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Current Events
Barbara Whitt headed the generosity ministry at First Baptist Church of Morristown, TN.  Only thing was, she was being generous with herself. A mother and son pleaded guilty in federal court Feb. 19 to stealing more than $1.5 million from a Southern Baptist church where the mother worked for 47 years. Barbara Whitt, 69, and Michael Whitt, 43, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court to bank fraud and money laundering related to funds embezzled from First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn. According to the Morristown Citizen Tribune, the pair remain free on bond until their sentencing is set in July. A widow and trusted financial secretary of the 1,800-member church, Whitt was accused of writing 1,647 checks to herself between January 2008 and April 2010. She was arrested in May, after a church audit found $500,000 was missing. via Associated Baptist Press – Mother, son confess to stealing church funds. WOW.  Over 1600 checks to herself in 28 months.  That’s over 50 checks per month.  written. to. herself. Can that be right? And the audit found $500k missing?  Wonder if they also found the 1,647 checks WRITTEN. TO. HERSELF. And I’m surprised that this didn’t raise a red flag at the church. This could quiet possibly be the worst case of financial oversight I’ve ever seen in a church. But, then again… I guess… who would ever suspect sweet 69 year old Barbara, who’d been working at the church for 47 years, would do a thing like that? The truth… it shouldn’t have mattered.  SOMEONE besides Barbara or her son should have been having checks and balances (pun intended) over the church books. What safeguards does your church have in place to make sure this doesn’t happen?

An article by David Briggs over at Faith and Leadership presents a pretty glum scenario.  It starts out:

You know the bad news.

The recession is taking a toll on religious groups, with giving down and layoffs extending from denominational headquarters to local churches.

Now comes the worse news.

Even after the economy recovers, it is unlikely that church budgets will quickly rebound to pre-recession levels.

Sylvia Ronsvalle of empty tomb inc., a Champaign, Ill., organization that researches religious giving, has long been sounding an alarm about a downward trend in Protestant giving in recent decades. Per-member giving declined from 3.1 percent of income in 1968 to 2.6 percent in 2007, even before the latest economic downturn.

There is not a “creeping crisis” of relevancy in American Christianity, she said.

“It is a galloping crisis, and it’s immune to the economy,” Ronsvalle said. “The church needs to dig in and figure it out.”

What do YOU think? Many of the churches I work with really aren’t seeing much of a giving crisis.  Granted, most of those churches have great vision and leadership… are actually growing… and are doing quite well, even during these tough economic times. But I think this may be the exception to the rule. If a church doesn’t have a clear plan… a clear vision… and strong leadership, I’m guessing that they may be getting hit very hard. And there are some parts of the country, regionally, that are getting hit harder than others. Now that said, I think most churches, even the ones that are doing well, are a little shell-shocked.  They are being more prudent with expenditures and are watching things closely.  But overall, their giving is steady or increasing slightly. How’s your church doing during this financial climate?  Is giving way down, holding steady, or up slightly? And what impact does vision and leadership have in how churches do financially during the tough times? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments… Todd

This just in from my friend and colleague Warren Bird…  Thanks to over 700 churches that responded to Leadership Network’s “lean staff” survey in January, we have some helpful insights for everyone. We compared churches that spend only 10%-35% of their budget on staff (which we call “lean”) against churches that use higher percentages for their staffing costs… Responses included churches of all sizes, from attendances of 50 to 20,000. Among the things we learned:
* Lean staff churches do a better job with volunteers and lay leadership development. * Lean staff churches invest a noticeably higher percentage of their budget beyond the walls of their church. * Growing churches spend a smaller percentage of their budget on staffing costs, so they’re “leaner” than plateaued or declining churches. * Staff costs become leaner with size — as overall weekend worship attendance increases, but not dramatically so.
We conducted the survey in partnership with our friends at Your Church magazine and Leadership journal, both publications of Christianity Today International. Options: Lean-Staff-report-cover Get the 45-slide presentation. Today we released the report pictured at right, for free download here. It’s in PowerPoint style, so it’s visual and easy to follow. Read a two-page summary: See Matt Branaugh’s “A Closer Look at ‘Lean’ Church Staffs.” He’s editor of Your Church magazine. Listen to a 12-minute podcast where Matt and I talk about the project, free download here. Next Steps: Consider joining our “Lean Staff” focus group, a one-day forum on May 20 in Dallas. We’ll cap attendance at 25 people for maximum discussion. This is for churches that:
* Have staff costs at 35% or less of their total budget (or are intentionally and rapidly moving that direction). * Want to compare notes with others, learning healthy ways to downsize staffing costs. * Have a worship attendance (not membership) of 2,000 to 6,000.
If you’d like to learn more, contact This fall we’ll release another more in-depth report, announcing it in this blog and in Leadership Network Advance. No doubt we’ll blog a few other findings too, including a summary of learnings from the focus group. dollar-signs Salary Survey: As long as I’m writing about budgets and staff, may I invite you to be part of our just-launched 2010 Large Church Salary Survey? We conduct it every other year. Reports from previous years (2008, 2006, etc.) are available for free download at It’s a very popular download because larger churches with attendance of 1,000 to 25,000 want to learn from peers in their size range – which we cluster by different size groupings. Participants get the findings much sooner than everyone else. To participate, click or type this link: (case sensitive). Bird-Warren-jacket-adjusted Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation. Recent blog posts include More Sociologists “Get” Religion, Report from “The Unthinkables,” Meet Some Amazing Leaders Reaching Hispanics in America, More Large Churches Are Bridging the Racial Divide, Why Is “Everyone” Interested in Leadership Development, What’s New in Young Adult Ministries, Questions Raised by Executive Pastors, Downtown Churches: How Visible?, What Is Your Church Learning about Outreach? and Nigerian-Based Church Comes to North America.

You may have seen them advertised, or thought they were only for larger churches.  But do those automated, ATM-like giving kiosks really work?  Tim Stevens reports that giving is up around 3% at Granger Community Church since they’ve added the kiosks… Here’s some other things that Tim shares that Granger has learned in their first months of utilizing the kiosks:
  • Between September 11 and December 31, we took in almost 1,250 donations on the kiosks. The average donation was $80, and the gifts totaled around $25,000 per month. (We have around 5,000 attending each week–so you can scale this up or down for your situation.)
  • Kiosk donations accounted for 4% of our overall donations in the last four months of 2009.
  • We have 3 machines. 2 at our Granger Campus and 1 at our Elkhart Campus.
  • Prior to September, we averaged 42 new givers/month to our General Fund. Between September and December we averaged 67 new givers/month to our General Fund.
  • Average monthly giving increased 3% in the last four months of 2009.
  • During this time, we had 69 people give for the first time on the kiosks. In total, those 69 people subsequently gave $15,225 through the end of the year.
Is YOUR church using kiosks?  What have your results been? Have you been thinking about utilizing giving kiosks?  If you’ve been thinking about it… what’s held you back? I’d love to hear your input… Todd