An Excerpt From Chapter 1

The Punk Kid Joins the Committee

I learned to choose my leaders wisely from one of my earliest mentors. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Steve chose his church leaders very carefully, with far more thought than anyone knew. I was in my mid-twenties, had long hair past my shoulders, wore ripped shorts all year long, worked as a roadie in the entertainment industry, and was a prideful know-it-all when it came to everything. Yet, Steve chose me to be on the church finance committee. I thought he was crazy! As did everyone else. But it was Steve’s choice and he stuck to his gut feeling.

The way our church was structured, the treasurer of the elder board also was the chairman of the finance committee. This committee was comprised of five people of his choice and this group oversaw the monthly financials of the church and made recommendations to the staff and elder board on all things financial. When he proposed I join his team, he got more than a few phone calls from dissenters.

I was puzzled as to why he would want me to help oversee a multi-million-dollar non-profit budget. At the time, I had not finished college, knew little about church finances, and had just started my own stage lighting business—learning mostly through mistakes and trial and error. To understand how business finances worked, I was watching YouTube videos at 3 a.m. I was certainly not the prime choice for making decisions on how the church’s money should be spent. But Steve was set in his decision and convinced I was the right person to join the team.

Steve understood something I did not. He knew he needed a balanced team of members who were committed to the success of the church and who brought different perspectives to the table. He knew I would bring two advantages that none of the other members had: youthful thinking and a fresh business-like mind.

His choice of finance committee members was based on what each member brought to the group that the others did not. Steve himself was an accountant and in his late forties. By the nature of his training, he focused on the dollars and cents, wanted all the charts to line up in a neat fashion, the revenue and expenses to match the budget, and every penny accounted for. He tended to not think about the ministry of the church while looking at the finances. His tendency was to focus on the money, not the purpose of the money.

Jim was a business owner and focused on the practical why and purpose of the money. At forty, he had a strong understanding of budgets and keeping expenses in check, but his greatest strength was reminding everyone else we were not here to save money and he didn’t care about lost pennies. We were here to manage money in the way that best enhanced the church’s mission. His focus was on the ministry and growth of the church. Jim would argue that ministry comes first and if we need to alter the budget mid-year, then that’s what we need to do.

Jack was a licensed investment advisor. He was in his mid-fifties, and although he understood the financial documents, rarely looked them over in detail. Rather, he asked questions about the future, the plans for next year, and he brought a sense of philosophical conversation that enhanced the group’s thinking of “Why?” He knew the financial documents in front of him were important, but he believed that tomorrow’s plans need to inform today’s decisions. As an investment advisor, his tendency was to focus on the future and he helped us put better budgets and plans together.

Rick worked in banking and had a strong understanding of financial law and banking principles. He was in his late sixties, and his strength was in asking questions of the business administrator on how processes were being handled. He wanted to know if we were following state law and our church bylaws. When we made significant purchases, he was sure to know if we needed to follow certain guidelines the church bylaws had laid out. Rick sought to keep the expenses tight and in line with the budget and believed ministry should not change what was planned in advance.

Then Steve added me to the group! I brought a youthful perspective, viewed things from a much younger understanding of what the church should and could be like. I represented the next generation of leaders. By the very fact that I knew nothing about church finances, combined with my bold attitude, I ended up asking questions nobody else wanted to ask. Simply asking “Why do we do that?” forced uncomfortable but necessary conversations in the group that required us all to rethink our process and decision-making. Because of my brash personality, many in the church did not like me, especially those in other areas of leadership. I didn’t care what people thought of me, so Steve used this to his advantage knowing I would not be afraid to ask the hard questions.

Over the course of two years, the finance committee redesigned everything about our finance budgets, our processes, how we managed the finances on a monthly basis and ultimately, we were able to push significant amounts of money back into direct ministry. All of this was based on having the right people on the team who were willing to work together by utilizing each person’s different strengths. Steve understood that managing the finances was not about getting a bunch of accountants in the room to look over numbers. It was about having a balance of personalities who brought different strengths to the group and were not afraid to discuss the hard questions others brought up.

