2021-22 Part 1
Over the next three editions of the weekly email, I want to share with you the state of our church. In this first edition, we will look back over the past year and take stock of all that we have accomplished. In part 2, I will talk a little about the financial state of our church, and finally, in part 3, I’ll talk about our church structure and our ministry teams.
If you want an audio-visual representation of this article, you can check out the video we made for our Charge Conference meeting in November. The video covers both years of the pandemic, but is a good overview of everything we have done.
You can watch it HERE
I’m going to cover worship first and then will cover other church activities. For half of 2021, we were under California’s COVID protocols with social distancing and remote worship. As 2021 began, we were in a routine, week in and week out, of recording the worship service on Saturday mornings and premiering the recording on Sunday mornings with a Zoom gathering before and sometimes after each virtual worship service. We also were continuing our Wednesday Midweek every week as one of our main ways of staying connected especially as the pandemic raged through the winter.
For Easter, our music director, Tim Smith, planned a large presentation. We had several of our adults wear costumes and record monologues from a licensed play. We also had a dozen people record different parts of our Special Music songs and I combined them to create a virtual choir. Tim even included a cellist for one of the songs. The whole presentation became an Easter worship to remember.
The children and youth, with Deborah Stokes leadership, participated as well. They helped with Easter by lighting candles as part of the drama. Then they created their own drama in the form of a video for Palm Sunday.
We had two outdoor in-person worship services, one in June and one in July. These were very popular as our first in-person gatherings in over a year. Then, on July 18th, we held our first indoor in-person worship, and we have continued to meet in-person and indoors since then. Attendance has steadily grown from then until Christmas where we had nearly our pre-COVID average for December 12th and 19th, as well as, over 70 people at our Christmas Eve worship service. Even with in-person worship returning, the tech volunteers continue to Zoom the worship service live for church attendees who cannot make it in-person and I continue to edit the Sanctuary audio and Zoom video files together on Sunday afternoons to make a more professional quality YouTube recording every week.
For Advent and Christmas, we added our handbell choir. It was a combination of returning and new ringers creating an even larger bell choir than we had before the pandemic. The bells played three songs as part of our Christmas Cantata Sunday, and two more on Christmas Eve. They are looking forward to playing regularly in our worship services in 2022.
Our Outreach Group was busy this year making bags for the homeless. Carol Spencer and friends sewed 100 bags using remnants of quilting material. These bags were then filled with items that churches of Serve Ramona helped fill. This was a great opportunity to do something directly for the homeless population here in Ramona. These creative and compassionate folks have also been making HOPE wall hangings and giving them out to those who are facing difficult medical conditions.
After not having the Turkey Dinner in 2020, Ellen Sargent and Jim Adams put together a plan to have a Drive-Thru Easter Eve Dinner with cars picking up their ready-to-eat meals instead of a sit down experience. It went very well. It was so successful that we did the Turkey Dinner in the same format this November. This time Brenda Aguas took the reins and did a great job in her first time as Team Lead.
Brenda has also been quietly and steadily continuing our outreach to the Open Door Dinners. Each week at The Grange, a dinner is prepared by a local church or agency. Our church is responsible for 4 of the dinners each year. The Open Door Dinner coordinators changed format from sit down to to-go and then back to sit down as the pandemic ebbed and flowed.
Our preschool has rebounded from a year of COVID and reduced capacity to bursting at the seams. In the winter of 2021, they continued a special class for young elementary children, while the schools were doing remote education. In the whole two years of this pandemic, they have had only one child with a confirmed COVID diagnosis, and there was no transmittal at the preschool. They were finally able to hold an indoor event this Christmas with all of the parents wearing masks.
For not even worshiping together in-person half the year, we accomplished a lot. Even more than I have listed in this short essay. We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of great people doing wonderful ministry in our midst. I am excited to see what we can do as the new year reveals itself. Until then, watch next week for part 2 of this 3-part series.
2021-22 Part 2
This is the second in my three-part series. Over these three editions of the weekly email, I want to share with you the state of our church. In this first edition last week, we looked back over the past year and took stock of all that we have accomplished. In this edition (part 2), I will talk a little about the financial state of our church, and finally, in the third edition, I’ll talk about our church structure and our ministry teams.
Over my 24 years as a pastor working at both small and large churches, I have seen every possible state of financial health in which a church can possibly be. When people ask me how we are doing financially, I sometimes flinch, because I can remember times when former churches were asking people to pay individual bills, just to keep the lights on and the water running. As a result my general answer is “Fine, but we could be doing better.” Strangely enough, that description actually describes our current financial state.
Over the next few paragraphs, I will try to lay out as simply and straightforwardly as I can where we are financially. I hope that you will see how we are fine at the moment, but also see clearly the challenges that lay ahead of us. I have no doubt, however, that together we can face these challenges and overcome them.
In raw numbers, we are down financially from 2019 giving. Both the pandemic and some movement of our people out of the area has taken a toll on our finances. Simply not meeting in person and allowing people an easy way to drop off their donations has caused part of that decrease as well. In 2019, our main offering was $145,000. The numbers are not completely in for 2021, but we are estimating they will be about $115,000. That’s a decrease of $30,000.
Luckily, that is not the whole picture. However, it does show us that we need to think hard about our financial state, especially down the line. It also means that we each have to carefully consider our own financial commitment to the church, and make sure that each one of us is keeping up the best we can with our support to the church.
But wait, I said we were fine. This probably doesn’t sound fine at all. The other part of the financial picture is that our church along with many, if not most, churches were able to participate in the government’s PPP loan program for small businesses in 2020. This participation was essential for keeping our preschool open and our teachers paid. It has also helped keep our church staff paid.
