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Churches Saving Money During Tough Economic Times

Acts 2:42-47

The local church is being affected by the current economic stress in our country. With summer time, often comes less attendance and greatest economic challenge due to camps, mission trips, VBS and other activities. Many churches will need smart ways to handle the economic stress and take immediate action.

I hope the following information will be helpful. The information is arranged in categories.

Robert F. Grant, CCA, CCBA

Facility Management/Maintenance
Assimilation of New Members (New Spiritual Impact)
Generational Issues
Budget Planning

[Contributing writers:  Robert F. Grant (RFG), Cindy Morris (CM), Sue Harmon (SH), Mark Powers (MP), Belinda Jolley (BJ), Gary Horton (GH), and Gary Anderson (GA)]

Facility Management/Maintenance

  1. If you use an outside contractor, you may consider cutting back the cleaning/janitorial contract to half – expect half the area to be cleaned or cut the number of times the cleaning will be done. Supplement the off times of a contractor with volunteers from the congregation. Consider certain groups, committees or classes to perform basic janitorial services during the interim. Create schedules of services needed throughout your facilities. (RFG)
  2. If you currently have paid staff for janitorial services, consider cutting hours to a minimum or part-time status. Then, use volunteers to supplement the hours needed to continue janitorial service to your facilities. (RFG)
  3. When using volunteers for janitorial services, purchase mild eco-friendly cleaning supplies in bulk from wholesalers. Be sure to train all volunteers with safety measures to cleaning both chemically  and physically (like wet floors, waxes, etc). (RFG)
  4. If you have paid staff you wish to maintain as your janitorial service, create a time schedule for each day with specific areas to be cleaned. Get the best service for the dollar. Consider using college students after hours for cleaning specific areas/needs and reduce the overhead of full time employees with benefits. (RFG)
  5. To aid HVAC, consider having the congregation seated closer together in pew/chair sections and fill the church from the front to the back. (RFG)
  6. Consider timers to recover the temperature from its “set-back” temperature to its “comfort” temperature. Consider cutting the HVAC during the last thirty minutes of the scheduled event to save energy released at the exit time. (RFG)
  7. Consider filling gaps under doors and around windows, seal cracks in ceiling and around electrical outlets. Shut doors leading to internal rooms to keep heat/cool contained. (RFG)
  8. Get rid of junk within a facility! Arrange items in three piles: 1) Keep, 2) Sell, 3) Throw away. Proper  dusting and cleaning by volunteers during this sorting effort will cut costs in HVAC filters and reduce the possibility of fire, while providing more space to use. (RFG)
  9. Consider utilizing all rooms on the sunny side of the church first (during winter) to maximize the natural warmth of the rooms with the attendees bodies. (RFG)
  10. Sell old church items (junk) in yard sales and place funds in the facilities maintenance account of the budget. (RFG)
  11. Consider the church staff cleaning their own offices, restrooms, and conference and snack areas; reducing the need for a cleaning crew to perform that task. (RFG)
  12. Merge events like VBS or Sunday evening services with other church events to save HVAC and  electrical energy. (RFG)
  13. Consider multi-use of facilities by multiple groups while the facilities are heated/cooled. This would require calendar planning of facilities for particular use – maybe only one day a week or month. (RFG)

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  1. Ministerial Staff – check to see what percent of your total church budget goes for staff compensation.  If the amount is greater than 60% of total budget, you are out of balance with staff. (RFG)
  2. Ministerial Staff – needs to be frugal in all individual line items on the general church budget. They should always plan to be under budget. Any over budget expenditures need to be evaluated/reviewed. (RFG)
  3. Ministerial Staff – can usually take a pay freeze or no-cost-of-living increases for awhile. This arrangement needs to be thoroughly discussed with each employee individually. Give bonuses if available. (RFG)
  4. To downsize a Ministerial Staff means quality ministry and service to congregation will diminish. To lose a staff member and have to replace that staff member will result in far more changes than keeping the staff member. Consider the costs of function, interviews, moving expenses and higher job market costs to retain another person. Do everything possible to work with all staff. (RFG)
  5. Be sure staff is being evaluated for top job performance standards at all times. Supervisors should keep adequate personnel files to substantiate all job performance to standards that match the mission and purpose of the church. (RFG)
  6. Review benefit packages with ministerial and support staff. Consider a different arrangement of benefit supplement for family/dependants. (RFG)
  7. If you have a member or family that is having economic hardship, hire them to clean and make ready the facilities for the next services/activities. This allows the church to help them and makes the  member feel like they are doing something worthy. (RFG)
  8. If you find the need to abruptly downsize staff – consider the possibility to move the staff position to a part-time schedule, which would save the church money and provide the staff member the time needed to pursue their other goals and opportunities. (RFG)
  9. We must give primary effort to make ourselves indispensible to the body life of our churches. Renew your personal devotional life, develop new organizational and leadership skills, offer to take on more staff responsibility, strengthen your relationships church-wide. Optimize your value!  (RFG) 

