Go Green and Save Green

Having just written a book about some practical ways churches can grow their finances and stretch their dollars to provide greater outreach than ever before, I’ve encountered countless examples of other faith communities stretching their own “fish and loaves” to better disciple and minister in their towns and cities.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

One example that isn’t always an obvious choice for increasing outreach funds is for a church to decrease its energy costs. I recently spoke with Erin McKenzie, who is a member at the church I pastor as well as a member of the UMC’s local district Green Team. The Green Team is active in helping area churches loosen up some of their funds currently spent on energy and building costs, so that those funds can be used instead for outreach and ministry.

What follows is a Q and A about how your church can do the same:

Q: First, I’ve heard you refer to what you do as Creation Care ministry. How did you get involved in this?

A: Well, it’s a long story, but the short version is that I’ve always been connected to the land having grown up in the country. Several years ago, I started learning about the degradation that has occurred to our food systems. Then, I learned more about how badly we’ve been exploiting God’s Creation. It really took over my heart as I began to see all the connections between how we could live in a God-honoring way, and how that would simultaneously mean caring for God’s Creation. Or how we could live in a way that does not honor God, and how that manifests in neglect and abuse of God’s Creation.

Q: Right. God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over Creation, to steward it for future generations.

A: Exactly. And where I see great opportunity for not just Methodists but all Christians to be engaging with Creation Care as a powerful testimony to our faith, we instead have often disregarded our intended role as caretakers entirely.  There are 370,000 congregations in the U.S. It’s estimated that if all of America’s congregations cut energy use just 20% it would save nearly $630 million per year, and prevent more than 2.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions—which would equate to taking 480,000 cars off the roads!

Q: Wow! So fast forward to today, you are involved in Creation Care in several ways, and one of them is through the UMC’s Green Team in our district. What does the Green Team do?

A: That’s right. We know that most of the Methodist (and other) churches in our area are in one of three boats. First, they have “traditional” church buildings, built decades ago, that are in need of repair, major renovation, or even demolition and rebuilding. Second, the buildings themselves are in pretty good shape overall, but the HVAC systems need replaced. Or third, a congregation is just looking for additional ways to cut down on energy costs. There are a lot of really simple opportunities for churches, whatever their circumstances, to go green while saving green. Our goal is to spread the word to pastors, trustees, board members, and congregations about the partners in our area and across the country that can help.

Q: So what you’re saying is that, hypothetically, a church could save a portion of the money it currently spends on heating, cooling, or even remodeling costs, and reallocate that money to much-needed outreach?

A: Right. And, let’s face it, whether it’s heating our houses or our churches, no one enjoys spending money on energy. It’s just something we have to do. But churches can take some simple steps to spend less on energy, while becoming more responsible stewards of Creation, and being able to use the money more impactfully in their communities.

Q: Right, and most churches would love to move some of their energy spending to the outreach column. So what are some of the steps churches can take if they are in a very old building, and are looking at some substantial renovations?

A:  First, churches in the Dayton area should check out the PACE program. It’s a funding mechanism for projects of $100,000 or more. It’s designed to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for buildings, which then uses the energy savings to fund the project. In other words, if your church has to do a major renovation to begin with, it can opt to do the renovation in an environmentally responsible way, and then use the energy savings to pay off the loan.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a win-win for churches facing a major renovation. Is there somewhere readers can go if they are looking for similar options outside of Dayton?

A: Yes! Similar programs exist, and new programs are popping up across the country. A great place to start for locating other local options is to contact Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). They are doing great work across the country along these lines. Thirty-eight states have local affiliates, and in the other twelve states, the national organization would be happy to point you in the right direction.

Q: Great. So now, what about that second group of churches who need to replace their old-school boilers or just update their HVAC systems?

A: Right. So, this is a big one. Energy consumption is often the second-largest cost for organizations, including churches. Not only that, but up to 30% of energy paid for is money you could put straight into the garbage can because the energy is wasted by inefficient HVAC systems. The good news is that energy companies across the country are incentivized by the Public Utility Commission to help the public use less energy. The way utility companies are doing this is by offering huge incentives and rebates on energy efficient HVAC, lighting, thermostat, and related projects. Churches can save up to 50% of their installed costs.

