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Have you ever wanted to host a women’s conference (or any event, really) at your church, but it just wasn’t in the budget?

My husband and I have served a lot of small churches, so those tight-knit fellowships and their pastors hold a special place in my heart – especially the ones who want to give their ladies a doctrinally sound alternative to the mega-conferences whose doctrine can be questionable at best.

I’ve spoken at some absolutely wonderful conferences hosted by small churches, so I know it can be done with excellence if you’re not afraid to think creatively and work efficiently.

Here are a few suggestions to prayerfully consider if you’re putting together an event on a shoestring budget. And readers, I want to hear from you too – what has your church done to support and finance special events that has worked well? Add your comment in the comments section at the end of the article.

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I’m going to start with a principle that applies to anyone doing professional work for your church, from conference speakers, to the band playing a concert at your youth event, to the plumber fixing the pipes in the bathroom, to the accountant who does your church’s bookkeeping:

You must pay workers, and you must pay them a fair wage or fee in addition to their expenses (travel, lodging, etc.).

I’ve been blessed that every host church I’ve ever spoken at has understood this and has been very generous with me, but I’ve heard that there are Christians out there who expect anyone doing anything for their church to do it for free because it’s “ministry”. Some even begrudge paying their pastor a salary! This is not biblical. In fact, the Bible says just the opposite.

It often takes many hours of hard work to properly prepare for a speaking engagement, concert, etc. (And don’t get me started on how much time pastors put into their jobs compared to the salaries most of them earn.) This pre-event work as well as the event itself may take the worker away from her family or cause her to have to cancel other activities. She may even have to take time off from her regular job to work at your event. What she’s doing for you is work and she deserves to be fairly compensated for it. This is one aspect of your event that you can’t cut corners on.

Sometimes it is hard to know what a fair wage is for the worker you’re hiring. And, indeed, it will vary from worker to worker. Ask her for a number. Figure out whether or not that amount is feasible on your end. Then, be honest with her and let her know whether or not you can guarantee (not try to raise, not “take up a love offering at the conference and hope for the best” – guarantee) that amount. If you can’t, it is then up to her to decide whether or not she can afford to work at your event. Being honest and transparent from the get go helps remove a lot of the awkwardness that comes with talking about money. I know I always appreciate it.

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Now that you know one of the expenses for the event, it will be easier to estimate a  budget to cover it and the rest of the expenditures. Sit down with your planning committee and prayerfully discuss the purchases you’ll need to make for food, decorations, and any other materials, and come up with a reasonable budget for your particular venue. Use godly wisdom and exercise good stewardship.

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Don’t try to compete with the expensive glitz, glam, and giveaways of mega-conferences. You do you, your church or host organization. I’ve seen many churches go with a “simple elegance” or “homestyle” or “local charm” level of theme and decor that has turned out perfectly lovely and welcoming (Check out some of the church events I’ve spoken at.). And remember, it’s the caring and hospitality of the hosts that will make the greatest impact on your attendees, not the swanky food, decorations and swag bags.

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Plan your event as far in advance as possible. Not only will this give you plenty of time to raise funds, but some expenses – plane tickets for your speaker, for example – go up as time goes by.

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While some speakers need to stay in a hotel for various reasons, others are perfectly willing to be fed and housed by church members, which can cut your expenses considerably. Ask your speaker which she prefers and be ready to graciously provide either type of accommodation.

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Go local. If you can find an appropriate speaker who lives in or near your town, it will cut down on your travel and accommodation expenses for her.

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Ask your pastor or elders if there is any money set aside in your church’s budget for the women’s ministry or special events. Find out whether or not you can use it and if there are any requirements for how it must or must not be spent.

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Put the word out to your whole church and ask for help. Make a list of the things you’ll need that people can donate or lend: fresh flowers from members’ gardens for centerpieces, table cloths, paper plates, small gift bag items like pens and notepads, snack items, etc.

You could even have some fun with it and throw a women’s conference “shower,” registering for the items you need (even WalMart and Target have registries these days) and inviting the whole congregation to bring their gifts and come fellowship together. And don’t forget the “money tree” (or some other receptacle) for people who would rather give cash or a check.

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Take up a love offering from your congregation for conference expenses. If your conference is far enough ahead in the future, you might be able to take up two or three over time.

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Consider a crowdfunding campaign for event expenses such as Go Fund Me or Kickstarter (there are even Christian crowdfunding sites), or set up a PayPal account specifically for donations for the event. (Some Christians feel it is biblically inappropriate to ask non-Christians to donate to a Christian cause. You will need to find out where your church stands on this issue when deciding who to share the crowdfunding information with.)

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Have a good, old fashioned fundraiser at church, such as a church-wide “garage sale,” bake sale, or car wash.

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Consider partnering with another doctrinally sound local church (or two or three!) to co-host the event and split the expenses. (Check out their doctrine first. You can’t biblically partner with churches that teach false doctrine.)

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To recoup your expenses (don’t depend on these to cover expenses) and maybe set some money aside for your next event, consider selling tickets at a nominal price, suggesting a voluntary donation amount, or “pay what you can,” for tickets, and/or taking up a love offering at the event.

Most attendees could afford, say, a $5 ticket, and if you have 100 attendees, that’s $500 to start off next year’s event budget. You could also offer the option of sponsoring tickets. People who want to support the conference could give enough money to cover a certain number of tickets, which could then be given away to women who would like to attend but can’t afford to.

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It should go without saying, but be sure to get your pastor’s, elders’, or other leadership’s approval every step of the way.

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With plenty of prayer, wisdom, organized planning, and good stewardship, it is possible for small churches to host an awesome event that will glorify God and be a blessing to the women of your church and community.

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