MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
While it is disappointing that as a self-funding congregation we have failed to reach our revenue target for the past year, it has not been due to lack of generosity or the ability of our fundraising projects. The simple fact of the matter is that we are an ageing and shrinking cohort of worshippers with diminishing returns. This is also reflected in declining human resource to attend to the housekeeping tasks that are inherent in church fellowship and the use of facilities.
According to an economist’s report presented at a meeting of Presbyterian Property Trustees, we fall into the lowest third of small congregations in terms of membership and worship attendance, whose viability and life expectancy has to be of concern. In this regard we are not unlike many asset rich, but cash poor retirees, who have to draw down on their life savings to maintain a bearable standard of living. While greater generosity on the part of enabled members may be feasible, it will not provide long term solutions. Several of us, myself included, have commitments to other charities that present a positive image in terms of public benefit and measurable outcomes. With fixed incomes to draw on, the likes of us try to maintain a balance between the good causes we support and are reluctant to make adjustments in favour of one at the expense of others. Younger parishioners with teenage children have increasing financial demands and out of necessity have to give preference to more urgent and rising expenditure patterns to keep pace with the cost of living.
What is the answer, and is there an answer? As was pointed out to us at the meeting earlier referred to, many churches are sitting on expensive real estate that provides insufficient return in terms of their location, design and maintenance problems. This portfolio throughout the country is significant and in many cases could be better applied if realised for other purposes. We have gone some way in diversification with Iona Close, but the village is too small to be regarded as an investment. Our facilities in their present shape do not lend themselves to profitable use, particularly as they rely on voluntary labour. It is not sufficient to say that we are in good company if we look around us and find other denominations in the same predicament. Looking further afield we cannot help noticing that the Churches endowed with vitality and growth are virtual franchises based on a business model that prescribes tithing and affords many opportunities for fellowship, and dare I say it, entertainment. This model may be alien to us conservative Christians, but visible evidence testifies to its success. Pentecostal churches in South America are making significant inroads into Roman Catholicism and the argument that they appeal more to working class worshippers may be the key to their success. This could be the cause of our failing in that the socio-economic class traditional churches appeal to is also more discriminating in their choice of religion and with it their willingness to con tribute financially.
The next few years will be critical for St Aidans and we have to plan accordingly. In the meantime may wisdom and goodwill prevail.