Who Taught Daniel?

In the Old Testament book of Daniel, there is a story in the first chapter that is pretty well known. After Jerusalem fell to King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his three friends are taken to Babylon because they were the brightest young Jewish men. Babylon was the ruler of the world at that time so it had the best educators and most knowledge. Daniel and his friends were to study at “The University of Babylon” for three years and then take government jobs (verse 5). We presume Daniel and his buds were about 20 years old at the time.

Their dorm was interesting: they had all the food and wine they could want. Knowing the times, they probably had access to a nearby harem. It was a college boy’s dream: all the beer, steaks, and women you could ask for!

But Daniel and his friends declined. They actually said, “I’ll have the salad, please.” These virile, strong, intelligent young men passed on what every teenage boy dreams of and asked for veggies instead of meat. After a 10-day experiment, their Babylonian supervisor saw that these guys were better off than the others who indulged (verse 15). For the rest of their studies, Daniel and his friends ate according to their wishes and they were ten times better than anyone else (verse 20).

We don’t know anything about Daniel’s family. But what I’ve learned about Jewish culture from that time is that children were exceedingly close to their moms growing up. At about age 12, Jewish boys went to synagogue school where they memorized and debated teachings for hours upon end.

When Daniel and his friends were faced with a serious test, they relied on their experience – and they didn’t have much of that since they were so young. But they spoke up and said they wouldn’t do what was requested because it went against their beliefs. Who were the persons who taught these four guys to stand up for themselves? Who influenced them so heavily that they would forego every boy’s fantasy? Who inculcated their faith so deeply that they would risk their young lives for salad?

We don’t know. We’ll never know. But it does show the value and impact of teachers on young men and women; it demonstrates the lasting effect of a mom on boys and girls. Even when they were a thousand miles from home, with no one around to judge them, and faced with the greatest temptation a young man can have, they instead relied on their upbringing.

Here’s to you, teachers of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah!

 

Lead On!

Steve

Outreach to Young Families

Churches are struggling to attract young people. I’ve seen dozens of churches look at this, and most of them throw up their hands and do nothing because they don’t know what to do. There are two sides to this, kind of a “chicken and egg” scenario.

First: you need to find the people who you are targeting. I can’t emphasize enough that the target audience for every church should be young families, aged 20s, 30s, and 40s. Those families have young children and teenagers. Those families become the future of the church, especially if they are brought into leadership of the church. Now, where to find them? Frankly, everywhere. These families are millennials and reports I’ve seen say that they do not respond at all to door knocks – in fact, they are very much turned off by them. However, it is easy to find them because every Saturday (and many Sundays) they are at a ball field with their kids. What if your church had a pop-up tent/canopy that went to these events and had a table with free water and snacks for the families and kids? That would say that “we’re here and we’re a family-oriented church.” It gives the volunteers the opportunity to speak to the moms and dads in a relaxed atmosphere. The same could be done at a local farmers’ markets or other community activities – some type of presence where your name is visible to a younger crowd.

Second: this is much, much, much harder. Once you attract families and they actually show up at church, do you have programming that is excellent and of such great quality that the kids AND parents want to come back? You need to have programming that is so outstanding that you get a reputation for being excellent. Excellence will attract people, especially a younger generation.

Here is the conundrum: you need an excellent program (that implies substantial number of kids and young people) so that when you go out to solicit, they’ll have already heard about it and be eager to come. The answer: work on both sides of the opportunity – recruiting people to come and developing an excellent program – so that they support each other and you develop synergy.

 

Lead On!

Steve

 

The New Age of Résumés

Second career-seekers are sending out their résumés and making some mistakes. Here are some that I’ve caught. Please be careful with the content of what you say about yourself but also about the formatting. Formatting can tell a lot about you, too.