Q: Again, it sounds like a no-brainer. How does a church get started on this? Should they directly contact their energy providers?

A: They can. Or, again, they can get in touch with their state IPL contact, who will walk them through the steps. Typically, the first step will be an energy audit and assessment. Most churches are eligible for free energy audits. In Dayton, a congregation can also get in touch with Dayton Regional Green to get started with the process, which includes a free energy audit for any church with fewer than twenty-five employees.

Q: You mentioned a third category of churches: churches who don’t need major building or systems updates, but who could still benefit from taking better care of their resources and saving some money in the process.

A: Yes! So, if it is either unnecessary or simply not in the budget for a church to cut down on their carbon footprint in a big way, there are still things a church can do, just like we’ve all been doing in our own homes, to save some money and better steward our planet. These are things like: replacing our old inefficient light bulbs, taking a look at where our thermostats are set, setting up comprehensive recycling and composting programs on our campuses, etc. Again, I would point your readers to IPL’s website. They have some great resources for churches who want to become better caretakers of God’s Creation. There is a start-up kit for congregations which includes both a list of things under $25 and a list of things over $25 that congregations can do to begin to cut down on their energy use.

Q: Well, thank you for your time today, and I look forward to hearing about where my readers will spend their money on outreach after they have freed up some of their energy expenses!

A: You’re welcome! And please tell your readers I’d be happy to help them get connected to a local resource if they email me at erin.n.mckenzie@gmail.com.

Fish and Loaves through Grants and Crowdfunding

Grants are often a mystery to pastors and are overlooked as a potential funding source for new projects or programs that line up with vision and mission. But many churches have benefited from grants, and your congregation can, too.

  1. 614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_This is a great resource for understanding your church’s tax-exempt status: http://grantspace.org/tools/knowledge-base/Funding-Resources/Foundations/faith-based
  2. Take a local class on grant-writing, or here’s a free course online: http://grantspace.org/training/courses/introduction-to-finding-grants
  3. Invite and designate a person or group within the church whose gifts and calling line up as the church’s grant writers.
  4. Find charitable foundations whose missions and values line up with yours.
  5. Understand the commitments that your church may be taking on by receiving a grant.

Crowdfunding is a way to raise money for a specific endeavor from a large number of people. Churches can use this option to raise a lot of money, in a little time, while also raising awareness for the outreach efforts of the church. While many crowdfunding companies have made their platforms easy to learn and easy to use, it would again be advisable to find the person or group of people in your community with a knack and a desire for this type of work. People who would be a good fit for this work would have basic technical know-how to both understand the online crowdfunding platform and to be able to explain it to others wishing to contribute; communication skills, whether PR or marketing related; and financial acumen.

Here are a couple resources from others who have achieved church outreach goals by using crowdfunding:



Additionally, check out my book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes, available now on Amazon.com for some inspiring examples of faith communities who’ve put together successful fundraising campaigns.

Church Mergers

A growing number of churches are discovering that their most effective partnerships, the best way to increase their outreach without increasing their budgets, is through church mergers.

Sometimes this is the las614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_t thing a pastor or a congregation wants to consider. It can feel like it threatens our identity or betrays our church’s history. Yet, I’ve watched congregations experience God in their midst and grown in their outreach like they would have never expected by being open to merging with a local, complementary church or faith community looking for a physical location.

Here are some questions to consider if you find yourself against a wall in your outreach efforts or facing a declining building or congregation:

Could you multiply your impact in the community by merging with another local church?

Do you have a stable facility but a declining congregation?

Does your church serve people who primarily drive from out of town to attend?

Could a merger with a local community establish your church as more of an actor in the community where it exists?

Could you reach more in your community by offering your space to a new church or a church plant in need of space?

On the flip side, are you a vibrant, growing church with a need for a stable meeting space?