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  1. Offer donor the opportunity to give automatically by a process of automatic monthly deductions  from a donor’s bank account or automatic draft. This secures timely commitments and saves mailing and handling costs by the church and the donor. (RFG)
  2. Accept and encourage non-cash gifts, allowing donors to give other assets. A church would need to adopt a non-cash acceptance policy and accept gifts that can be sold and or used by the organization.  Legal and tax considerations should always be addressed. (RFG)
  3. Consider establishing a broader wills and trusts giving option to your congregation, encouraging gifts after they are deceased. (RFG)
  4. Consider any large events or activities for Youth/Children, offering corporate sponsorship opportunities. Revenue for qualified corporate sponsorship programs are not unrelated business income. Company sponsorship can be publicized in various and limited ways with valuable promotion for the business and non-taxable revenue for the non-profit organization.
  5. Applying for grants for specific projects. (RFG)
  6. Consider having only one collection system to the central undesignated budget, thus eliminating individual class/groups collecting and holding unsubstantiated funds to the detriment of the church  general budget. (RFG)
  7. Take a hard look at your budget and practice it biblically. What fat can you trim away? What is the church paying for that might be unnecessary during the economically stressed time? (RFG)
  8. Consider omitting all paid Sunday morning/evening and Wednesday evening child-care workers and go back to volunteers. (RFG)
  9. Consider having a church-wide garage sale. All items are donations and the church would receive the proceeds without contribution credit or use of “gifts of kind” contribution deductions. (RFG)
  10. Consider having a church member garage sale at their homes with a portion of the sale income  earned going to the church for a special need. (RFG)
  11. Every church should have a budget that is real – with itemized planned spending limits in categories of personnel, programs, properties and priorities (like missions). (RFG)
  12. Every church budget should have a “business plan” and accept only designated monies that match the business plan. This keeps spending and designations in line with the mission and purpose of the  church. (RFG)
  13. Questions for Church Finance: (RFG)
    1. Is it really a need or just a want?
    2. Can we afford it and keep it in good repair?
    3. Does it increase our debt burden and is it worth it?
    4. Will it impact the ability for the church to make purchases in the future
  14. Church yearly debt projects should never be greater than 22% of its budget. (RFG)

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  1. Consider resource rooms stocked with items generally called for in the Sunday School and other curriculum. Begin asking for items and insist leaders share the items rather than purchase them separately. This would help leaders’ personal budgets and the church supplies budget. (RFG)
  2. Purchase bulk items from wholesale sources or get donated items to supply the resource rooms.
  3. Consider eliminating costly snacks and candy during Sunday School time. These “extra costs” could be going into the offering plate and supplementing the budget. (RFG)
  4. Consider having a Resources and Collection Room Administration Team to oversee what items comeinto the church for intended use, so they are safe and age appropriate for the assigned class. (RFG)

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  1. Consider having a “covered dish” meal and the church budget purchase only the meat and paper products. Charge a minimal price for the meat and paper products. (RFG)
  2. Consider streamlining the church calendar to provide only the activities that are minimal in cost to the parishioners. (RFG)
  3. Consider having activities in new locations, different from past year. Utilize the homes of church members for “area” social events, with family centered activities/games and homemade ice cream and cake. Keep it simple. (RFG)
  4. Consider using a South Carolina State Park shelter for a church-wide fellowship event. (RFG)
  5. Check church liability insurance for coverage of off-campus events. (RFG)

