By Aaron Wilson
When there’s a deficit in the church budget, pastors and other church leaders often face the difficult decision of how to make up for the loss.
Fortunately, there are many ways to trim church expenses without hindering your church’s ministry.
Here are 52 ideas to help your church save money in 2019. Contributors to this list include Art Rainer, author of The Money Challenge: 30 Days to Discovering God’s Design for You and Your Money; Todd McMichen, director of generosity and digital giving at Lifeway; Ben Hoersch, pastor of stewardship at Exodus Church in Belmont, North Carolina; and others.
Whether your church is flourishing or struggling, these tips will help you become a better steward of kingdom resources.
1. Curb your church’s calendar. Examine each activity on your church’s calendar to determine whether it helps advance the vision of the church. Cut out activities that provide a poor return on investment for the church’s mission. Just because an event is fun and well attended doesn’t necessarily justify its expense.
2. Eliminate unprofitable services. If a café, church bookstore, or a resource center isn’t contributing to the church in a meaningful and measurable way, consider axing it. People—not fancy lattes—do the work of ministry. Churches who need to save a buck can still be hospitable without footing the bill for peripheral pleasures.
3. Restructure phone plans. If employees use their own personal cell phones instead of a church-issued work phone, you can pay them a stipend under $75 to help them offset their personal phone expense. This can be part of a compensation package that’s free from payroll tax on the church’s side and free from income tax on the employee’s side.
4. Shop around for the best office internet provider and save on a recurring monthly expense by reducing the rate. With a little research, you might even get faster internet speeds while paying less.
5. Try to plan meetings over breakfast or coffee. Lunch meetings can get expensive when the church is picking up the tab. Schedule meetings before and after lunch and brown bag it instead.
6. Eliminate “miscellaneous” from your church budget. This line item often becomes a black hole for expenses that no department or ministry wants to claim.
Identify every place your church is spending money and put each expense in a proper category within your budget. You can’t work on trimming expenses that aren’t accurately tracked in the first place.
7. Revisit your anticipated giving number. Speaking of church budgets, make sure yours is accurate on the income side. Churches who drastically overestimate giving often have to let personnel go to compensate for a shortfall in funds.
Help protect your staff by determining the right anticipated giving number for your church. This chart shows Art Rainer’s preferred process for determining anticipated giving.
8. Ask for volunteers before hiring additional staff or service providers for duties such as administrative work or church maintenance. Not only does this save the church money, it allows more people to use their gifts to serve the church.
9. Hire an intern during the summer. Internships provide a two-way blessing; the church benefits from fresh insight and a developing talent pool while the intern gains valuable skills and experience.
A word of warning: don’t bring on an intern just for the sake of getting inexpensive labor; have the intern’s best interests at heart and intentionally pour into their personal and professional development.
10. Save money on honorariums. Instead of inviting an outside pastor to preach when the normal teaching pastor needs a break, use it as an opportunity to develop potential future pastors from within the church.
This saves the church money, helps church members explore and grow their gifts, and can help churches develop future succession plans.
11. Purchase digital downloads of ongoing curriculum. If your church uses ongoing curriculum, consider making the switch from a physical to digital format.
Digital downloads of curriculum are typically less expensive than their physical counterparts because the publisher doesn’t have to pay for the printing or shipping of literature.
12. Install a Wi-Fi controllable thermostat. This not only allows you to schedule temperature settings in advance, but also react from anywhere to save on utility bills.
Say snow prevents you from holding services; a Wi-Fi controllable thermostat allows you to turn down the heat in the church building from the safety of your home.
13. Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs. While there will be some upfront costs for investing in new, more expensive bulbs, you’ll more than make up for the cost over time through savings in your electric bill.
14. Put timers on water coolers and fountains or turn them off altogether when the church building is unoccupied. Doing so keeps you from constantly paying to heat and cool water—especially on days when few or no people are in the building.
15. Add motion sensor switches to rooms to eliminate lights being left on unnecessarily.
16. Switch out old hot water heaters with newer, tankless models that reduce electricity and save energy.
17. Ensure your building is properly insulated to eliminate wasted energy in heating and cooling. Also check for leaks and drips, which can run up a water bill over time.
18. Show appreciation to volunteers with handwritten thank you notes instead of monetary gifts. Often all that’s needed to encourage church volunteers is simply acknowledging their service is valued.
19. Consider dropping accidental death and dismemberment insurance (AD&D) insurance from a group plan. The reason it costs very little is because the payout is very unlikely.
20. Encourage individuals who give to your church online by debit or credit card to switch to giving with an ACH draft from their checking account. This can save in fees as much as 3 percent of the total gift.
21. Switch deposits to a local credit union. These typically pay higher interest rates and have lower fees.
22. Renegotiate property leases.
23. Renegotiate printer and copier leases.
24. Invest service time into your local public library instead of paying to stock a church library with new titles each quarter. This also gets church members into the community where they can engage the lost.
25. When new equipment or furniture is needed, pray and ask for provision in unconventional ways. Churches can sometimes purchase needed items at a discount from other local businesses. You can also find great deals on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other online resources.
26. Conversely, liquidate anything the church owns that’s not needed. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are also great for turning clutter into cash.