Are there churches within the same denomination, in close proximity, which could benefit from coming together to form a more diverse faith community?

I discuss some of the symbiotic church mergers I have witnessed in my book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes. Available today on Amazon.com, Cokesbury.com, or at my website, rosariopicardo.com.

What happened in your congregation and in your community when you took the leap and merged?

Love Local

The local movement is cause to celebrate. We’re all looking around our neighborhoods for ways to connect meaningfully with one another. Businesses, too, are looking for ways to give back to their local communities. As churches, rather than shying away from business, let’s partner and participate in the good work our local businesses are doing.

In my book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes, I give many examples of the type of connections and work that can emerge from strong church-business partnerships. The following are some general suggestions for becoming more enmeshed in your neighborhood, and for encouraging local businesses to get to know your church.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Patronize and establish relationships with local businesses: Consistently supporting local businesses—pizza restaurants or coffee shops on the block—can build relationships. It’s good for the local community. It builds goodwill for the church within the community. It is a potential form of disciple-making, even if all you’re doing is choosing to support a local business every time you meet with someone outside the church or order in for an event. Additionally, getting to know your business neighbors will put you in touch with the pulse of the community. You may find out about local needs.  Businesses hoping to give back to their communities may come to you first for input about how they might do that.

Offer a business directory: Again, the most powerful outcome here is connection. By providing local businesses the chance to be represented in a business directory, you are offering them access to your church attendees and potential clients. Your church attendees have the ability to patronize local businesses. Goodwill can be built. Business owners and workers may end up attending the church and even investing time, finances, or skills in the church. They will also be more likely to connect others to the church if and when the need arises. Additionally, a business directory could, at least, pay for its own paper and printing through the sale of larger ads by businesses interested in increasing their presence. Directories can be put together and printed by someone at your church, or

Look for mutually beneficial opportunities: When a strong level of mutual understanding has been established between the church and a local business, and when the two share common values, a partnership can multiply God’s work in our communities.

What are some examples you have seen of church and local business coming together to benefit the community?

Power in Partnerships

Partners as the Fish and Loaves, Part 1: Community Partners

If you can dream it up, you can team it up. Richie Norton

Hundreds of people in our towns and cities are already doing God’s Kingdom work daily! As churches, we have a tendency to create “new” programs either out of a desire for control or because we simply don’t know about the good work already taking place around us. The financial reality, however, is that churches alone can’t possibly meet all the needs in our communities.

As a church, we need to get out into our communities and find out how we can partner with the great organizations and events already in action. We are more than the sum of our parts. Together, God can work through us and expand our reach beyond our individual capabilities.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

I have witnessed some great examples of God’s multiplying effect on our partnerships, and I describe many of them in my upcoming book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fish. Here are some ways you can get connected to community work as a church:

After-school programs: By allowing the space for after-school programs to meet, and encouraging your laity to get involved with the work, the church can both bring more kids and their parents into their doors than they otherwise might while serving kids in the area who need an extra meal, tutoring, encouragement, healthy relationships, and a safe space for fun.

Job and life skills mentorship programs: As a church, we’re not only concerned with helping people who are living in poverty; we want to help people out of poverty! There are many programs across the country offering adults the job and life skills they need to break out of poverty. Churches can offer these programs space to meet and servants to teach, mentor, counsel, and encourage while allowing organizations with successful models to continue their effective work!

Music education programs: As public schools face budget cuts and let go of their arts programs, organizations have sprung up to offer students affordable or free music lessons and experiences. In order to keep their own costs low, these programs often need practice and even performance space. Imagine your entire sanctuary filled with people who don’t come to Sunday church services, the ability to greet them with warmth and hospitality, and the chance to being building some relationships.

Local radio stations: Radio stations often sponsor events or hold their own fundraising events and are looking for space and perhaps some servants to assist with events. Again, this is a group of people who may not be familiar with your church. It gets the message out to the community that you care and you’re there as a church.

