Tips on how to “work smart”

As the worsening recession spreads dislocation, church leaders face increasing pressure to do more with less.

Now more than ever, people need their churches to be strong, alive and responsive, especially to pain. This need collides with budgetary pressures. How can an enterprise give more to its constituents even as their giving falls short?

Here are some tips on working smart:

First, wherever possible, move your communications to electronic forms. With an estimated 92% of Americans using e-mail, printed mailings can be reserved for a few necessary functions. The savings from moving to e-mail newsletters and more dynamic Web sites are substantial. One large church went from $2,000 for a single printed mailing to $15 for an e-mail letter that has more impact.

Instead of using printed worship bulletins, project the same information onto a screen at virtually no cost. Yes, this would be wrenching for some traditionalists. So will letting go of the SUV and driving a hybrid.

Second, focus professional staff time on a few vital functions, and let some other duties go. This will mean saying to parishioners, “No, we can’t do that now.” Even more, it will mean staff saying to themselves, “No, I can’t please everyone.”

Third, be utterly transparent about what can and cannot be done. Help members manage their expectations. Also, help them step forward to offer help. In distressed times, people need opportunities to assist others.

Fourth, draw constituents together in basic ministries like church suppers and mission work. Members will be less dependent on their clergy if they have opportunities to support each other. That way, clergy can focus their energies on high-impact duties that they alone can perform.

Finally, choose your leaders carefully. Not everyone is temperamentally suited for leadership in stressful times. Some will panic and draw inside their shells. Some will want to avoid hard decisions with denial and cheerfulness. Some will blame, rather than resolve. Stressful times call for bold and compassionate leaders who can deal with the necessity of change even as they monitor the fears and wounds of those facing change.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.