Here is the second of two articles Dean Phillips of Rock Island, Ill., wrote for Christian Standard in the late 1930s. (Last week, we shared his experience “Teaching the Worst Sunday School Class.”)
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The Preacher stormed at the Finance Committee, “You’ve ruined the church”; but the committee freed the church of debt
Solving the Church’s Financial Problems
By Dean Phillips
Dec. 9, 1939; p. 7
GRADUALLY our church had slipped deeper and deeper into debt, until it was several thousand dollars behind in running expenses. Year after year the same old methods of raising money were tried, but the result was more and more disheartening. We got some money, of course, but not nearly enough. The struggle to keep solvent grew harder and harder.
One Sunday afternoon, when things looked even bluer than usual, the finance committee, consisting of four successful young business men and a woman also in business, suggested and secured permission from the official board to try out a plan which the committee had formed to clear the indebtedness. Briefly the plan involved injecting business methods into financial problems.
The church had existed many years. Its membership roll had never been revised. It showed a membership of something like six or seven hundred, while the record of contributing members contained only about 250 names. The committee proposed to write a new roll, listing only those who could properly be considered members, the old roll to be left intact, for reference and sentimental reasons.
Likewise, the committee secured authority from the board to solicit pledges from members able to contribute, but not doing so, and to drop from the roll the names of those who refused to pledge, if, on investigation, they were found financially able to pay. Earnestly the committee went to work. Night after night it labored until nearly midnight, determined that at last the church should have a chance for its life, an opportunity to pay its bills when due and hold up its head like any other self-respecting organization.
EVERY name on the roll was carefully considered. Many members were dead, of course. Some had moved away or had joined other churches. We made separate alphabetical lists under proper headings. Then, when the lists were made, we checked them against the records of the financial secretary. We found some were contributing generously, even more than might be expected of them. Others made big pledges, but paid nothing. Still others apparently contributed nothing, although the committee, through discreet inquiries, found them financially able.
When the preliminary work was done, the committee drafted suitable letters to be mailed to the members concerned, for instead of making a personal canvass, involving endless time and labor, and giving members an opportunity to dodge us, we determined to handle this canvass by mail, putting members absolutely on record. The letters stated courteously, but firmly, what the committee was trying to do. Members who appeared able to contribute more were urged to do it. Those who did not appear of record as contributors were sent pledge blanks and asked to make regular pledges and keep them paid up. To each was given a full statement of the predicament in which the church found itself, and it was explained that if every member helped that could, and the church knew how much it might reasonably expect to receive for annual expenses, then it could govern its expenditures accordingly and it could keep us within its income.
In addition, it was stated that the next annual report of the financial secretary and the treasurer would be in printed form, and would show every cent received by the church during the year and for what it was spent. The name of each contributor would appear, with the amount pledged and the amount paid, and a copy of the report would be furnished to each member.
A DAY or two after the letters had been mailed the preacher came into my office. He was furious. I happened to be chairman of the committee, and he shouted, “Your committee’s ruined the church!” When pressed for an explanation of his charge, he said, “You’ve sent letters to members of the class my wife teaches in Sunday school, and you’ve hurt their feelings, and now they won’t do anything any more! You’ve got to get out a letter of apology immediately!” I looked at him and smiled. “Did you want the committee to show partiality?” I asked. “Every young woman in that class to whom a letter was mailed is employed, drawing regularly a good salary. If they contribute anything toward the running expenses of the church, there is no record of it.” (Our church uses an envelope system and has a record of every contributor, except those who give what is termed the “loose offering.”)
I continued emphatically, “Our committee does not owe any one an apology, and has no intention of making one. Those letters stand. We are going to get the church out of debt and clean up the roll. No doubt you’d like to get your salary regularly, the same as I do mine. To pay you, we must have money. Promises won’t do it. They look nice on paper, perhaps, but they do not pay bills!” One of the greatest faults was that the church spent according to estimated receipts, based on pledges, without taking into consideration the fact that some pledges were worthless.
The preacher asked for a special meeting of the board, and for a time it seemed that the committee might be abolished. But we stood our ground. We had the facts, and the board let us go ahead.
One woman, a charter member, who, as far back as the records went, had never made a contribution, held out against making a pledge until the last service of the last day of grace given in our letters. In the last collection I found an envelope with her name on it, containing a dime and a pledge of ten cents a week. Around the margin of the envelope she had penciled, “Judge not, that ye be not judged!” But the committee did not mind, for that woman kept her pledge paid until she died.
Several members said to me that they did not want to make pledges, but that they always gave when they came, meaning that they dropped something into the “loose offering.” To them I replied, “That’s fine, but the total ‘loose offerings’ for each week are only about three dollars. The average for all who claim to be giving in that way is very small. We cannot run the church on our ‘loose offerings’.” I was exasperated. “Perhaps we might keep the church open only on the Sundays you come, and have a preacher and a janitor and an organist, with light and heat, only on those occasions, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t be very satisfactory. Three dollars wouldn’t pay for it anyway!”
WHEN the committee finished its work, the church was free of debt for the first time in years, the membership roll contained about four hundred names, most of them live, active members, contributing toward the expenses of the church and feeling proud and glad to have a part in it. They felt that they had been taken into the confidence of the officers of the church and knew something definite about its affairs. The printed report was very effective. The arrearage was small, for members hastened to pay in full, not wanting to appear in arrears. Others who had small pledges increased them to make a better showing. If the church lost anything through our campaign, aside from meaningless names on the grimy old register, I have never heard of it.