As of third quarter 2009 the nation’s economy wasn’t particularly worse—but it sure wasn’t rebounding either.
But the need of churches to spread the Word doesn’t go away just because they have less money to spend. Faced with tightening cash flows, many houses of worship are making use of non-conventional means—some of them new, some that have stood the test of time—to fund existing and new ministries necessary for them to do their work.
One mainstay of church fundraising/revenue generation that has been around for quite some time is the use of “substitute money” or “scrip” in the form of gift cards or shopping certificates that can be used at participating retail merchants and service providers.
In a typical scenario, scrip is purchased in large quantities from these merchants and providers for a discount by one of several “scrip brokers,” active in the marketplace. The brokers, in turn, sell the scrip to churches (or other organizations) at a figure close to the discounted price. Church members then purchase the scrip at face value and use it to pay for goods and services. The church keeps the difference between the discounted price and the face value, providing revenues for ministries and other projects.
All Saints Lutheran Church in Phoenix has utilized scrip programs to fund items from remodeling to youth travel to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering in 2009, according to Rendy Horner, the church’s volunteer scrip program coordinator.
Under the eScrip program administered by California-based Electronic Scrip Inc., All Saints’ children’s ministries get between 1%-3% of eligible purchases made at Safeway grocery stores when church members register their Safeway Club Card with the program. Meanwhile, pre-paid gift cards and certificates from Great Lakes Scrip Center (GL Scrip) can be purchased through All Saints in November and December, with All Saints receiving an average of 2%-15% on the face value of all the scrip bought.
The success of programs like this “depends a lot on the support of the congregation—and they give a lot more support if the pastors and other leaders really talk it up,” says Horner. “If you can get everyone on board, you can make a good amount of money.”
The GL Scrip program at Divine Mercy Catholic School in Merritt Island, Fla., is now in its fourth year, reports Debbie Friedman, the volunteer scrip program coordinator. The program here generated approximately $2,000 in its first year, a figure that has since grown to about $12,000 annually, “which makes it a really nice fundraiser for us,” she notes.
In the nuts-and-bolts department, it takes about six to eight hours of time a week to do all the administrative work for a scrip program, according to Friedman. Horner agrees, adding “it’s important to find a person who has the time to order, organize and keep a good inventory of gift cards.”
Churches and other faith-based organizations are increasingly developing fitness facility components of their ministries, according to Brad Bloom, president of Hayes, Va.-based Lifestyle Media Group, publisher of Faith and Fitness Magazine.
Developing fitness ministries can help churches establish new revenue streams and make 24/7 use of previously constructed multipurpose and recreation facilities—but when built, equipped and run right, they can accomplish a lot more, Bloom notes.
“Doing a fitness facility right is going to bring honor to God, demonstrate that your ministry is on top of what is going on in the community—and will attract people like crazy,” says Bloom. “A well-run fitness ministry enables a church to expand its role in the community beyond that of a holy place into a general gathering spot for people on a daily basis, and can translate not only into incredible revenues for a church, but, more importantly, into incredible opportunities for ministry.”
Located in Adrian, Mich., the Christian Family Centre (“The Centre”) was established in 1988 by Orville and Ruth Merillat. Described by its founders as “a wholesome place where families could spend time together enjoying recreation and special programs,” the center’s stated purpose is to serve Lenawee County and surrounding communities by being a world-class choice for one’s physical, social and spiritual wellness, with Jesus Christ being the center.
The Centre is equipped with features that include co-ed and ladies-only fitness centers; a pool with slides and aqua-walls; group fitness rooms; racquetball courts; and a 700-seat auditorium. The Centre is open to the public and offers a variety of day-pass options and membership packages, the latter running from around $200-$600 annually.
Successfully running a facility like this requires overcoming a number of challenges, according to Centre Director Craig Anderson.
“We are very fortunate to have had a key funding source that had the vision and the resources to begin this ministry 20 years ago,” Anderson recounts. “[Now] one of the central issues we face is creating a sustaining business model that will adequately fund the ministry in the face of ever-changing economic challenges.” Another central issue, he notes, “is the challenge of being able to attract and hire qualified individuals who are equipped and wired to serve and lead others.”
In the advice department, it pays to staff a fitness ministry with what Anderson calls “gifted and spiritually mature people.” Putting basic business and human relations concepts to work is also important.
“Too often in ministry, I believe we short-change the importance of frank performance review and analysis,” Anderson says. “It seems like we don’t know how to handle conflict or how to correct and mentor others.”
“Sometimes, clear, frank and direct conversations are sidestepped for fear of hurting people, but in the end it hurts the fulfillment of the mission. Frank and clear conversations can set the person free to be more effective and excited about their ministry role,” Anderson concludes.
Editor’s Note: For more ideas on Creative Funding Options, see page 42 of Worship Facilities Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2009 issue.