Community events: Maybe you have a great idea for an event you’d like to offer your community, but are low on funds to host. Check your community calendar from years past. Chances are, there are similar events already planned whose organizers would love to have extra volunteers and more to offer at the event (pitch in a hot-dog stand, for example) in exchange for double-billing of the event!

Garden/Urban farming programs: Local and urban farming initiatives are popping up across the country. These growers and markets are serving as oases in food deserts and alleviating the lack of access to fresh, healthy, organic food. Many have educational camps or programs designed to teach our next generations how to grow, harvest, and prepare their own foods. Hook up with one of these local groups to find out how you can get involved!

Food pantry/access programs: Even if your church doesn’t have its own food pantry, it can perhaps serve as a distribution center for existing food access programs.

Crisis organizations: Organizations already operate across the country to provide necessities to those in financial or medical crisis. Likewise, churches will inevitably come across people in need. Establishing a partnership with these organizations can streamline the process of getting needed aid to a church member, and can provide the organizations with office space or can co-fund community awareness initiatives.

Recovery organizations: As Christians, we are all “in recovery.” But those who are in recovery from drugs, alcohol, and other addictions need support from recovery organizations as well as from their local churches. Again, many very successful recovery organizations already exist in our towns and cities, but they need safe spaces to meet and the participants are often required to attend a local church for community and accountability.

Local schools: I’ve been a part of some great partnerships between local schools and churches. Here are a couple posts all about how this particular partnership can take shape. http://adammclane.com/2010/09/07/good-news-to-public-schools/

Local police departments: The church can be a great place to connect police officers and the public they serve on neutral ground. Invite your local force to take part in a community kickball event. This is a partnership that is badly needed in our country today, and easy to at least help get started. Police officers, in return, can be an invaluable source of information for the church about the specific types of outreach needed by their communities.

How have you seen local churches and communities partner to be better than the sum of their parts?

Seven ways to create missional buy-in and drive ministry in your church

9781501818929_cvr_flatScripture teaches us that when people have vision, they are inspired to follow what is communicated and put back in order that which is out of order. There is much in our world that is out of order; a clear vision compels people to engage in the work at hand to make the community a better place. Without vision, a church becomes ineffective, stops reaching out to the community around it, and fails to follow the Lord. When people believe in the vision, they commit to the mission and become passionate about the work of the ministry.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

When we feel a financial pinch as a community, we can allow fear to dwarf our mission as a church rather than trust God to show us exactly how he plans for us to accomplish the mission he has given us, despite the dollars in our weekly offerings.

In Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes, I provide some examples of church communities who had faith in God’s specific mission for them, set to work on their call, and accomplished amazing outreach as a result.

Here are some ways your church can create and use missional buy-in regardless of the financial realities you may be facing:

Seek and answer the call God has for your community. God has specific plans for your congregation. Before beginning work on a large “project” or need that you see in the world, be sure to discern and confirm that God is calling your church to meet that need. Pastor Rick Warren has a great post on the steps involved in discerning God’s mission for your church: http://pastors.com/3-parts-of-vision/.

Share a compelling God-vision with the congregation. Clearly communicate the vision God has given you as a pastor, a board of directors, or as a member of your faith community. When your community hears the call that you hear, and sees the vision God has given you, the entire community will be emboldened and impassioned to serve through Christ in amazing and expansive ways. Remember that if there isn’t some fear or sense of impossibility mixed in with the eagerness a vision brings, this may not be a true call from God. He will ask us to work together as the body of Christ, accomplishing through Him what we cannot accomplish alone.

Frequently communicate the progress of the vision. We all want to know whether our efforts are having an effect. Ongoing discussion about the ministry will encourage ongoing involvement. Seek to promote as much interaction, inclusion, and active participation in the congregation’s ministry as possible.

Communicate setbacks for the vision. Again, buy-in demands inclusion and transparency. In times of setbacks, surpassed deadlines, or even complete failures, faith leaders can gain respect and credibility, as well as prayer and support, by sharing the “lows” of a ministry as well as the “highs.”

Ask for support. Speak openly with your community about the need for support. Whether the support needed is in the form of time, money, or skills, be willing to ask your congregation for what is needed.

