It’s Not (Just) About the Money

It’s Not (Just) About the Money.
First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles
Rev. Rick Hoyt-McDaniels
September 10, 2017

Our Current Challenge

First Church is involved in an ongoing discussion about the future of our church. Most of our conversation continues to be about solving our chronic financial problem: an $80,000 average annual deficit; a more than $100,000 budgeted deficit this year.

But financial sustainability is not our goal.

First Church is a spiritual community, gathered to fulfill a religious mission. That mission includes church programs for worship, education, fellowship and fun, pastoral care, witnessing to our faith, and social justice. Our goal must be to fulfill our mission as a meaningful, vital, and healthy church community, supported by sufficient, sustainable income.

We have a Financial Deficit. We also have a Time and Energy Deficit.

Because First Church owns a large, ageing building and relies on rental income for about 2/3 of our income, we spend an inordinate amount of our resources on administration: generating and managing money, maintaining the building, managing staff, creating policies, and communicating with, educating and involving church members in administrative decisions.

I spend probably 75% of my time on church administration and about 25% on church programs. Ideally those two percentages should be reversed. Our two, nearly full time office staff spend an even higher percentage of their time on administrative issues. Our Board members and lay leaders also spend nearly all of their work for the church on administration.   We have (or need to have) a Finance Committee, a Rental Committee, a Personnel Committee, a Building and Grounds Committee.

But what resources do we spend on church programs?

We have a Worship Team that meets once or twice a year. We have a Membership Team doing triple duty functioning as an Outreach Team, a Membership Team; and a Pastoral Care Team. We have no Religious Education Team. We have no Fellowship and Fun Team. We have no Social Justice Team. We have no Church Council organizing and coordinating our church programs.

Assigning ourselves the job of Property Managers and Rental Agents for our building steals the time and energy we need to do our real job of being a church.

What could our church do if we closed our Time and Energy Deficit?

Here are some of the programs that I would love to spend my time on, and would love to help lay leaders develop for our church. We couldn’t do all of these as a small congregation, but wouldn’t it be nice to do some?

  • Worship
    • A once-a-month evening “alternative” worship service
    • Yoga classes
    • A meditation group
    • A monthly drum circle
    • A children’s choir
    • Creative worship that includes projections, video, visual art, theater, dance, ritual
    • An “altar guild” that adds aesthetic elements to the Sunday service such as altar cloths in liturgical colors, worship objects and inspirational banners.
  • Education
    • A team to help grow our existing child care program into a fully-functional children’s religious education program.
    • OWL classes for different age-groups
    • Leadership development training for our future lay leaders
    • An adult religious education program that taps into the interests and expertise of our members.
    • A writing or spiritual journaling or poetry group
    • A movie club, like our current book club that watches and discusses spiritually-provocative movies or TV shows.
    • A political discussion group
  • Fellowship and Fun
    • A group that organizes regular social outings for our church members: hiking, bowling, a night at the movies or theater.
    • A Hollywood Bowl night.
    • A Saturday trip to a museum
    • Dinners at restaurants or in member’s homes
    • A youth group
    • A young adult group
    • A game night in the Hille Room.
    • An annual church picnic
    • Encouraging attendance at the annual cluster camp at deBenneville Pines
  • Outreach
    • A USC Student Group
    • Interfaith connections with other spiritual communities in our neighborhood.
  • Membership
    • Intentional welcoming and follow-up with church visitors.
    • Encouraging members to deepen their Unitarian Universalist identity by attending District, Regional and General Assemblies.
  • Pastoral Care
    • A trained, pastoral care team, to work with the minister to reach out to members in need of care.
    • Not just emergency care like hospital visits and pastoral counseling, but visiting home-bound members, meeting for a cup of coffee.
    • Cards, flowers, delivering a home-cooked meal, offering transportation, or friendly company to members in need.
  • Social Justice
    • A Social Justice Team to organize the congregation’s passion for justice into meaningful action.
    • Time available to attend city council meetings, or Neighborhood Council Meetings
    • Letter-writing campaigns.
    • Organized participation in rallies and marches.
    • Traveling to Sacramento for UUJM “Lobby Days”
    • Move involvement in serving neighborhood needs (such as UPLA).
    • Better participation with allied social justice organizations such as CLUE-LA and LA Voice.

But it is (also) about money

Our church building and two parking lots are valued at about 6 million dollars. Let’s call that 5 million dollars just to be conservative. Our preschool classrooms are valued at an additional 1.4 million dollars. If we were to sell our property, and pay off the loan that we currently owe on the preschool, we could net about 6 million dollars.

6 million dollars invested in an endowment, earning a 4% annual return, would generate $240,000 in interest every year. That interest income, plus the money we would still receive from member pledges would be sufficient money to support a meaningful, vital and healthy church community. By converting our church’s primary asset from a building to an endowment, instead of an annual deficit of about $100,000 a year, I estimate we could generate a surplus between $15,000 and $58,000 a year. We could rent or buy program and office space for our church; employ a full time minister, music and RE staff, a translator and office staff, and still have money leftover for new, creative ideas:

  • We could fund our UPLA programs
  • We could support an intern minister
  • We could hire a part time community minister to organize social justice activities.
  • We could support the planting of a new congregation in an underserved area of Los Angeles
  • We could offer grant funding to other UU churches in Los Angeles to help them with special projects.

And, because earning interest on an endowment takes much less work than managing rental property we would have time and energy to work on creating the church programs imagined above.

We need to close our financial deficit and our time and energy deficit.

If we focus only on closing our financial deficit we generate creative ideas that might increase income, but also risk increasing our time and energy deficit. Renting more spaces in the church to more tenants for more hours a day, raises money, but also increases the administrative workload of our staff and lay leaders and drains resources from church programs.

Instead, by converting our asset from a building to an endowment we can close our financial deficit and get out of the property management and rental agency business that causes our time and energy deficit. In a new space that’s the right size for our church community, with the financial support of the endowment, we can work to achieve our true goal of fulfilling the mission of our church.