Recession: How Bad Is It?

Is the recession kicking your butt around like it is mine?

recessionMost of our ministry proposals for 2009 were regretfully turned down. That means there are networks and movements in over a dozen countries that we will not be able to support financially next year. It also means we need to tighten our belts and achieve the same goals with less than half our budget. Which I feel confident we will do – I will share our plans in a little while, along with some ideas that might be of use to others in getting over and through the recession.

But first, let me ask the question:

How bad is this recession for you and your ministry or non-profit or church or organization or seminary or charity or tele-evangelist program or whatever you are attempting to lead?

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Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

32 Comments

  • Well I work for a mission’s organization called World Help and we work with national missionaries…I am in charge of scheduling our Children’s Choir to perform in churches to raise support for them and was recently promoted to middle management of a team. They fired all my team members so I am trying to fill in their roll and do my job with no pay increase from team member to team leader. I haven’t suffered personal finance only suffered with frustrations as our ministry is hurting pretty badly right now. If it continues, I will probably be out of a job.
    Noah

  • I serve with Operation Mobilization in the USA. I can only speak for the US office.
    We are experiencing a budget reduction of 45% of what we had in 2008. This is helping us clarify what we are really all about and how to spend not only our money, but time, energy, prayer, and talent.
    Certainly our project giving is down all around the globe which affects some of the most difficult to reach places.
    Thankfully, support for workers (we are all on a faith-based support-raising life-style) is only down a few percentage points.
    michael

  • at this point we have not been majorly impacted by the recession. I know that we are being smart and that budgets are really suggestions more than exact amounts of monies. I believe that we will be good and that the impact is probably still a little ways away from impacting us.
    however, I have always heard one say, “that if you want to see how good someone is then take away the money and see what they can do.” any thoughts on this.

  • at this point we have not been majorly impacted by the recession. I know that we are being smart and that budgets are really suggestions more than exact amounts of monies. I believe that we will be good and that the impact is probably still a little ways away from impacting us.
    however, I have always heard one say, “that if you want to see how good someone is then take away the money and see what they can do.” any thoughts on this.

  • yes, David. i believe scarcity stimulates creativity and creativity opens the door to new possibilities.
    However, traditional ministries where the leader is expected to run the same machinery without the needed resources will be really tough and maybe not possible, despite how talented he or she is.
    Simple, organic church movements, however, are already geared to deal with lack of resources and are less dependent on them. I expect these churches to continue to multiply and i expect traditional ministries (including conferences, seminaries, publishing companies as well as mission organizations, churches, etc) to take the next 18 months to retool with an eye to sustainablity in the long term.
    time to mend the nets and take another look at the way of Jesus and his disciples.
    And Michael – Operation Mobilization is a great example of a streamlined mission that is used to doing a lot with a little. I am thankful for my two years with OM for teaching me how to do ministry with zero budget. Groups like OM that have an inbuilt frugal lifestyle as a core value will probably attract funding over those that are trying to keep high standards of lifestyle without much personal sacrifice. I know which one I would rather support.

  • I’ll chime in from a business view that has a missional slant. My wife and I just opened a business (it is ‘bead shop’ – we sell the components to make your own jewellery) that will hopefully enable us to be self-sustaining. Given we opened at this difficult economic time I was of course concerned. However, our efforts in negotiating advertising, focusing on essential purchases, delaying some spending, keeping staffing to a minimum, etc. has helped us with our cash flow. From a sales perspective, I kept our forecast conservative and we are considerably higher than I thought. People have been buying for themselves and turning to jewellery making as a way to both have leisurely enjoyment with their (tight) disposable income and minimizing spending as they can make gifts cheaper than they can buy them. Businesses & people need to be creative and prudent. Ministries need to be creative and prudent as well.

  • Andrew – I look forward to your insights regarding how you feel we can restructure conferences, seminars, and the like moving forward. I do feel we need to connect offline occasionally but wondering given advances in technology coupled with this current recession how we can connect in community.
    Also, what advice do you give for authors/speakers, who rely on speaking gigs as a major stream of income, as well as a primary vehicle for selling their books – the very legitimate comment I keep hearing is “I have to support myself and family.” But then those who pay to attend events tell me they can’t afford the time or money to attend conferences especially when you factor in the hotel, food on the road and air travel. Even if the speaker rides into their town, many of them can’t even afford the admission fee or the cost of the food/beverage if the speaker is doing a pub crawl of sorts. So you have authors/speakers who need to make money and the public who can’t afford the product.
    This article gives an overview of the projected Christmas book selling season:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/books/11book.html?ref=arts
    What I’m hearing from faith folks echoes this trend – they don’t have the money to fund their personal library right now. So, instead of say buying say all of author Xs 2008 and 2009 releases, they’ll either buy one book or maybe read it in the library. (I’m very glad my next book release was pushed from late 2009 to early 2010 – that decision was made a few months ago before this financial crisis hit.)

