Are we facing imminent bankruptcy?
No, clearly we are not. The most recent financial statements do not support the assertion that the church is facing imminent bankruptcy. The assertion is wrong on two counts: Bankruptcy would occur only if the church were no longer able to cover its accounts payable. Secondly it presupposes that no management action can or will be taken to rectify financial issues which the financial statements highlight.
There is a reluctance to think of the church as a corporation. By legal definition it is in fact a not-for-profit corporation and should be managed as such.
But can one simply apply business variables like efficient use of resources and consolidation of assets and cost benefit analysis when examining the viability of a church? Is a cost benefit that which determines the worthiness of maintaining and preserving places of worship? Much as we would like to assume that maintaining a place of worship should be a matter of faith alone this is not the case.
A church cannot exist on faith alone. It needs a solid financial framework to survive. Our church is in need of both spiritual leadership as well as management expertise.
A transformative process
There is a tendency to believe that all we need is a proper “business plan” and everything will be OK.
The truth is we need more than that. This church needs a transformation process before it can be a vibrant place of community activities and worship.
Presenting statistics and mapping trend-lines in and of itself is not management. One has to understand what the numbers are suggesting and have the courage and the good sense to actually confront the issues and then deal with them pro-actively.
Before we look at the numbers in detail, let’s look at the issues we are facing.
If a ‘business’ is failing, the question is always . . . why is it happening?
So in this case, we must ask:
Why are the people not coming to church?
Why are people on the membership roster not contributing financially to the church?
What do the people want of the church that they are not getting?
A marketing analysis
Let us assume that these members are our customers. A marketing analysis begins with the 4 P’s: Product, Placement, Price, and Promotion.
What is our “product” and is it still relevant to our “customer”?
What aspect of our “product” needs to be re-defined?
Is it our Lutheran religion, or is it the way it is presented?
What makes the “customer” walk away rather than embrace the service?
Is there something wrong with where we are located?
Has the customer base shifted geographically, and we are no longer convenient?
Is the packaging or placement of the “product” out of date?
Is it too expensive to partake of the service?
If it is not expensive, is there a question of value derived for the price paid?
Does the customer evaluate the benefit of the service in terms of dollars, or the time invested, or the fulfilment it provides?
How are we reaching out to our customers?
How do we create the desire to participate ?
Do we take the customer for granted?
Do we have a network of people that promote the church?
When conducting an evaluation such as this, we need to be both open minded and honest. As the issues surface it gives us an opportunity to ask not only “what’s the problem”, but “what are we going to do about it?”
A S.W.O.T approach
To help us frame the strategy we must undertake another analysis – SWOT
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
What are our strengths?
We need to acknowledge our people, our facilities, our spirit, our heritage, our organizations.
We need to be honest in assessing our weakness because here is where we have the greatest likelihood of denial.
Is it our “product” — what we have to offer ? Does it need to change, to be updated?
Does our religion have demands that are not aligned with the values of our “customers”?
Do our “customers” have negative feelings about our church? If so: Why?
Why have our “customers” stopped making use of the church facilities for other purposes than attending religious services?
What are our opportunities?
What is happening in the world around us? What is changing?
Is there an opportunity for us to capitalize on our strengths and make this organization more relevant and more effective in the community?
What are the business opportunities our church could benefit from?
What is happening in our community, our people, our customer base.
What is taking place around us that will impact our attendance?
What if there is another pandemic type of threat?
Is there a reason why people walking away from our community?
Who are our customers?
Not just our members, but also those who have walked away, and those whom we wish to attract. What are they looking for? They have needs and wants. Needs are perhaps the easiest to define. They need the church as a place for spiritual fulfillment, as a centre for community, and as a location to gather for funerals, and weddings and celebrating holidays.
Do they have any needs or wants that go beyond this? Can we define them?
Once we understand our customer, we can define how we can best meet his/her needs and wants.
With this in mind, we can proceed to structure a business strategy to meet those needs. To be meaningful, our business strategy will also need to establish real objectives for ourselves. This would include financial goals but also goals for issues that are important to our congregation such as attendance, personal satisfaction, community participation, and positive feedback.
This is how we begin the transformative process that is needed if we want our church to be successful and viable.
We cannot do this alone. We need your input, your thoughts, your critique.
Please take the survey at https://forms.gle/GxHcM6FLBHmt7cFu6
or on our website www.friends-of-st-peters.com
Thank-you for helping.
Friends of St. Peters Church
Editor: The names of the Authors can be found from their website.
DIGITAL Estonian Life No. 32 - August 12, 2022