A few years later, with shorter hair, a more tempered attitude, and a thriving business, I was chosen to be the treasurer of the elder board and I replaced Steve. But I kept his leadership principles in place. I chose other leaders to help me keep the most balanced view of church finances. I learned that allowing others to ask hard questions makes me a better person and ultimately serves the church in the best manner.

We all know the Bible speaks often of seeking the advice of wise counsel, but I am particularly fond of Proverbs 11:14 (ESV), “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors, there is safety.” As you strive to put together your finance committee (or whatever your church may call it) seek to find an abundance of wise counselors for your team. Be purposeful in finding others who think differently than you. Choose to put others on the committee that will ask you the hard questions and challenge your thinking. Ultimately, you, your decision-making, and hopefully the church, will be better for it. That punk kid you put on the committee may be your future treasurer and might write a book designed to help pastors with their church business.

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An Excerpt from Chapter 2

The Value of 50 Cents — Encouraging Low-Wage Employees

One day at my business, I overheard one of my employees commenting about how much she was being paid. It was indeed minimum wage, as was that of her coworker she was complaining to. Not knowing I was in the hallway and could hear their conversation, she said, “I’m only paid this much because he’s required to pay me that by law.”

What do you pay your low-wage employees? By low-wage, I mean those who do menial tasks that for some reason you cannot have volunteers do or require some level of accountability requiring a paid position. This may be a part-time custodian, security guard, or office clerk. Typically, these types of positions are not full-time nor intended to support a whole family. Often, they might be held by young college students, or someone just looking to earn a few extra bucks and help the church in the process. Do you only pay them the minimum wage the law requires? What do you think that communicates to those employees?

I fully understand that not every position in a church, or any job, should be paid high wages. Not all positions are created equal. Not all employees perform the same, but should you pay them the lowest amount required by the government?

The implication from my employee was that I might have paid less if the law didn’t require me to pay her the minimum amount at the time. Her comment was quite hurtful, but it was warranted. I had never thought about it from that perspective. Would I have paid her less if I was allowed to? At that time, the minimum hourly rate was about $9. Had the minimum been $8, would I have only paid that? What if it was $5? She was a decent employee and did deserve more, but my fledgling business at the time couldn’t afford to pay her what she was really worth. I could see that her hourly wage was bothersome to her, not because I could not afford to pay her more, but because I had not considered what it meant to her that I had not communicated she was worth more than minimum wage.

I crunched the numbers and came to a simple conclusion: I would never pay an employee minimum wage. Even if the position was incredibly simple, very easy, and deserved to be a low-wage job, I would not pay anyone the minimum required by law. Rather, I would pay them at least 25 or 50 cents more than the minimum. This may seem inconsequential, but it communicates one thing: you are willing to pay this person more than what you have to. By paying just the minimum wage, it communicates you probably would pay them less if you could. And chances are, you would. I did. And I refuse to ever again.

If this raises the question of whether you have the budget to pay these employees more, then crunch the numbers. It might be doable. For a 16-hour-a-week employee, to give them a 50-cent raise, costs you $416 pre-tax for an entire year. Considering that increase is spread out over twelve months, it’s inconsequential to your overall budget with an increase of $34.67 per month. But it may make the difference in how that employee perceives their employer, and therefore their job.

On the other end of this conversation is whether this employee is actually worth the required minimum wage. If they are not, and we’ve all seen employees who are not worth the minimum wage, then they should be let go. If you really struggle with an employee’s performance and whether they should be paid just slightly more than minimum wage, I would encourage you to gauge whether they should be your employee at all. It is wiser to pay an employee who deserves more just over minimum wage even if it stretches you financially, than to keep an employee at the minimum when they do not deserve it. If they are not worth the minimum, then they are not worth keeping. Use this as a teachable moment and help the employee understand this concept, sharing with them in love that their work ethic, abilities, or attitude simply do not match what is needed by the organization at this time.

