed costs such as insurance and servicing agreements, from variable costs such as electricity and gas.
Remember that, despite the milder winter, some of the heavy gas and electric bills are still to come and savings as we hopefully go into warmer weather will be lower than might have been expected.
In mentioning insurance, it is important that your buildings are checked each week, otherwise insurance cover may be lost if an incident occurs.
You need to consider how you continue to communicate with your congregation. This may involve additional printing and postage, particularly for those who have not encompassed technology.
Giving to Others
It is easy to look first at cutting giving to outside organisations, but these bodies have their own costs and commitments to maintain, so I ask that you reflect carefully before making cuts in this area. For example, BMS still need to maintain their people overseas, particularly as they cannot travel at present, and Home Mission is still needed to support those churches and projects receiving grants, our Associations and our Specialist Teams.
Support for Your Own People
I mentioned earlier that some in your congregation may face difficult times financially because they either lose their jobs or have to take unpaid leave. You may want to ensure that you have some funds set aside to help meet additional needs among your people.
I leave this until last, but this presents an important opportunity. We will no longer be cocooned in our church buildings but out in the community, albeit often behind closed doors. There are many people in this country who are now anxious and concerned about the future and who more than ever need the hope we have in Christ. Please ensure you have some finance to support innovative ways to reach out into our communities within the government guidelines for keeping safe. We need to continue to be Beacons of Hope and Beacons of Light in what for many people are very dark times.
If you have reserves set aside for a ‘rainy day’ then this is the time to start to use them. We are in exceptional times which warrant exceptional measures.
In 2 Kings 4, the wife of a prophet had just a small jar of olive oil and was facing creditors of her late husband; but the Lord provided until all the jars available were full, and she was able to pay off the debts. We need faith at this time that the Lord will fill our jars as we use, sometimes, the little we have to ensure that we maintain a people of God in our communities.
2 Corinthians 9:8
... God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.
These are very challenging times, but I pray you will find blessing in different ways to be the Lord’s people in your communities.