  • Do not send out your résumé in Word format. Save it as a PDF. Word docs can be changed; PDFs cannot. You don’t want anyone to be able to change your information.
  • Do not include references. If the potential employer is interested in you, you will be asked for references. BTW, employers regularly scan Facebook and other social media to see what future employees say “privately” – be aware of what you post is public and permanent.
  • Do not put your address on your résumé. Put only your phone and email. Addresses can be used to search online for private information. For instance:
    • Google Street View: “drive by” a prospective employee’s home to see if the yard and home is maintained or littered with stuff. That tells a lot about the employee’s work habits.
    • Zillow: look up how much the person paid for the house to see what standard of living the employee has and that might indicate salary expectations
    • Taxes: look up public tax records to see if the person is current in their taxes or has had problems keeping up with that which could indicate whether the employee can handle money well
    • Other ways that are unimaginable to me and you

It is a different age now of searching for work than when I began in the pre-internet days, but we must learn to adapt.

 

Lead On!

Steve

Church Cuts

Churches spend money on three things:

  • Staffing: church personnel form the heart and brains in leading the work of the church
    • If you cut staff, you may need to replace with untrained volunteers
  • Buildings are the skin and skeleton of the church that holds everything in place and in its place
    • If you cut buildings, you save on infrastructure but it is expensive to tear down and re-build
  • Programming is the blood and muscle of a church; this is what gives the church energy and motion and dynamism
    • If you cut programming, you end up with staff sitting in their offices and nothing to attract people and give the church a mission

Where does a church cut its budget when it desperately needs to cut?

My first answer is, nowhere. Instead of cutting, the very first thing you do is to raise income. Do all you can to encourage generosity among your members, show them the results of what they’ve done in the past, help them experience the joy of giving, and let them see the people who have been helped by their tithes and offerings.

My second answer is, everywhere. IF you absolutely must cut AND you have really tried to raise funds, then you are at a critical point in your church’s future.

  • It may be time to close the church down. Seriously – if people are not willing to give more to help the ministry of the church, then perhaps it is time for the church to close its doors. Think about it – actually, you probably already have thought about closing down the church.
  • The other option in the “everywhere category” is to cut a staff person, and the programs overseen by that person, and shutter the rooms used by that ministry area (lights, AC, heat, cleaning, etc.). This is an “all of the above” strategy.

Often churches cut everything by 10% or 20%. That won’t resolve the crisis, because you keep doing the same ministry and programs with the same staff in the same rooms but now you’re trying to do it on the cheap. Ministry on the cheap results in cheap ministry. That is no way to do ministry. Death by inches is what people do when they are afraid to lead.

When gangrene sets in and antibiotics don’t stop it, sometimes the only option is amputation. It is dramatic, traumatic, painful, and requires learning a new set of skills. But you can get a prosthetic limb. It won’t be as good as the original but it will give you much (not all) of the same functionality you had before. Churches need to be willing to sever some staff & programs (and close down building wings). Cutting one or two of the three isn’t enough. Decide what is the main focus of the church and provide staffing, buildings, and programming money for that. Anything that isn’t a part of the Main Thing is removed. It might be replaced later but if it is not needed now, it is done away with.

Before you cut, raise money. But if you cut, cut strategically and not indiscriminately.

 

Lead On!

Steve

 

1.5% Rule for Building Maintenance Budgets

Maintaining church buildings is expensive. And every year presents known and unknown expenses. Here’s a rule of thumb for determining how much to budget: put into the annual budget 1.5% of the replacement value of your buildings. If your buildings are valued at $5 million, your budget should be $75,000; if $10 million, then $150,000. That amount allows you to keep up with the ever-expanding needs of a church building and maybe tackle some long-term projects in phases.

This is in addition to the cost of labor, utilities, insurance, routine contracts (like fire and burglar alarm monitoring or pest control), or other building expenses within your control. This 1.5% is for those building maintenance items which pop up from year to year (sometimes from day to day) and for on-going minor building improvements (i.e., replacing ceiling tiles, painting rooms, small carpet or limited asbestos abatement projects, etc.).

