Guidelines for trimming budgets

As the recession forces church leaders to rethink their spending plans, here are some guidelines for making cuts.

First, people matter more than buildings. A building can be closed temporarily and then reopened when funds permit, but a staff decimated by layoffs can take years to rebuild.

Second, right-sizing is better than down-sizing. It is easy to lop off employees to meet budget realities, starting perhaps with the largest salaries. It is harder, but in the long run more beneficial, to have a right-sizing strategy that prioritizes work to be done, identifies which staff members can multi-task, identifies ways to leverage staff effort by supplementing it with volunteers, and gets maximum productivity from each remaining employee.

Third, pay reductions are better than terminations. For most employees, making up a 10% cut is more feasible than having to deal with a 100% cut by way of termination. Holding on to a job, even at reduced pay, will breed gratitude and loyalty, especially if all employees are sharing the sacrifice. 

Fourth, staying in business is better than providing comfort and convenience. If the early Christians met in caves and tunnels, we certainly can sit for an hour without heat and full lighting. We can worship God without the pipe organ and printed bulletins. We can enjoy Christian fellowship without coffee and donuts.

Fifth, gathering in homes is better than not gathering at all. We are descended from believers who met in homes and shared everything. That was our strongest era, and it ended when we got too focused on comfort and mass gatherings.

Sixth, we make a better witness to our communities when we find creative and self-sacrificial ways to share Christian fellowship and do Christian ministry than when we complain about any loss of comfort.

For further guidance on any of these guidelines, just write me at


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of On a Journey, and founder of the Church Wellness Project.