As humans, we often associate our value with our work. The perceived value of what we contribute to our company, organization, or church is often weighed with what we are paid for that contribution. When we apply the minimum standard that is forced on us, we neglect the intrinsic value that comes with the employer/employee relationship. As Christ followers, we must rise above the minimum standards that our government requires of us. Rather, we must show people that we see greater value in them than what our society requires of us.

Pay more. Encourage with value. Rise above the minimum.

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An Excerpt From Chapter 4

A Picture Video is Worth a Thousand Words Dollars — Recording Church Belongings

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but I think a video might be worth a thousand dollars!

Try this exercise: List every item of value that is within your entire church facility. Every piece of furniture, computer, tech equipment, book, chair, toy, vacuum . . . everything. Think you can recall the details by memory? I’m betting you can’t.

Let’s say something catastrophic hits your church. We don’t want to think about this, but the reality is, it does indeed happen. Buildings burn. Hurricanes create floods. Tornados rip off roofs. Earthquakes turn everything into rubble. Thieves disappear into the night. Vehicles and trailers go missing. It happens. And it happens to churches a lot!

What was once sacred in the eyes of most people, a church building is now often seen by the unreligious public as a place that has little security, few people at night, and an easy target. Every year, hundreds of churches around the country have large thefts, devastating fires, or debilitating destruction from nature. We never see it coming. Proverbs 27:1 (NIV) says it best, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

While standing in the midst of the rubble that was once a House of God, you’ll find that raw emotions and struggles you never knew you had might creep up and hold you and your congregation paralyzed for a long time. To add to that frustration, an insurance claims adjuster will show up and begin asking you to fill out forms that catalog everything that might have been lost. If the destruction or theft is significant, it can often be a challenge to remember what you had and where it was and other details of those items. To provide funds for replacement items that were inside the facility, insurance or authorities will need a list of everything that was inside the building, destroyed, or stolen.

So how do you list everything the church owns after a disaster? You could gather several congregants and ask them to work together using their collective memories. This would certainly get you much farther. But then details start to become fuzzy even for groups. Were the candelabras silver or pewter? How many microphones did we have and what model were they? How many books were in the library or the pastor’s office? Which books? What kind of furniture was in each room? What sound equipment was in the rack in the back of that closet?

Sometimes insurance companies do not need every detail and will rather provide a blanket cost for estimates. But generally, they want a detailed list of every item. If you want full compensation or have many expensive items, your insurance might request proof of ownership. The only way to create this list is to do it prior to needing it. You must do it now!

I realize that documenting in detail everything in the church can seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. You can do it fast and cheap; you just might be able to document your entire church campus in less than an hour. If your campus is large it might take a bit more time, but even a few hours of this method is better than sitting at a desk wondering or writing down with pencil each item.

Using a smart phone or video camera, simply walk around the entire campus and video everything in every room. This will create a digital archive of everything the church owns. It’s best if you do this when nobody else is around so that people do not get in the way.

Go to each room in your entire facility and walk around slowly, verbally describing what you see and which room you are in. Your verbal descriptions will be captured on video and help with any additional descriptions that might not be seen visually. Open drawers and show the camera what is in each drawer or cupboard, open all the closets and poke your head (and the camera!) inside, walk down the halls to show any furniture or paintings of value. Count items of interest if possible and zoom in on expensive items like sound consoles, video projectors on the ceiling, organ pipes, or tech equipment. If you are able, read off model numbers and serial numbers for more expensive items. Stop and get good clear images of stained glass or other expensive features that are part of the buildings.

If you have a trailer or storage bin in the parking lot, make sure you record the contents of these as well. You can also do this with still photos, but it will be more time consuming and you will be more apt to miss something.