  • As bizarre as it is, we are in the middle of massive economic expansion which has been great for donations and revenues but put tremendous pressure on those we serve. So while the money to help has been there, the amount of people needing the services has been overwhelming as well with a lot of people coming to Saskatchewan without money but with the hope of a better future. Of course they are met with expensive rent, low vacancy rates, and while there are jobs here, they go to trained people.
    It’s makes it hard in a different way.

  • Funny enough, I don’t think the recession is really effecting my support but I think it is the same struggle that less and less is being invested in innovation in mission and in work that measures something beyond baptisms, conversions or church planting.
    That is the frustrating part. I was talking to a friend today who made the comment that gov’t was chronically incapable of innovation, the same i think is often true for the church. We have to release, support, and champion the pioneers and invest in innovation. I think it is more important and strategic in times like these.
    Just my 2 cents!

  • For us not bad. We have moved away from dependance on giving to independance. Not easy to do but we are a small organic group so that helps.

  • Hey Andrew- Hope you see this. Jon Abel is a friend of mine and he led worship for an event you were at in Tahoe this fall. He had an accident this week and cut off a good bit of one of his fingers on his left hand. He’s had surgery this week and will have another soon. If you could get a little word out to pray for him. It’s pretty crazy to have someone who is such a great musician lose a part of the hand they rely on to play guitar.
    lars

  • I am an American missionary working in Kenya, and was in the US October and November fund raising. The recession really impacted my fund raising, in that I did not raise no where near the amount of money I needed to.
    On top of that Hurricane Ike has cost me one month’s income, and in the end after I actually have time to crunch some numbers, it will most likely have cost me two months income.
    However I am confident, as I sit in my office trying to assist the poor and we continue to care for the orphans in our home, that God will provide as he has for the past 4 years.

  • The mission project I was involved in and employed by some what imploded last year (before all this recession stuff). Allot of the problem there was with a large financial injection for a short fixed term with no financial follow up planned until to late, by which time the early withdrawl of a building that was used for both housing and mission base ended up cripling us and bring my involvement with the project to a close and leading to being completly restructured.
    It’s left me thinking about how i will be able to get involved in long term mission work/leadership in the future. Particularly at the moment simply doing a boring office/helpdesk job being paid or supported to do mission full time is almost a temptation in how good it would be, but i do worry about it’s susstainability. On the other hand as someone who always struggled to stay focused within mainstream education and left school at 18 to volunteer and do various mission work I’m not sure what sort of earning option there are that would allow time to invest in a community as much as I would like. At the moment I’ve been jumping from temp job to temp job that aren’t wonderfully paid and often don’t have any flexible hours. Also due to domestic situations and the financiall climate my focus is almost entirly on work and home life and not allot of time outside of that to invest elsewhere.

  • Do we not see God’s loving hand in all of this!!
    I think He is putting an end to all the planet globe trotting that many ‘ministries’ do to justify their existence.I’m afraid the future is local and organic folks.The jet setting ministry buzz is over – Emergent leaders are as much into the old travelling identity thing as the big Fundamentalist/Charismatic/Pentecostal guys!Just think conferences that charge £100 or $150 may be a thing of the past.Guys slaving away in the third world yes – back them if they are really bringing good news to the poor – but the Western World’s Travelling Ministry Show – forget it.God wants to raise up His servants locally not import them!Hope this doesn’t offend anyone but that is what my Irish prophetic heart is saying.
    Charlie Boyd

  • I’m a Canadian missionary working with street kids in South America. I’ve always been a little aprehensive raising support, as I come from a small (less than 40 people) rural church, and most of my other supporters would be from a similar demographic. But I have to say, farm people give when they have it, and they give when they don’t. It’s just a different mind set I think. So I’ve been very fortunate.
    As well, it doesn’t hurt that the economy of my particular province is still doing fairly well, even with the economic problems in the rest of NA and the world in general.

  • Hi Andrew!
    Related to this, I think you missed the question I posed on the cliff college lectures post. I pointed out that some of us did not manage to kick off without a budget and may be paying full time workers. In the light of what you were saying about sustainability, I was asking what you would say to a group whose giving is going to, amongst other things, support a full time worker, especially as we now begin to feel the squeeze. Any thoughts?