Treat your congregation with trust and respect: Remember that, even if God has given you a vision, He has also placed you within a community. You need everyone in your community, whether they contribute $1 to a special offering for the ministry, encouraging words to others within the community, or significant professional consulting. While you may be your community’s leader, the vision and mission is not about you. Trust and respect the input others give and the roles others play.

Regularly reassess God’s call for your community. Be open and aware of the changing vision of a congregation. One facet we tend to tie to “success” in a project is duration. The longer we are committed to a given ministry, a given group of people, a given goal, the more credit we tend to give the ministry as a whole. Conversely, changing direction is often seen as “quitting” or failing to persevere. We have to remember, though, that these judgments are often man-made. God wants us to be ready for “new things.” We may, in fact, have already achieved a specific mission God had for us within a given ministry without even realizing it. God may be calling your congregation in a new direction, and as the leader of your church, be open to this and work to cultivate this same attitude within your congregation. If passion among church members for a specific mission has steadily flagged, this may be a good time to ask God to either renew your church’s call for the mission in progress or give your community a new vision and new mission

Using your Assets: Part 1—More people in the buildings!

614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_Do you daydream about ministries that could be happening at your church? Do you pray for more people to walk through those doors? Do you have wasted space in your building? Every pastor I know can answer yes to these three questions. So let’s take a look at what we have at hand. What spaces do you need to reclaim in your local church to make room for ministry? What can be repurposed for the church or the community? Stewardship includes the care of buildings that have been entrusted to local congregations.

Churches across the country are finding themselves in a quandary about their aging buildings: Should we rebuild? How can we afford a(nother) building campaign? Even if we could raise the finances, is rebuilding the best way to steward the money? Should we renovate? Can we rent space elsewhere and save the overhead? Can we share space? Will we have to close our doors?

Each congregation has to assess its circumstances and discern its way forward. But even when a church isn’t struggling financially, assessing the use of their buildings can be an enormous opportunity to increase outreach while decreasing costs.

Here are just a few of the options I discuss in my forthcoming book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes:

Choir room to café: Is there a space in your church that would be perfect for a small café or other gathering space? So many of our churches have underutilized or never-utilized space. By converting those to a casual, comfortable gathering space, we may attract more of the community into our building while giving new purpose and vitality to old spaces.

Coworking: Whether your congregation meets in an old church building with extra rooms or is looking to move into something modern (like a strip mall or a former retirement community), it may benefit from coworking. Worship services are typically held on the weekends with little church activity during the week. Could nonprofits, entrepreneurs, or other professionals in the community rent office space during the week? Not only could this be a source of additional revenue, but it’s a great way to build community ties.

Classrooms and Meeting Rooms: Could classrooms and meeting rooms be used for Boy and Girl Scouts, Weight Watchers, AA meetings, Al-Anon meetings, Grief Share, Cancer Support, sports leagues, or other programs? ESL or GED classes? Even if the church decides not to charge a rental rate to a group, depending on the group’s purpose, this still gives the church the opportunity to get more community members through its doors than it would for Sunday worship.

Kitchens: Licensed commercial kitchens can be hard to find for young caterers or others just starting out in the food business, but most churches have one. This is the perfect space to offer for rental during the week.

Sanctuary: Sanctuaries provide a place where a large group of people can come together at once. What if your sanctuary could be used for neighborhood meetings with elected officials, or as a place where community members could come discuss and find solutions to problems that plague the neighborhood?

Parking Lots: Especially in an urban area where parking spaces are scarce, opening a parking lot during unused hours can be a draw for potential renters. There are a number of ways the arrangement could be made, whether it’s charging a monthly fee to individual tenants for weeknight parking or renting it to groups for parking during specific events.

Courtyards or Gardens: An outdoor courtyard or garden can serve as a venue for parties, weddings, or other outdoor events.

