She had the PCCâ€™s full attention, because having greater outgoings than incomings is never a comfortable position to be in. But help was at hand.
â€œAs you know, finances and accounts arenâ€™t my area,â€ the Generous Giving Officer started, â€œI deal with the faith stuff; what Jesus says about how we might live generously. But between them, my two new team mates Nathan Bruce and Samantha Lee, can offer advice and support around how churches can be good stewards and spend income well, and how to make it easier to access that income in the first place.
â€œAt the last meeting someone told me that youâ€™re tied into a lot of long term contracts. Like for your photocopier, energy suppliers, insurance, etc.â€
â€œYes.â€ Richard shook his head gravely. â€œOur last treasurer was ill for a long time and things rather slipped. Iâ€™m going through our accounts and it seems weâ€™re tied into contracts all over the place. Weâ€™ve got monthly outgoings with companies Iâ€™ve never heard of. Some of the rates are extortionate.â€
â€œWell, they can help you to get under control. Suggest where to shop around. Discuss healthy finances and budgeting.â€
Â â€œNow, onto the help they can offer with access to income. This is about your church making it as easy as possible for people to contribute financially. Thereâ€™s plenty of easy changes you could make thatâ€™d make a big difference. First is signing up to the Parish Giving Scheme, but thatâ€™s definitely a conversation for another time because itâ€™s a big topic.
â€œThere are other changes you can easily make, in the meantime. Like linking your church website to Give.net so if anyoneâ€™s visiting your website and wants to make a financial contribution to your church, to your church roof fund for example, they just click a button.â€
She paused for breath, and noted that there was what she interpreted as a baffled silence.
â€œAlso,â€ she ventured carefully, â€œhot off the press: the Church of Englandâ€™s piloting of new contactless giving system, so soon visitors will be able to give using their debit cards.â€ By the looks on some of their faces, this might be a step too far. It was as though she had suggested camel racing down the aisle as a way of upping their income. She was already aware sheâ€™d lost half the room when she mentioned the website.
Trying to quickly recover their confidence and good-will she continued, â€œThe thing with technology, and giving via a website or by card reader, is that whilst it might not appeal to many people in your present congregation, and thatâ€™s fine by the way, it certainly would appeal to many younger people visiting for Christenings or weddings, or your Messy Church congregation. Many of them donâ€™t really carry cash. At the moment, they canâ€™t exercise their financial generosity when they come to your church. Theyâ€™reâ€¦left outâ€
She added, â€œGiving people options makes the place feel even more accessible, open and welcoming.â€
She knew this was exactly what St. Someoneâ€™s strived for. Rev John had briefed her that the church was really focussing on building a reputation as a friendly, relaxed and hospitable community.
Encouragingly, Claire said, â€œMe Mam would like that contactless card reader thing. She only comes to church now and again like, but she never carries cash. Sheâ€™d definitely give to St. Someoneâ€™s if she could do it without having to remember to go to the cashpoint first.â€
There were murmurs of â€œHmmmâ€ and some other noises that sounded quite positive emitting from various quarters of the PCC. But clearly no motion would be passed tonight.
â€œWell, these are just ideas the new team mates can talk to you about in the near future. Tonight is more about the culture change stuff. In fact why donâ€™t we recap on what weâ€™ve already discussed?â€
â€œDavid!â€ Mary blasted. â€œThe minutes, dear. The minutes! Tell us all what weâ€™ve covered.â€
Her husband shrank in his seat, cleared his throat, and read out from the extensive notes heâ€™d made:
â€œOutgoings greater than incomings. Richard presented the accounts. We went over our answers to the generosity audit weâ€™d been given last time. Weâ€™ve decided to be more transparent about our parish finances and our needs as a diocese, and explain what Parish Share is and what it pays for. Also use our magazine and website to tell people about different ways their generosity can serve God/the church. Then we talked about how our reserves are almost gone. Then our guest arrived. Then Tim said â€˜Are you here to tell us to give more? Or tell us how to fleece other people of their money?â€™â€
â€œOh thanks very bloominâ€™ much!â€ Tim fumed.
â€œDavid, I donâ€™t think we need a blow by blow account of all the things weâ€™ve said.â€ Rev John put in.
â€œYouâ€™re not a court stenographer David!â€ steamed Mary melodramatically, and with much jowl shaking.
Rev John felt very sorry for David at this moment, but also rather impressed. The man could write with lightning speed. Had he really recorded every word? No wonder he was the Minutes Secretary. Incredible. And also worrying. What else had been recorded from previous PCC meetings? â€œPerhaps you might remove conversational comments and stick with the key decision points.â€ He suggested.
After quietly apologising to the room, David continued, â€œWe did â€˜My Money Storyâ€™. We discussed charging for after service refreshments. We had a majority vote against charging, as it doesnâ€™t reflect true hospitality, and agreed to use our church income to cover the cost of refreshments. Kevin agreed to write this up for our magazine so people know why weâ€™re making this change. We talked about short-term campaigns vs long-terms ones, and agreed a short-term stewardship campaign wouldnâ€™t be the right way for us to go. Likely to influence only those who already give sacrificially. Mary said that.â€ He looked up, but she was still scowling, so he hurriedly continued,
â€œThen we discussed the â€˜Our Generosity in numbersâ€™ list and made our own for St. Someoneâ€™s. Everyone really liked this. Then you told us about managing our resources better and buying from the right companies. You said we could think about how we can use technology to make it easier for people to give. Thisâ€™ll help with our immediate problems. And thatâ€™s all.â€
â€œGosh, thatâ€™s a lot!â€ said Rev John smiling widely, trying to distract anyone from dwelling on the revelation that David records every single word that comes out of PCC membersâ€™ mouths.
The PCC looked somewhere between stunned, impressed and confused at all that had been covered. It was dark outside. Claire tried, unsuccessfully, to casually look at her watch without being noticed.
â€œYes. It is a lot. This is big culture change weâ€™re talking about. But I really believe we have to give these new ideas a go if weâ€™re going to see the results you need.â€ Heads nodded. There was certainly a real sense of hope among them, if tinged with fatigue.
She handed a piece of paper to each PCC member, and said, â€œThereâ€™s one final thing. Itâ€™s probably the biggest change you could make. Itâ€™ an easy, low-effort-big-impact way of communicating generosity. Loads of other churches are using it round here. Butâ€¦ Iâ€™m not going to go through this with you now. Youâ€™ve heard enough from me!â€ She began packing up. â€œYouâ€™ve got all you need in front of you.â€
She shook Rev Johnâ€™s hand (far less sweaty now) and addressing the silent room, said, â€œI want you to read this in your own time and reflect on whether youâ€™re ready to make this change. Then I want you to try it.â€
Any hint of lethargy was replaced by intrigue as members scanned the handout: â€˜7 Simple Steps to Symbols of Generosityâ€™.
At the door she turned back to the PCC and told them, â€œYou can do it you know. Youâ€™ve got a generous community. Just give this a go. Youâ€™ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.â€
And that was that. Rev John felt the knots in his stomach dissolve, and that earlier flicker of hope properly took hold. They had all the tools they needed. They absolutely could do it. And they would.
As the final chairs were stacked and cups were washed, he began to read the handout, and he began to see a future where his congregation celebrated generosity in every single service. His heart leapt.