  • Some various thoughts:
    It’s worth asking the question how many authors & speakers, how many books and conferences the Body of Christ needs. I’ve always been a bit of a freegan (is that what it means?) anyway – I’ll read online stuff rather than buy books.
    One org I’m connected with has been funded by investments for many years, and now the budget (hence staff) has been slashed.
    Overseas workers funded from here in Australia are bemoaning the weaker $Au, (but that must mean our US counterpart’s woes must be slightly mitigated by a stronger $US).
    This week I finish full-time paid work, so I’ll have more time for the other things God’s put on my plate, and less money for supporting my fellow workers. Although mt move prob isn’t recession-related, there will be many more like me. More time and less money.
    In Australia the unemployment rate has about halved in the last 10-15 years. If it goes back to mid 90s levels, things will hurt for a lot of people.
    In a boom time, a lot of people don’t have time for God or for participation in the church. When times are bad, this might turn around. Certainly there’s a strong negative correlation between participation in church and one’s hours of employment.

  • Andrew,
    Our faith community is small, with a number that is around 25-35, we will be “fine” as a congregation. We meet in a pub/grill in the community and usually eat together afterwards.
    The rub comes in with the fact that the community is made up of small business folks. Three contractors, a real estate broker and a micro farmer. One may lose everything in the next few months including the pub/grill where we meet. One is older and can make it with a small project or two. The third contractor has four streams of income and will survive, basically because my family and I have very low overhead…we live very frugally.
    Our opportunities to live a incarnational life in the community will increase. This could be a time when the world will know we are Christians because of “our love for one another”.

  • David – in regards to your question on existing paid workers. In my thinking, we need an approach that respects the church’s past decisions and shores up support for its workers in order to keep commitments
    and at the same time, our outreach and multiplication strategies should lean heavily on the organic, simple, volunteer based, shared leadership models of sustainable mission.
    What we cant and shouldnt do, is try to keep the machinery running for the next generation and then expect them to pay for it.
    i feel a longer post coming on and will probably do it today or tomorrow
    if anyone has some good ideas on how we can advance the mission of God in today’s recessed climate, I would love you to add your thoughts to the post.
    I will put a link to it here when its up.

  • I believe that the corporation model that ‘church’ has taken to itself in the last 50-60 years is going to become bankrupt.What else can a business model expect?Like any business big staff when the good times roll (God is blessing?) and soul searching and fear of layoffs ( end of my ‘ministry’) when the coffers dry up ( confusion since we have tithed faithfully!!?).Waged ministry wasn’t needed in New Testament times so why today? – to keep the institution going silly!! We have the cart before the horse guys.Small is beautiful in the kingdom!
    Charlie

  • Charlie – i like your two comments and hope to include your thoughts in a post tomorrow.
    the carnival is over . . indeed. we need to mend our nets, rethink strategy, and retool our ministries with long term sustainability AND reproducibility in mind.
    i like LOCAL, ORGANIC, SLOW, RELATIONAL, ministries and we have focused almost exclusively on them for the last decade. Thus, even though the recession rages on, most of these ministries will continue to bear fruit.
    however, there must still be a place for the traveling missionary/apostles if the Great Commission is to be accomplished.
    HOW they travel, HOW OFTEN, and WHETHER THEY COME HOME AFTER EVERY TRIP is another matter.
    Jesus said “Go!”. He didn’t say “Come Back!” And those that went found plenty of resources in the harvest (Luke 10)
    \
    anyway, more tomorrow.
    thanks for your thoughts.

  • Thanks Andrew. Considering the open and honest responses this post generated I wonder to what extent transparency, as well as sustainability, is important in a group’s budgeting of its finances. Perhaps also we should be involving more people – who have an investment in our ministry – in our budgeting processes? I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts on this topic of mission during financial recession.

  • Andrew – agreed re: the traveling missionary but I see that calling as different from that of a an author/speaker grabbing a ride on the Christian speaker rider circuit. Given the advent of the internet coupled with the demise of the economy, seems to me a speaker can cover a lot of ground via webcams and other virtual means without leaving the comfort of one’s home – people could hear the message and then decide if they want to buy the product.
    Having said that, I have been doing a fair amount of traveling these past few years with another chunk coming up – this is in my quest to find faith at the fringes as it were and then report on my findings. The work done by folks such as Jonny and you are invaluable in helping point me in the right direction. I can only do so much research over the internet before I have to see the communities for myself. I’ve made a few mistakes in the past by making a recommendation without doing the in-person research.

  • David – extra transparency is a great idea and I have been hoping to be more transparent next year not only in expenditure but also milage and carbon footprint. Crowd sourcing could also be employed in which projects we disperse funds to, as well as accounting for those funds and measuring impact.
    Becky – agreed. skyping and other means of remote teaching are already saving us money and gas but they will not replace physical visitations. When I recommend ministries for resourcing, its because i have spent time personally with their leaders and people – which usually means i have slept on their couches and can vouch for their character/godly lifestyle.

