At the church news and prayer evening this week, one of the things Steve Jones explained was some of the dynamics affecting our church finances. Below, and to respond to your questions, Andy unpacks that a little more, so if you have any more questions please ask him!
1. Faith gap
As a church, we set a budget each year for the things we agree God is calling us to do, and then trust him to provide. Often, that budget includes a 'faith gap', where our needs exceed our known income. There are many stories in the Bible of people trusting God to provide, and many injunctions to trust him as provider of 'our daily bread'. This faith gap therefore represents a commitment to walk in obedience and faith as a church community.
2. Leaning into God
Developing that point further, the scriptures make clear that God wants us to lean on him as a father, in relationship and dependence, and not simply get on with our lives in isolation. Proverbs 30:7-9 says this as clearly as anywhere: 'Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, Who is the Lord? Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.' We, of course, would rather have all the money well ahead of time, but God seems to provide as we need it. This leads us to pray.
3. Provision for vision
We also see a spiritual dynamic that goes something like this: If we respond with vision to what God is calling us to do, we see his provision, whereas if we reduce our vision and live inexpansively, we see a reduction in financial provision. To some, that may be counter-intuitive, but it seems to be how God's economy works! We've certainly seen that in the church. This also leads us to pray!
4. Blessed to be a blessing
As a church we have a call to be a resourcing base (apostolic base) for city and beyond. As God said to our forefather Abraham, 'I will bless you, in order that you can be a blessing to the nations.' This mandate leads us, for example, to send teams to serve churches in other nations, to support a significant number of missionary teams and to have a concern for the welfare of our city. By giving staff time as well as direct giving, we give away at least 13%.
5. Part of a wider family
As we see from the New Testament, churches are not supposed to be independent, but to operate as part of a wider family of churches, including financial support for each other's needs (e.g. the Jerusalem famine) and gospel development (e.g. helping Paul get to Spain). We're closely linked to churches in our 'region' (Lifehouse in Bicester and Banbury), our 'sphere' (our family in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and beyond), as well as the wider Salt & Light International family. In particular, Oxford effectively subsidises our church in Bicester and Banbury.
6. Cyclical giving
As a church, we live and work in a city with the highest population turnover of the 55 biggest cities in the UK, due to the large student and young working adult populations. We see this reflected in a predictable annual cycle in the church giving, which dips somewhat in the autumn and picks up again as people join the church and start giving. This makes it rather challenging to set annual budgets!
7. Tithes and offerings
Biblically, we see the tithe as the starting point for giving, so many of our members give a monthly 10% tithe of their income as well as one-off offerings when they receive unexpected financial blessing. Probably because of the demographic profile of the church, 5-10% part of our church income comes from large, one-off and unpredicted gifts. We are very grateful for these gifts, but they are unpredictable by nature and therefore to budget for.
8. Membership matters
As a church, while welcoming everyone, Christian or not, to our Sunday and other gatherings, we practice membership. Membership is a mutual 'agreement' between the community of the church and a person, that says 'we are walking together', 'we are family together' and 'we are committed to each other'. (More on that in another blog soon!) One aspect of membership is a financial commitment to the life of the church, so it is no surprise that 75% of our income - and virtually all of our regular, predictable income - comes from members. We therefore often call for Gift Days, as a stimulus to prayer and an opportunity for those unpredictable gifts.
9. Changes in charities
OCC is a registered charity. As well as the benefits of GiftAid, being accountable to the charity regulator gives confidence to our stakeholders that we are well-managed. As I write we are just completing our audit for the previous financial year, and you would be surprised by the questions they ask, not just about finance but governance, strategy, safeguarding and many other important issues. The whole charity sector is seeing a change in donor culture, from giving general funds, to giving specific (restricted) funds for specific projects with clear outcomes. In this environment, it is an increasing challenge to run the basic operation of a church, requiring as we do a steady flow of general unrestricted gifts.
[Edited June 2023: Point 10, about changes in the charity in 2018, has been removed as no longer relevant.]