Written by Julie Long, Interim Director of Staff and Congregational Life

I am the bill-payer in our household. My husband Jody and I share household responsibilities like every family does, and managing the finances falls to me (don’t ask me how to crank the lawnmower or change the air filters). We often joke that if something ever happens to me, Jody is going to need a lot of help to figure out where the money is and how much he has to live on. Every now and then, I make a point to show him how to access our bank accounts, investment accounts, and login information for online bill pay, because even though each of us have our particular gifts and responsibilities, we both need to know where we stand financially and how we can be good stewards of the resources that we have.

The same is true at church. We’ve talked a lot about money and stewardship at FBCX in recent days as we’ve prepared the budget for the coming year and raised awareness of our shared financial responsibilities, giving trends, and spending habits. Money is not always easy to talk about, but it is important for each member of the family to be aware of our financial standing and our shared stewardship of all that God has given us.

Our finance committee is committed to exploring what is happening behind the numbers and speaking directly and with transparency about what we learn so that our whole congregation can take ownership of this family business. It has been said that a church’s budget is its most theological document, so these conversations about finances are the work of our whole congregation.

To this point: You may have noticed on recent church financial statements that our utility costs have been rising (you have likely noticed this trend at home, too!). From January-October of this year, we have spent over $110, 000 on utilities. Three-fourths of the way through the budget year, we have spent 103% of the annual amount budgeted for utilities. And here’s the number that made my jaw drop – 22% of the monies spent out of our church budget this year have gone to utilities.  That’s nearly a quarter of our expenses, just to heat and cool the building, keep the lights on, and run the water.

Some of these costs we have little control over – fees and services have increased. But there are a few practical things you can do to help:

  • When you leave a room, turn the lights off. We do not currently have a custodian working on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, the times when our space is most used. Every time that I walk the building to lock up, I find lights left on, some in spaces that have been vacated for hours. Treat the church like your house, and don’t assume that someone is going to come after you to turn off lights.
  • Check with a staff member before adjusting the thermostat. Our thermostats are on schedules that align with the usage of that particular space. If you adjust a thermostat and press “hold” on the unit, the HVAC unit will run until someone discovers it, sometimes days later. If you need to make a change, ask a staff member how to best do that so that the temperature can be regulated again when you leave.
  • When your group needs to use a space for gathering, consider how to use spaces that are already being used for other purposes. For example, when a class is the only group meeting on a particular hallway, the HVAC unit for that entire floor is running. The recent shutdown of our Washington Avenue building is one attempt to help us live in our space more densely and intentionally.

Our facilities master plan committee is having exciting conversations around reimagining the use of our property so that we can continue gather here as the First Baptist Church of Christ long into the future. The group is hoping to come to the congregation with options for consideration over the next several months. It is likely that some of these options may invite us to get really creative and drastically change how we gather in this beloved, sacred space. I hope that a raised awareness about the current realities of our assets and needs will help us continue to be good stewards of this space that has been entrusted to us. As Chuck Poole asked in a recent sermon, what can be more exciting that keeping the lights on in this place?

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