The video does not need to be edited or cleaned up. Keep it raw and plain. Transfer the video files to a small portable hard drive and store it in a fire safe or upload it to a safe place in the cloud. It would be wise to store a copy away from the church campus, like at your house or with a board member. Do this annually and whenever you make substantial purchases or renovations to your facility. Should anything catastrophic happen to your church, you will have a digital record of everything the church owns. All it will take is to play back the video file, pushing “pause” every time you need to write an item down. Should an insurance company question whether you actually had certain items or what the details were, video proof is pretty good proof!

Not only is video an easy and cheap way to document the belongings in the House of God, it’s easy for you to do in your own house, too. Walk through your home, document everything you have and then put that video file away for a time you hope never comes.

Planning for a catastrophe is not fun. But the Lord gives church leaders the responsibility of knowing and caring for the church. Also, in Proverbs we’re charged with this: “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations” (27:23-24 NIV). In our modern society, pastors and church leaders are not just responsible for the Church that is made up of people. They’re also responsible for the church that is made up of buildings. It’s the responsible thing to do to ensure the church has adequate insurance coverage prior to needing it. And with a simple video of what the church owns, you can be confident that you have adequate proof.

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An Excerpt From Chapter 6

Rainy Day or Shelter from the Storm? — Developing Cash Savings

My mother used to always say I should save money for a rainy day. Even as a small child, when I was given money from grandma or found some coins in my Christmas stocking, mom said I should give a portion to God and give a portion to savings. “You just might need it for a rainy day,” she said.

All throughout my childhood, I saved a lot for that rainy day. When I was a teenager, I realized that rainy day never came. So, I spent it. I don’t remember what I bought, but it wasn’t significant.

Then the rain came, and I had nothing.

Does your church have money set aside for a rainy day? Many do not. Scripture is quite clear that saving for known and anticipated needs is indeed a suitable and proper use of resources. Joseph saving grain for seven years to rescue not only the country but the entire region, is written in detail in Genesis 41. Proverbs 6:6-11 tells of the ant and the sluggard and Proverbs 21:20 cautions to not devour treasure and oil.

A non-profit organization does not mean a no-surplus organization.  Every successful businessman, every business school professor, every accountant will tell you that having a healthy reserve account is one of the best financial practices an organization can have. For our personal finances, we tend to call this a savings account. In the business world, it’s generally referred to as operating reserves.

Operating reserves is one of a number of financial health indicators and increases your ability to respond to temporary or unexpected changes in revenue or expenses. The benefit of additional cash is an increase in delay before a response is required. The more cash on hand, the longer the response time, giving more opportunity to consider the situation, make an appropriate plan, get everyone on board, and make necessary adjustments. The smaller the cash reserves, the faster and more off-the-cuff decisions you’ll be making, increasing the potential for poor and untimely decisions. Lack of financial safety can put you in an undesirable and vulnerable position.

Creating this rainy-day fund can benefit the church during a cloudy or “rainy day” period in the church. It can also provide shelter during a horrible storm. It can be used for unforeseen expenses or cash shortfalls, used for replacement equipment or repair of property, and can fund unexpected opportunities. Ever have a senior pastor leave suddenly or under duress? Financial giving frequently plummets until stability in leadership is restored. Ever have to replace a leaky roof that wasn’t budgeted for? They’re extremely expensive. If that neighbor finally agrees to sell their property that is next to yours, they may want payment in less than a month or no deal. A healthy operating reserve gives you the flexibility you need to make healthy ministry-related decisions that benefit the church and the Kingdom.

Betty lived behind the church. She hated us. Her house was on a large corner lot and her property shared a brick fence with the church parking lot. Even as an elderly white-haired woman, she would climb up on a step and poke her head over the fence and yell at church members who she thought were making too much noise. She sent letters threatening to sue us. She called the police when congregants parked in front of her yard on the street. We tried desperately to love on her and be a good neighbor. She wouldn’t hear of it. Members took over cookies, offered to care for her run-down yard, and fix her roof. No sooner that she discovered you were with our church, Betty slammed the door on you.