  • Andrew
    Thanks for your comments.
    I agree with the travelling Apostle/Prophet thing – in my younger days I was involved with a group that had these guys coming and going every few months with the ‘love’ offerings at the end of each visit.CRAZY!Let’s face it most of these journeys are junkits aimed at keeping someone or some community locked into our ‘stream’,plugging our latest talks series or recently published book!We have had them all over here in Northern Ireland since the peace came – big religious population,plenty of dough (until recently) in other words a good sales market.I am amazed how many folk God has ‘sent’ here in the last few years-even Benny tried it but it did’nt work out for him!
    Frank Viola has some good info on New Testament growth of Church in the book where he traces the ‘Christian’ movement in chronolgical order from the book of Acts.Paul stayed in places for long spells,Ephesus or Corinth ( can’t remember which one ) for 3 years.If many modern travelling ministries did that we would sure see less Carbon Footprints!I don’t think the wives/husbands of such adventurers would be just as supportive of their ‘callings’.
    Looking forward to your ideas today Andrew.
    Charlie

  • Hi Charlie – good conversation.
    Frank is a friend and i think he will agree with me when I say (as Roland Allen points out) that Paul’s usual circuits had him staying from 3-6 months in a place, at which point he could ordain elders. Teaching at Ephesus for 2 years was unusual but obviously strategic. He also returned or intended to return to the same places to strenghten his work and was constantly sending others from base to base. All good strategy.
    Roland Allen also points out that Paul did not take money from his converts for himself or team but worked (social enterprise) with his hands.
    Money was raised in the churches, as far as we know, not for local pastors or superapostles but rather for getting believers out of jail, for the widows and poor in the church family, and for the traveling apostles who could not earn their living from staying in one place.
    Those who travel must be willing to stay longer – I agree. We have practised this as a family. Our 4 year furlough period just passed us by and it seems we will not be going back, neither are we sure where exactly to go back to, since we have ministered and settled into so many countries.
    Our kids have been born on three continents. We dont really have a home except what we make for ourselves in the places God leads us.
    We estimate that we will reduce our carbon footprint by two thirds next year and still be helping to strengthen and multiply churches in a large number of countries. But we will probably have to leave our rented apartment to do so. More on this later.
    appreciate your comments.

  • Thanks for the great dialogue on this everyone. My wife and I started a non-profit earlier this year that serves as the US base for work among the urban poor of Guatemala City. The organization provides our primary source of income (while we subsidize that with other PT employment).
    There are definitely opportunities to be concerned that our work will not be sustained due to the present economic conditions, but we have found that there are still individuals and groups that have the resources to help even during tough economic times. I have realized that we need to continue to share our passion for the work we do and let people know about the needs that exist among the poor and trust that God will provide the resources to sustain this work.
    However, it is very important during these times for our supporters to see that we are living as simply as possible and keeping our overhead as reasonable as possible.
    I agree that this is a time to forgo unnecessary travel and to minimize multiple trips by lengthening stays… but how do we keep our families healthy and connected while one member of it is away longer than the family is used to? (e.g. if I am away for a month at a time and my wife is home for that period with three kids)

  • bill – my plan for 2009 is to bring the family with me for much of my travel. we will have to switch to home schooling for much of the year and will have to camp a lot but we have done it before.

  • The Q then to ask is if one is traveling to promote a product (e.g., author book tour) or if this is a pilgrimage (for me as a writer, I term this a learning expedition for me) where in the process one may do a bit of speaking and selling books but that isn’t the goal of the trip. I realized that I have to budget a certain percentage of my income on travel every year for the reasons you mentioned as these pilgrimages are part of my work.
    If the primary purpose is simply to push product, then seems to me one can do that far more cheaply via a virtual tour (blogging, skype, web conferences, you tube videos) than in person (the age of the author tour is on the way out as they seldom recoup their expenses unless it’s a huge name – not even N.T. Wright does author tours of the US though he does come here to speak at conferences and appear on the Colbert Report. Yes, I like hearing someone in person better than via the web but that’s a luxury I often can’t afford anymore.

  • Late to the party, but here’s my two cents anyway:
    Wendy & I are missionaries with YWAM in Tijuana Mexico. The recession has affected our support simply because it has really hit our supporters.
    We don’t have a “sending church” or denomination; all of our support is through individuals and families that we have relationship with. If the recession is difficult on them, it filters quickly to us as well. And the fluctuations between Canadian, Mexican, and American currency has also taken a bite out of our monthly support.
    But we just built three more homes this week in the poverty-stricken Cumbres colonia, which is always a helpful thing on our sense of perspective.

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