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  1. Try to avoid making cuts to your ongoing Bible study curriculum. Yes, the Bible is our textbook in Sunday School, but the leader and learner resources help people understand the truths from God’s Word and how that impacts their lives today. In addition, many teachers probably would have not started teaching without some leader helps. (BJ)
  2. Examine how well you are using the resources you are purchasing. The Sunday School Director and/or Minister of Education should walk through classrooms, looking for unused Bible study curriculum and leader packs. Toward the end of a quarter make note of excess unused Bible study curriculum and adjust the next quarter’s order. (BJ)
  3. Recognize some alternative resources for curriculum may appear to save you money, but may not in the long run. Cost is one consideration for curriculum, but it is not the most important one. (BJ)
  4. Evaluate what financial expectations you place on Bible study leaders. For example, you may lose some great teachers if they have to purchase their own curriculum and/or teaching supplies. Purchase necessary supplies in bulk as a church. (BJ)
  5. Recycle songs for your groups that have worked in the past and can be updated with more modern accompaniment. Share music from your library with other churches and borrow music  from friends in your area as an alternative to purchasing. Share equipment with each other as well. (MP)
  6. Search the web for free songs and materials on worship websites. There are many available.  Contact the SCBC Worship & Music Office for a list of those, if needed. (MP) 

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Assimilation of New Members (New Spiritual Impact)

  1. To retain members, there must be a conscious effort to extend member care. Keep in touch with people. Allow small groups (Sunday School classes and others) to make contacts on a regular basis.  (RFG)
  2. Get new members involved with ministries or through Ministry Team assignments to feel needed and  purposeful. (RFG)
  3. Allow new members to understand stewardship and the biblical importance of tithing and giving to the church. (RFG)
  4. Give new members offering envelope as soon as possible. (RFG)
  5. Provide all new members with communication pieces and information (newsletter, bulletin, e-news) as soon as possible. (RFG)
  6. Have new member contacted/visited by a deacon and staff members several times after joining. (RFG)
  7. Churches can and will grow and retain assimilated members by having worship services that inspire and motivate. Offer contemporary and traditional worship styles – a good total worship experience. (RFG)

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  1. Don’t bypass safety no matter what the cost. (RFG)
  2. If existing vans are being used, be aware they were designed for cargo NOT passengers and should be considered HIGH risk when loaded with passengers. Avoid having over 8 persons aboard if it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to transport people. Definitely, no children less than age six should be a vanpassenger. All passengers need to have seat belts. (RFG)
  3. Consider checking all insurance coverage for all vehicles and facilities – shop around for best coverage for the price. (RFG)
  4. Consider raising the deductable to keep down the cost of the premium – do not cut coverage. (RFG)
  5. Church personnel travel – all staff should be reimbursed for each business mile at the current IRS rate  rather than a flat rate per month. Substantiated mileage records with date, destination, beginning/ending miles and total travel should be kept for all business associated miles. A monthly flat rate for “travel” to an employee really becomes salary and is taxable unless there is record of actual business miles traveled. Churches paying flat rate travel to their employees and without substantiated records, could be expending too many dollars out for ministerial employee travel. The current 2009 standard mileage rate is 55 cents per mile. (RFG)

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Generational Issues

  1. Be aware that different generations within the church will react differently to the economic concerns that face the church. It will be necessary to be aware of these and appease the “middle” and not alternate. (RFG)
  2. Older generation members will be ready to cut back budget and programs and other general expenses and recognize a “depression era” and adjust. This group will continue to give even more sacrificially. (RFG)
  3. Young generation member will see “cut backs” as a cut back on services – thus cutting back on their tithes and gifts. Less service – less need – less money. They will relocate membership quickly if the church does not meet their needs. (RFG)
  4. Middle generation members will become very selective on cut backs. They will want to see the basic, most beneficial budget items retained; then volunteer to personally replace any cut backs with personal manpower and retain their means of giving. This group will recognize risks and try to maintain the current status of church life. (RFG)
  5. older generation members will want to remain affiliated and see the continuance of all mission and denominational giving  remain strong, even if the church has to sacrifice staff and program activities. Younger generation members will see no reason to continue the Mission and Cooperative Program funds and will want to retain all staff and programs that meet their most immediate needs, that makes the church function to their needs and wants. The middle generation members will expect the financial sacrifice to be equal across the board. They would look at cut backs to be by % cut to all budget items. (RFG)

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Budget Planning
During diminished economic times, churches need to be aware of what their budget declares about their priorities as a church on mission.

Your church budget should prioritize the excitement and ministries expected by the church members, and motivate them to give beyond their current giving levels or encourage them that their gifts are still important and needed.

During tough economic times, a “prove the tithe” Sunday is still a good means to convey the importance of the church budget and perhaps encourage others to “catch-up” their offerings for the year.

Church budgets need to become more realistic and fulfilling. If your church based its budget this year off of what it “took in” last year – you probably have a “maintenance budget” and not a “pro-active/purposeful budget”. The church budget tells the story of priority and worth for ministry.

Budget planning needs to be realistic and purposeful.

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