Can your people afford to give? Can they afford not to? Here’s the current reality: Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.
That statement caught my eye in a personal and revealing article called “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans“ that recently appeared in the Atlantic. And as a ministry leader, this should sound a huge wake up call.
In this article, which is lengthy but definitely worth the read, the author admits his dismal failure in managing his own personal finances. He takes us on a very raw and personal journey through his trials of financial management on which we soon learn that, while his outside appearance reflected a financially secure lifestyle, behind the curtain hid the true realities of living paycheck to paycheck. And he’s one of almost half of all Americans.
Statistics shared include:
- When asked how they would respond to a $400 emergency, 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. (Federal Reserve Board survey)
- Only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved. (Bankrate survey, 2104)
- A total of 55 percent of households don’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income. (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2015)
- Of 56 percent of people who said they’d worried about their finances in the previous year, 71 percent were concerned about having enough money to cover everyday expenses. (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2015)
- The American Psychological Association conducts a yearly survey on stress in the United States. The 2014 survey—in which 54 percent of Americans said they had just enough or not enough money each month to meet their expenses—found money to be the country’s number one stressor. Seventy-two percent of adults reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter rated their stress “extreme.”
What are the implications for your church?
We’ve known for some time that one reason people don’t give to your church is because they can’t afford to. This article is screaming this to you loud and clear! We can work to motivate people to give to clear mission statements and God-inspired vision, but if there is no margin in the financial lives of your constituency, your folks will not be able to give more generously without taking some drastic steps.
What can you do about it?
If you don’t have a personal finance ministry in place, it is time to enact one. Here are some ideas:
- Address the reality - Use this article as a launching pad to raise the issue within your people. Like this author, be authentic and real about the state of our personal finances.
- Evaluate your own personal situation first. Leaders don’t ask their people to do something they themselves are not willing to do.
- Attend Financial Peace University (see #4 below). Even if you’ve been through it before, take it again. (They revised the curriculum a couple of years back, so it will be fresh for you. And you’ll always glean something new each time you go through the class.)
- Invest in a one-hour coaching session for you and your spouse with a financial coach (see #5 below). It will be a revealing and helpful insight into your own personal finances. And, you’ll better understand how your coach will be speaking to your people and will be able to better relate to their experience.
- Offer Biblical solutions – the Bible is replete with scripture on money and possessions. Preach and teach regularly what the Bible has to say about money and possessions. Normalize the conversation in your ministry by talking about it without apology.
- Offer Financial Peace University – I’ve served as an FPU coordinator for many years, and it works. I have seen it firsthand. Countless families continue to share with me how this class has impacted their finances, their marriages, and yes, their ability to give more generously to the church.
- Resource those who need further help – find a financial coach in your area who can work with individuals and families who desire to go deeper in a 1:1 coaching environment. Make sure that coach is truly in it to lead people into a healthier financial position, and is not offering any products for sale (insurance, investments, etc.).
- Consider a coaching ministry for your church – Engage a coach on a retainer basis, purchasing a number of hours of coaching time per month (or quarter, or year) that you then provide for those in most dire need of assistance. This is a win-win-win situation for you as leader, your coach, and your people.
- Provide a space in your facility for 1:1 private coaching sessions. This creates a familiar place those you are serving will be comfortable coming to, and further connects your coach to the church and your financial coaching ministry.
- Tell stories - Celebrate the successes of financial lives changed through your FPU and personal coaching ministries. Many churches with Celebrate Recovery ministries have shared well the stories of those who have been rescued from a life of addiction. Those stories elevate the radical differences the church is making in the community and heighten the awareness of those around us needing care. Your financial ministry should be no different. By sharing stories of those positively impacted, you celebrate the wins while raising awareness of others who are in desperate need of help.
When it all comes down to it, this change has to start with us. As ministry leaders, we know the Godly Biblical financial principles found in the Word, and we have a responsibility to teach those principles. So let’s get real about our finances and have those conversations with our people so we can pray for, assist, and encourage them on their journey.