Here’s a comparison: if your home is valued at $200,000 then you should set aside $3,000 each year (1.5% of $200K). Some years you’ll only replace a carpet or a toilet but every so often you’ll replace the roof or the A/C unit. Over time, you’ll spend $3,000 each year on your home. The same is true for church buildings. To budget less than 1.5% means an increasing list of deferred maintenance items which always costs more than routine maintenance.

Use this blog to educate your Stewardship or Finance Committee/Team about how much they should budget for the building. Though they may think 1.5% is too high, when you apply this to their own home, they’ll immediately get the analogy. Finding that money from one year to the next may be tough, but over a period of a few years the Finance Committee can steadily increase the maintenance budget till it is the necessary 1.5%.

Lead On!

Steve

Church Software

This is from an email I received: “I belong to a small church and we are looking to update our software. Can you recommend software that is membership/financial based for churches?”

My reply:

Your church size is a big factor – the larger it is, the more robust a system you’ll need; the smaller it is, then you can patch-work a couple of systems. Here is some info:

Do you want to handle all your financials “in-house” or are you comfortable out-sourcing your financials? For several years I’ve done out-sourced financials for several clients. I’m biased but I strongly encourage you to outsource your financials to a trusted person. With online technology, your financial person could even be several states away. All information (bills and even checks) can be emailed for posting by this company. This saves the church in many ways (no office for a person, no computer to purchase, no employee benefits to pay for, etc.) but it costs a little more in terms of straight wages (because the other company has to cover their own benefits & taxes). If you want to go that direction, I can give you a quote and the names of other companies doing the same thing.

If you do this in-house, then you have several decisions to make:

  1. Do you want a system that combines both? That will cost more, be stronger and extremely effective in handling your needs, and require initial training plus on-going training of the staff using it.
  2. Do you want to install the software on your own server or have it online? If you put it on your server then you also need to have it backed up and that will cost about $500 or $750 a year. Having someone else host your data online will cost (price varies) but there is a LOT of peace of mind knowing that your data will never be lost.
  3. Training is a must. Every dollar invested in training will yield results in efficiency and effectiveness in very tangible ways. Get the training!

Software Packages

  1. Membership & Financials
    1. There are two big companies are Shelby Systems and ACS. These are very robust financial/accounting systems and a very strong membership/people module. The contributions module in the Membership section posts gift info to individual members and then it posts it to the financial section for a seamless posting of Sunday receipts. Of the two, my preference is Shelby for several reasons which are too detailed to get into here. If you get both and their modules then annual support will cost about $1,500.
  2. Membership Only
    1. Both Shelby and ACS have a membership/people module that can be bought separately from the financials. There are some newer companies that only do membership such as ChurchTeams, Church Community Builder, Servant Keeper, and about a dozen others. The ones I’ve listed are the larger ones. Frankly, this is an area where you get what you pay for.
  3. Financials Only
    1. To my knowledge, only ACS and Shelby do a dedicated church financials software package. I have made Quickbooks (online and desktop versions) work in a church setting but there are some nuances that Quickbooks just can’t handle such as donor gift statements (I’ve had to find a very time-consuming work-around for that). For church financials, I encourage you to look at either Shelby or ACS.
  4. Payroll
    1. Both ACS and Shelby have payroll modules. However, I strongly recommend you outsource your payroll to a national company such as Paychex, CBIZ, or ADP. They file all taxes on time so that you never incur a penalty from the IRS. They cost about $65 per pay period (for up to about 12 employees). Outsourcing payroll is a LOT of peace of mind – knowing you’ll never have a visit from the IRS is a wonderful thing!

 

Lead On!

Steve

 

 

When A Church Member Pays Staff Directly (?)