The preschool ran most of 2020 with smaller class sizes, but the same number of teachers and aides. This was required by the emergency guidelines that the preschool followed. Most of those restrictions have since been lifted and the preschool is now back to near 2019 levels. Because the preschool is doing better, more of the PPP loan money has been able to be used for the church staff.
All of the PPP loan money given to the church has now been forgiven, which means we do not have to pay any of it back. Now, when we run the financial reports, it shows up as a gift to our church and offsets our decline in the Sunday offering. In fact, our estimate is that at the end of 2021, we will show a surplus of nearly $35,000. This is a wonderful place to be in. Having “extra” money at the end of the year. However, if our giving stays below our 2019 levels, that $35,000 won’t even last us all of 2022.
Each month, we are spending at least $5000 more than we are receiving. At that conservative rate, the $35,000 will be gone by August. Ideally, our spending would match our income and the $35,000 would be extra money for maintenance and large projects like new AC/Heating for the church, or a new roof. It is partially why we do not have a regular Office Administrator. However, in my 24 years, even when I was just an assistant pastor, I rarely saw a church that brought in more than it spent.
I pray that the pandemic, despite the new waves of variants, will come to a place where we can deal with it and return to something closer to normal. However, I don’t think that the new normal will ever look quite like the 2019 normal. It means that we all have to work a little differently, and a little harder to change our habits and adjust to the new normal, whatever that is.
This also means adjusting financially. Many of you are now giving electronically. Some of you are utilizing recurring gifts, so that the money comes to the church at regular intervals. This is nice for the church, because they can begin to count on a steady income stream. However, it also means that special giving, or incremental increases in giving don’t happen as frequently. And although those are often small differences, multiplied across the entire church it can mean a decrease in thousands of dollars a year.
How is the church doing? “Fine, but we could be doing better.” Please keep our church and its finances in your prayers, but also keep your own finances, and your giving to the church in your prayers as well. I know that the pandemic has hurt all of our finances, and we are not asking anyone to give beyond their means. We are simply asking you to keep our church and its ministries actively in your thoughts and prayers.
Next week, in the final installment of this 3-part series, I will talk about the ministries of our church, and how we can work together to strengthen and grow them in 2022. I will also remind us all how our simple board governance works to support those ministries.
2021-22 Part 3
This is the final article in this three-part series. Over these three editions of the weekly email, I have shared with you the state of our church. In the first edition, we looked back over the past year and took stock of all that we have accomplished. In the second edition (part 2), I talked a little about the financial state of our church, and finally, in this third edition, I’ll talk about our church structure and our ministry teams.
Three years ago this week, we introduced the Simple Board Governance. A year later COVID hit, and we got distracted from our purpose and form. My hope, as we enter 2022, is that we will be able to reclaim our structure and begin once again to grow our ministries and our faith.
What is simple board governance and why did we change? In a traditional church structure, there are multiple 9-person (or larger) committees and each has a niche of authority and control. This works well in a large church where the requests and tasks can be overwhelming and dividing up the work makes sense. However, in a small church, it almost becomes comical if not frustrating.
For instance, if you wanted to start a new ministry that required funding. You might have to meet with the Administrative Board to get general approval, but they would ask about financing and space use. So you would have to meet with the Finance Committee to get financial support, and then meet with Trustees to get space approval. Then, you might have to come back to the Administrative Board to get final approval. Most of those committees only met once a month. Depending on the schedule, it could take you up to 3 months to get all of that taken care of thus delaying the actual work of getting a new ministry started.
The other problem in a small church is that in order to fill the 36 positions across 4 standard committees requires many people to serve on multiple committees. Often, everyone simply shifts from one 3-year commitment per committee to another every 3 years with no break. This created burn out and apathy. The simple board governance is a way to streamline the work, and allow people to actually do the work of ministry instead of simply attending one boring meeting after another.
In a simple board governance, there are just 3 levels: Church Council, the Pastor/office staff, and Ministry Teams. In this model, the Ministry Teams are given authority to do their ministry with as little oversight as possible. Most ministries need little oversight to do their work. If they need financing, then they can either fund raise, or come to the Church Council with a request for funds. Otherwise, the Ministry Teams are free to do the good work that God is calling them to do.
The Church Council work is three parts. 1. Take care of the administrative work that is required of a church and nonprofit organization. This means filling out forms, acting as the Trustees, and taking care of staffing issues. 2. Create guidelines that all teams must follow and step in where teams conflict with the vision of the church or where two teams have a conflict with each other. 3. Discern and update the vision for the church. As the ministry needs of our community shift over time, the Church Council is tasked with keeping up and helping our ministry teams adapt. Only 12 to 15 people are needed as officially elected Church Council members. This allows others to spend their time actually doing ministry work.
The Pastor and office staff help in the coordination of resources like space and time. The pastor helps make sure that the Teams have what they need, as well as, encouraging them to continue and grow their work. In this way, the Pastor and office staff are a support to our ministry teams rather than a gatekeeper who mandates what the teams should do.
Before COVID hit, we had 20 plus ministry teams (Use the link at the top to reach a full list) – each with their specific ministry area and work. Several of them continued or adapted for COVID. They were mentioned in the first part of this 3-part series. Others were based on in-person worship and have only slowly started functioning again. It is my hope that the Omicron wave of the pandemic will be the last one for a while, and that we can truly get all of our ministry teams going again and begin to create new ones.
Is there a need that you see in our church or community? Is there work that you and a team of others could be doing to address that need? That is how a new ministry team is formed.
2019 List of Ministry Teams
District Mission Team
Open Door Dinner Team
Turkey Feast Team
Greater / Check In Team
Guest Gift Baking Team
Children’s Choir Team
Adult Choir Team
Handbell Choir Team
Congregational Care Team
Military Support Team
Reconciling Ministry Team
FaithWeaver Friends Team
Sunday School Team