On several occasions, church leaders offered to buy Betty’s house, even offering a premium for her trouble to move. When a pastor and I met with Betty one afternoon, she raised her voice and exclaimed, “Over my dead body will you ever get this house! Now stop making all that noise over there and leave an old woman alone!”

As fate would have it, Betty died the next year. And because God has a great sense of humor, her kids called the church and offered to sell the property to us. As she had previously proclaimed, we bought her house over her dead body!

I don’t know what Betty’s relationship with God was like, but the humorous situation became serious very quickly. Her kids wanted to sell the house immediately and only gave thirty days for the church to come up with several hundred thousand dollars, or we would lose our opportunity. Fortunately, the church had significant funds saved up for a future rainy day and we were able to write a check within a couple weeks after approval from our board.

But how did we get to having so much money available?

Operating reserves is usually viewed as a ratio turned percentage, namely what percentage of the year that is covered by reserve, such as 20%. Accountants can calculate this in a variety of ways, but to simplify it, we’ll discuss it in a month-based formula with easy-to-understand numbers.

Let’s say your annual budget is $600,000. If you divide that by 12 months, your monthly needed revenue is $50,000. If all revenue were to immediately stop, how much cash do you have to keep operating on a monthly basis? Whatever cash you have available, this is your operating reserve. If you only have $5,000 in the bank, then your operating reserves will only last you three days. If you have $25,000 in cash in the bank, your operating reserve is only two weeks. If you have $50,000, then your reserve is one month; $250,000, then five months’ reserve. This also assumes zero income during the time period and also assumes no reduction in expenses.

At the very minimum, your church should have enough reserves to cover at least one full payroll. At the most, no more than two years (this is not common). Most CPAs and non-profit financial managers recommend at least three months operating reserves, or 25%. This reserve amount would keep your church stable for three months with no changes to expenses. However, a more conservative target would be three to six months. For any size organization, this amount of money can feel overwhelming when considering three to six months of cash being saved rather than spent on ministry. If your circumstances include one of the following, consider having your board increase your target operating reserve amount:

  • If your strategic ministry plan is risky, requires significant cash, or has never been attempted by your organization before.
  • If your debt load is substantial or if your monthly mortgage payment is considerably high. In the midst of a crisis, this can be difficult to reduce.
  • If you have high fixed expenses like employees and leases. During challenging times, reducing employees can sometimes exacerbate the already difficult situation.

To create an operating reserve, you must plan for it. Have your board create an operating reserve plan, budget for it, and put it into action. It doesn’t happen overnight, so create a schedule to build it gradually and intentionally, putting money aside when able.

  • Put a line item in your budget called reserves, or savings. Each month siphon the budgeted amount out of the operating account and physically put it into a different bank account. Having the money in a separate bank account helps your staff and board better understand that this money is designated for a specific purpose.
  • If you budgeted for a staff position that is currently vacant, designate that money to the reserve account until the position is filled.
  • Designate windfalls such as excess cash at the end of the year or surprise large donations.
  • If you budget for depreciation, this money can sometimes also be lumped into operating reserves.

In your operating reserve policy, designate who has authority to spend the funds and for what purpose. When you hit your target amount, decide what to do with left over cash that was otherwise designated for building up the reserves. When you do spend the reserves, revise the old plan to build it back up again as soon as possible. Each year, when adjusting your annual budget, ensure you plan for adjusting the operating reserves as well.

There is danger in saving too much, however, and not keeping balance between having faith and having a backup. Jesus describes the danger in not knowing the difference between saving and hoarding in Luke 12:13-21, stating, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”[i] As church leaders, we must plan ahead and prepare for what is expected, but we also must balance that preparation with a faith in God that sometimes requires us to only trust in His provisions. Both are Biblical. Both require balance.

