The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Getting creative

Tough times call for clever measures and ministry

Jennifer Dyer Boyd enthusiastically embraced her new call as pastor of Trinity Lutheran in Brewster, N.Y., with gratitude and delight, right down to the new deficit the church was facing.

She wasn't surprised to learn of the budget problems shortly after arriving. "I would've been more surprised if we weren't facing a deficit," she said. "That's the reality of the church right now."

Boyd is right — that is the reality for more than half of the ELCA's roughly 10,000 congregations. Many have 80 or fewer worshipers per week, budgets of less than $100,000, or more imminent financial issues, said Ruben Duran, ELCA program director for new congregations. He describes these congregations as operating in "maintenance mode," either barely making it or facing an uncertain future. Other churches are in serious decline and may close in the next few years, he said.

Irma Gonzalez, 83, stuffs gorditas
Irma Gonzalez, 83, stuffs gorditas at the Kermés festival hosted by Cristo Rey, El Paso, Texas, where Rose Mary Sanchez-Guzman is pastor. This year, the church did not have money and members are struggling more than other years, Sanchez-Guzman said, so instead of hosting the usual free barbecue for the community following their anniversary service, they combined the service with the Kermés to raise money for the church.

The increased expenses of maintaining and operating old buildings and paying a pastor's salary and benefits in the wake of dwindling stewardship are causing congregations to rethink how they operate. Some are developing creative solutions, while others aren't sure what to do and pray for a miracle.

Stories of budget deficits resonate with churches across the country, whether a congregation is large or small, has a novice pastor or a veteran, or is an urban or suburban ministry.

One pastor, two churches

Andy Wendle, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran, Hood River, Ore., knew sustaining a congregation with fewer than 100 worshipers wasn't going to be possible without creative solutions. So Our Redeemer partnered with Asbury United Methodist Church several miles away, which had a temporary pastor and little funding for a full-time position.

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