Choir Rooms: The organ and choir setup in many churches can be a great space for musicians who need to practice. The acoustics in a church are often excellent, hard to replicate, and may be exactly what a musician in your community needs. Consider offering this space as a music rehearsal space for organists, pianists, and other choirs.

Stage: Many churches have a stage, perhaps used only a few times a year for school plays or a Christmas pageant. Many towns have theater groups looking for an affordable place to stage performances. A stage could also serve as a venue for dance rehearsals or photo shoots for an aspiring photographer.

Storage Areas: Churches with several buildings may have unused storage spaces—closets in basements, outdoor sheds or garages, etc. These, too, can be made available to renters. They might be just what a Little League team needs to store their equipment in the off-season, or what a young entrepreneur needs for inventory storage.

Have you repurposed a junk space to a ministry space in your church recently? Tell us about it!

Seven paths to financial health and abundant outreach

If your theological training went anything like mine did, church finances were not on the radar. Maybe you eagerly accepted a call to a full-time pastor position, only to quickly find yourself responsible for the church’s less-than-stellar finances on top of your own student loans. Or maybe you’ve struggled to find a pastor position that would allow you to take care of your own finances while continuing to give faithfully to the church. Maybe you’re one of hundreds of pastors dealing with declining attendance and declining giving, while the needs in your community continue to grow.

You know who else found themselves woefully unprepared and under-resourced when it came to feeding Jesus’ followers? How about the disciples and the 5,000? The disciples looked at their need. Then they looked at some fish and some loaves of bread. The logical conclusion: impossible, not enough. But Jesus tells them, you have something, begin sharing it and trust in God to provide. And we know how that story ends. Everyone ate to satisfaction … and there were leftovers!

I was financially clueless when I started out as a pastor, and I’ve experienced many challenges common to pastors along the way. But at each step—while planting new churches, leading mergers between struggling churches, and currently as I serve as executive pastor of new church development—God has taught me how to trustfully turn to what’s at hand to continue His mission.

In my upcoming book, Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_, I discuss some of the strategies God has shown me for outreach in lean times.

The following are a few steps pastors can take immediately to begin steering their churches to financial health and abundant outreach.

Get help: Right now, there are trusted servants in your church who are called and equipped to teach you and guide decisions about the church’s space, systems, structures, and money. Find these people and invite them to help you learn.

Minor in business: I don’t mean in your formal education (although, if you are still in that early phase of your training, taking a few general business classes could be extremely helpful). Avail yourself of the vast array of resources that teach the basics of the business world, from economic trends to church financing models being tried elsewhere to the role of social media in business.

Seek and preach a holistic theology of money: Your church is not in business for financial profit, but rather “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Nonetheless, scripture has much to teach about financial stewardship, and this includes operating a church with the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and transparency.

Practice stewardship: As a pastor, one of the most impactful things you can do for the financial well-being of your church is to commit yourself to tithing, even if you need to do so while becoming debt-free. While you do this, be transparent with your congregation about your commitment and the paths you took or are taking to financial freedom while continuing to faithfully give to your church.

Teach stewardship: In a country that carries massive personal debt as a way of life, many in our congregations need training and support in personal finances. If our congregations are not financially healthy, we will not be able to expect financial health for our churches. Excellent courses and training programs exist to help people achieve financial health. Invite members of the church who are called and who are already practicing responsible financial stewardship to facilitate a class at your church. http://christianstewardshipnetwork.com/resources/

Consider Bi-Vocation: Pastors who work in a bivocational role are often able to reach a wider range of people while saddling their churches with less financial burden and freeing the church to invest more into outreach. If you have a sense of calling by God to do ministry in this way, a sense of community for accountability and belonging, a sense of being blessed by your role in spite of potential financial challenges and the demand on your time, and a passion for ministry and people, bivocational ministry may open you and your church to greater levels of outreach.

Strive for innovation and flexibility: Churches across the country are struggling financially for a whole host of reasons. If we are to continue in our mission of reaching people for Jesus, we need to proactively seek ways to stay on top of or ahead of current trends in both economics and the way we do outreach.

What other ways has your church experienced financial health and abundant outreach?