The story of Betty is a bit amusing, but the significance is really about the church efforts prior to knowing what God was going to do with the situation. The church had spent years building up the operating reserves necessary that ultimately allowed it to jump on such an opportunity. As a result, the church didn’t have to borrow money, ask for money from church members, or lose out on the chance to expand ministry.

It was raining when Betty died. But we had an umbrella.

[i] Luke 12:14, NIV

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An Excerpt From Chapter 7

Keys for Coffee? — Keeping Track of Access to Buildings

I still have a key to a church I used to do work for. I owned a company that provided technology services to churches and this particular church was my largest client. I did so much work for them, they just gave me a key and an alarm code. They were so big and busy, it worked best for us both that my team and I would come in at night to work so we were not a bother to church functions. I haven’t done work for them in over eight years, but I still have a key to the facility. Nobody called me to get it back.

Recently, I attended a funeral at this church and my curiosity was peaked. Would my key still work, or did they change the locks? It still worked. I have unfettered access to a church I do not attend, nor work for anymore.

Seem scary? How many keys to your church are out there that you don’t know about? Who has access to your facility that is no longer associated with your church?

When you leave a job in the corporate world, what is the first thing your boss asks for? The keys to the building. The Church is the only organization I know of that gives keys to volunteers, and they rarely keep track.

While meeting with our insurance agent for the church I was working for, he asked me if we kept track of all the keys and alarm codes of our building. I was forced to answer no and thought of the key I had in my pocket of the previous church that I was no longer a vendor for. His point was well taken. Theft and unrestricted access from people within the church is often the cause for many insurance claims. Our agent suggested we redo all the locks and keys, distribute keys only as necessary, and then keep track of them. If we could do this, our insurance rate would drop substantially. The savings on insurance after two years would equal the cost of rekeying the entire complex. It was a deal!

What I learned through this process was staggering. First, I learned our agent was right. We had no idea who had a key, nor how many people that really was. After we changed the locks, we started giving new keys to those who obviously needed them, like staff, then a few key volunteers. Within a few weeks, I received numerous communications from church members who couldn’t gain access to the church buildings. One by one, the staff questioned whether these volunteers needed a key or simply needed to schedule with someone else to let them in. Each circumstance was different because some volunteers and volunteer positions warranted a key. Others did not.

This led to the second thing I learned: People have keys to church buildings for stupid reasons. After we changed the locks, a long-term member walked into my office to ask for a new key. He explained that every Tuesday morning for 18 years he came to make coffee for the ladies’ Bible study and he needed a key to enter the building. I explained that during the time he came each week, there was a custodian on duty as well as several other staff members who could open the door for him. There was no other volunteer work he did and simply entering the building to make coffee for 13 people did not seem to warrant unregulated access to the entire facility.

I can say he was displeased with my position, and immediately went over my head to the senior pastor to appeal my denial. When the senior pastor came to the same conclusion, the man stormed out, mumbling something about being a member of the church.

Here’s the thing: Just because someone is a member of the church and gives a tithe does not mean they should get 24-hour access to the building. I’m a member of Costco and I pay them money every week, but nobody there gives me a key!

The third thing I learned through this process was that many people who no longer attend the church have keys. I remember walking to our church kitchen and running into Janet, an elderly lady whom I had not seen in several years. She was standing outside the kitchen door and trying to use a key to open it. When she saw me, her frustration showed she said, “Something is wrong with this key.” She and her husband had been long-time members and her husband had served on the church board in the past. After he died, Janet began attending another church with her children where she felt she got more support, which is why I had not seen her for a while. She was hoping to borrow a large platter she knew we had for a personal event she had planned in her home. I explained we had changed all the locks several months prior.

It turns out that the key she had was from her late husband when he served on the board. After a bit more prying, I came to learn he had not served on the board for eleven years and he died three years before my encounter with Janet! That’s fourteen years of access by people who we had no idea had access. I wondered to myself just how many times Janet had come to borrow the platter.