I recently received an email with this question:

Several years ago our church was having budget issues and cut salaries, including the organist. Apparently a member started giving the organist a monthly ‘gift’ to make up for the loss of pay. The church just became aware of this because the member didn’t give a check last month and the organist is looking for her monthly gift. The church knew nothing about it and that was between her and the member that the church was not involved. The church presumes the income is not being reported. Our question is can the church get in trouble for this?  Our thought is no because it is a ‘gift’ and the church is not involved.

My Response

Let me dissect this:

  • If the donor gave the money for the organist and the donor received tax deduction credit, then you have a problem.
  • If the organist got the money in a church check and it was not reported on the W-2, then you have a problem.
  • If the organist got the money in a church check and it was reported on the W-2, then you have a problem with #1.
  • If the organist got the money directly from the donor and the donor never got tax credit and the money never went through the church’s finances, then you are fine (no problem).

Going forward:

  • You still have time to change the tax deduction statement for the donor and the W-2 statement for 2014.
  • You can restate the organist’s W-2 for the prior years (however far back that goes) and quite frankly, that should be done, It will be a headache and it may trigger an IRS audit (BTW, the IRS rarely does a church audit for tax deduction purposes anymore but they are heavily into payroll fraud and will do a payroll audit in a heartbeat).
  • It will almost certainly cause the IRS to issue a penalty and interest statement for unpaid employer FICA.
  • I would also re-issue the donor tax deduction statements for the prior years. If the IRS audits the donor, then the donor can choose to show the IRS the incorrect statements (which were sent out years before) or the newer/corrected statements.
  • Someone needs to have a conversation with the financial assistant.
  • AND (strongly encouraged), get the financial assistant some continuing ed.
  • Everyone should have continuing ed since laws & taxes change.
  • It’s required in some professions (lawyers, doctors, CPAs) and should be required in every profession

Whether or not it is a gift is inconsequential. It is income to the organist and thus should be taxed: Federal, State, and BOTH employee and employer FICA. What matters is whether the gift went through the church’s financial system for both the donor and organist.

As to your financial assistant: at the least she needs some continuing education and training; at the worst she should be terminated. Either way, this incident should be documented and placed in her personnel jacket.

 

The good news in this case is that evidently the money was not going through the church but going directly from the member to the organist, circumventing the church. But that is also the bad news – there is a church member going rogue and funding his or her own favorite thing.

 

Lead On!

Steve

 

 

What Should Churches Opposed to Gay Marriages Do?

This post addresses only the church’s legal concerns that have arisen related to same-sex marriage.

Recently, many courts in the US have ruled that marriage by the LGBTQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) are legal. There is still much in legal limbo – the ultimate legal ruling will be done by the US Supreme Court in a few months or years. In the meantime, should churches enact policies to protect themselves and their ministers from being forced to perform these marriages for those congregations opposed to this on theological grounds?

The short answer is no. It is not necessary.

The long answer is that never in the history of the US has a church or a minister of a church been required to perform a ceremony which is against the theological positions of the church/minister. That includes things which today (December 2014) are considered acceptable but which were not socially acceptable decades ago. The courts never forced a church to do or forbade a church from doing any of the following:

  • Marrying teenagers
  • Marrying divorced people
  • Marrying people of different races
  • Marrying people of different ages
  • Marrying people of different faiths or no faith

While a church can pass a series of policies, it is unnecessary and it is needless time expended when there are so many more worthwhile things for a church to be doing. If a civil servant were to threaten a church with a legal suit, the courts would throw it out because it violates both clauses of the religion part of the first amendment: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. The state cannot tell a church how to do its business (period).

BTW, churches are increasingly bombarded with alarmist emails and paper mail trying to scare them about their security issues, tax situation, legal matters, and government intrusion. It will require an increasing amount of work for churches to investigate to see which of these claims is real and thus should be addressed and which ones are opportunists trying to get churches to buy their services. The other name for these opportunists is “quacks” and there are a lot of them out there. Do not give them your attention and certainly not your business.

Lead On!

Steve