If you’re not savvy with online selling, ask around at your church. It’s likely someone in your congregation enjoys this kind of thing and would be glad to handle the postings for you.
27. Cancel software subscriptions you’re no longer getting a good return on investment for.
28. For software you need to keep, change your subscription from monthly to annual renewals if the provider offers discounts.
29. Print your own bulletins. If you use color bulletins, make the switch to black and white.
30. Refinance any long-term debt you may have to a lower interest rate if possible. You may need to shop around with other lenders to make this happen.
31. Evaluate the net worth of having a church van or other church-owned vehicle. If you only use a church van once or twice a year for the occasional retreat or mission trip, you’re likely not getting a good return on investment for all the money you’re pouring into it for things like insurance and maintenance.
Not to mention, vehicles are depreciating assets. If you’re not using your church van every month for ministry purposes, it might be worth selling it as a matter of stewardship.
32. If you do use your church van regularly, make sure the tires are properly inflated—especially as you transition from hot to cold seasons or vice versa. This will improve your mileage and save on your gas budget.
33. Plan travel for offsite meetings and church errands as efficiently as possible. Not only does this save you time, it also saves the church money on mileage reimbursement. If organizing calendars and itineraries isn’t your strongpoint, look for a church member with the gift of administration who can help.
34. Allow staff members to work from home on certain days of the week. This can lead to better productivity, improve morale, and provide immediate savings on the church’s electric bill.
35. Cut your utility bill even more by unplugging devices that draw a “phantom charge.” TVs, DVD players, printers, phone chargers, and other devices all draw electricity while they’re plugged in—even when these devices are turned off!
There’s no reason a classroom TV needs to be plugged in 24/7 when it’s only used for one hour each Sunday. Train your teachers to pull the plug after they’re done using a device.
36. Be realistic about how much coffee or communion supplies to put out or distribute during worship services in order to cut down on waste.
37. Create an account at Swagbucks.com. When you make online purchases for the church, link to the retailer’s website from Swagbucks’ search feature. For many purchases, you’ll earn points that can be used towards gift cards at major retailers for purchasing other church supplies.
38. Hand-deliver some letters that would otherwise cost postage to mail.
39. Instead of sending “thinking of you” cards or postcards, reach out to people on social media. For many members of younger generations, this less expensive, electronic form of communication is actually preferred.
40. Likewise, move away from using postcards or physical letters to follow up with church guests. Instead, ask for guests’ email addresses in a non-threatening manner—such as on a church connect card they put in the offering plate.
Not only does email correspondence save on supplies and postage, it also allows for a two-way conversation where guests can ask questions.
41. Create or refresh policies for church benevolence giving. For example, if you have a food pantry, consider what qualifications you should put in place to ensure you’re helping those in need without hurting people by enabling destructive habits (1 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Many secular food pantries require proof that a client is seeking employment, applying for disability, or seeking other means to take care of their needs in a sustainable way. Call a local food pantry and ask about policies you might apply to better steward your church’s benevolence budget.
42. Review any labor contracts to see if savings can be found. Perhaps current janitorial services involve more work than what’s actually needed. Could some tasks such as scrubbing sinks or wiping down classroom whiteboards be done monthly instead of weekly?
43. Instead of paying to renew expensive software for word processing, spreadsheets, and calendar management, use Google Suite. It’s free for individuals and starts at just $5 a month for businesses.
44. Embrace video conferencing for certain meetings to save money on mileage and meals.
45. Cut the length of your staff meetings. A modern-day proverb is that meetings expand to fill the time set aside for them.
Shorter meetings force your team to improve in efficiency. Greater efficiency equates to more work being done, less resources being used, and greater savings for the church.
46. Work with other local churches and associations to share and recycle resources. Consider partnering with another local church this year for a joint Vacation Bible School experience that allows you to pool resources.
Such a partnership may be difficult to navigate, but when done well, it can provide a great picture of unity in the body of Christ.
47. Use recycled plastic bags from grocery stores to line office trash cans.
48. Buy things in bulk you use on an ongoing basis. Does your children’s ministry burn through certain resources like Goldfish Crackers or crayons? Stock up at wholesale businesses or when stores are hosting tax-free weekends on school supplies.
49. Collect aluminum cans at your church and sell it at a local metal recycling center. While you won’t be able to fund a staff salary off the profits, your church will bring in a little extra cash while helping to steward the earth.
50. Avoid expensive legal entanglements by complying with copyright laws. Click here to read about six best practices to help keep your church in the clear when using creative content such as music, movies, and literature.
51. Appoint a “deacon of conservation” or building trustee. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I get a strange sense of satisfaction turning off lights that are left on after someone leaves a room.
Find someone at your church wired this way and ask them to oversee closing down the church building after gatherings and events to ensure lights are off, “phantom charge” electronics are unplugged, the thermostat is adjusted, etc.
Provide them this list and ask them to take the lead in looking for other ways to save the church money.
52. Rent unused space. Does your church own more facility than you actually use on a regular basis? Consider renting out part of your building to bring in additional church funds. Here are five tips to keep in mind when considering renting church space.
What are some other ideas you have for churches looking to save money?
Aaron is associate editor of LifewayResearch.com.