Now multiply this issue by . . . there’s the problem! The older your facility, the greater the chance there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of people who have keys to your buildings and you have no idea that they do. Every pastor knows of church members who used to be highly involved, probably had a key, but then moved on to another church. Do they still have a key?

My recommendation is this: Spend the money to change the locks. All of them! Depending on the size of your facility, you may need to incorporate a tiered system or series of different keys so that you can allocate access only to certain portions for certain people. Be creative but do not make it too complex. Get help from a qualified locksmith to determine how it should be laid out. Staff members who do need keys don’t want to carry around 20 extra keys because you made every building different.

Next, make sure each key is numbered on one side and marked “Do Not Duplicate” on the other. This doesn’t fully prevent ill-intentioned people from making duplicates, but it is a deterrent and makes it more difficult.

As you pass out keys, keep a log of it. Whether in a notepad or computer file, keep track of each key number and who it was assigned to and the reason it was given. When that person leaves the church or staff, ask for the key back! If you cannot retrieve the key, at least you can make a note of it in your log. When someone loses their keys, make a note of it in the log when you give them a new set.

As a pastor or church leader, you are responsible for keeping your facility safe and secure. The people who should get keys are those who need them, not those who want them. Being a church member and/or regular tither to the church should not be equated with getting a key. It seems both trivial and prideful. Give keys freely to those who need them, but do not just give them to people who attend the church because they’re members or used to be involved.

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An Excerpt From Chapter 9

Positive Outcomes of Negative Social Media

We’ve all seen the effects of social media. If used well, it can spread exciting news like wildfire and greatly promote your ministry or business. In the same way, it can equally spread bad news that can destroy the hard work of your organization. Of course, we all like social media praise. We like it when people “like” or “share” or “comment” about our church. But what if that comment or the sharing is not so good news?

How should we handle negative social media?

Many churches I’ve worked or consulted for have been the victim of negative social media comments. Most likely, yours has too. Although negative in context and often disheartening, the person who posts these negative reviews is communicating something to you, not just about you. They’re unhappy, disappointed, frustrated, or just plain mad. Maybe they’re just bitter. Or maybe you have something you need to learn about your organization.

As leaders, we all have blind spots. The longer we stay at one organization, the less we “see” and understand what it’s like to be new, and the less we understand what it’s really like to be an outsider looking in. New people, outsiders, those we really want to reach, often bring a perspective we simply do not have or understand. Although social media may not be the best place for people to express their feelings, it doesn’t negate the fact they may have a point. And you may need to listen! They may have a perspective and outlook on your organization you’ve never known about . . . or have forgotten.

Take away the inappropriate method and consider the actual complaint or comment. Could this rude comment be true? Is there really a problem here? Is there some level of reality to their comment?

At a former church where I worked, one of our youth pastors was blind-sided by a negative comment about the youth department on Facebook. Certainly, the method of communication wasn’t very appropriate, but after some discussion with the pastor, we realized that the woman who had left the comment had some points we needed to consider. I suggested the pastor make some adjustments and address the issue. A month later, a similar comment was posted on Facebook by another family. This told me that perhaps the pastor had not followed through. I followed up with him and the issue was finally addressed.

The point is, we learned to use negative social media feedback to our advantage. I’m not sure we ever would have known about the problem had we not be “told” about it. Certainly, we would have preferred these families simply send a private email or talked with us in person. Regardless, we listened and used the situation to our advantage. We learned to start learning from social media.

Granted, some people are just nasty. Some people just cannot help themselves and post things that are crazy, completely untrue or they just want to rile people up for no reason. With these comments, often the best approach is to simply ignore it. Nonetheless, even with these commenters, still consider the deep background to their comments. There just might be some flair of truth or concern that you might be able to address.

We all need to get better at what we do. We can all learn from negative feedback and appropriate criticism.  Sometimes, that means learning to learn how to address others on social media.

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