Monday, June 4, 2018

How to Make the Right Decision

Imagine that your Vestry has been doing some planning and they have come to the decision that for further development, they need to hire a new staff member.  Maybe this is a full-time youth pastor, a paid Christian Education person, or an assistant clergy person.  They set out to communicate this to the parish especially during the stewardship program and set a target for how much additional income they will need.  Of the say $65,000 increase, you receive around $55,000.  The options seem to be (1) postpone the hiring until next year, (2) seek additional funding, or (3) borrow the money need (or borrow off the endowment or some other fund.)  What is the “right” decision?

Or imagine that the Vestry has launched a capital fund to remodel the Parish Hall and Christian Education wing of the Church.  Of the $400,000 needed, you receive pledges for $365,000.  Do you (1) ask for additional funding, (2) hold a fund raising event, (3) borrow the remaining dollars you need,  (4) postpone the remodel until economic conditions are more favorable, or (5) build what $365,000 will give you and leave the frills and finishing for a later time?  What is the “right” decision?

Recently, the Parish I attend developed a plan to finish off the interior of the Sanctuary.  In the late 90s with steady growth, the leaders hired an architect and came up with a plan to extend the old Sanctuary.  They only received about 85% of what they needed for the project, but they badly needed the additional seating.  The solution they chose was to extend the Sanctuary out but to avoid the costly relocation of the HAC system, they keep the lower ceiling.  The result was a classic A frame church with another half of the building with a lower ceiling and different lighting from that of the front section.  They got the extra pews, but the result looked unfinished at best and odd at worst.  With a new Rector well in place and a renewed growth of the congregation, the present vestry hired an architect.  They came up with a beautiful design that enhanced the whole worship space, extended and improved the A frame to the back doors, put in a whole new lighting and sound system, and more space for the growing choir. 

The Vestry had some capital reserves, some operating reserves, commitments from a few key families of matching gifts, so they proceeded and started a limited capital campaign for the matching gifts.  They told the congregation that the more they raised then the less they would have to borrow from the reserves.

By the time the campaign was over, two things happened.  First they received more than their goal. Second, the bids from the contractors were about $75,000 more than originally expected.  They ended up short by about $45,000.  They had told the congregation that if there was a short fall, they would remove some of the “enhancements” of the design.

This week, the Senior Warden wrote the congregation and gave both the good news and the bad news.  Then he announced the right decision.  The Vestry had voted to continue with the entire project and borrow both from the reserve capital fund and if no further funding comes in to borrow from the operating reserve.  The Warden noted that there was such interest in the beautiful enhancements and excitement about the project that they just believed this needed to go forward now. I will be sending in an extra check and I know others will too!

I wasn’t at the vestry mini retreat where this decision was made so I don’t know how this happened. Perhaps the present excitement in the parish combined with good and future directed leadership made it the right decision.  Or perhaps it is simply that the current leadership knows the price of having to live with a bad decision made a two decades ago. 

What I do know is how I have assisted other congregations in the midst of a major decision such as I asked you to imagine or ones similar to Grace Church in Georgetown where I volunteer to move courageously to the future.

I ask them to imagine that their children have grown up and several now are in the leadership of the Parish joined by people who have come to the church over time.  Then I ask them what are their options?  Then I ask which choice will leave those children thanking God for their decision?  Which one will have them saying “thank God that we had visionary and wise leaders back then?”  Which one will leave them sighing “what were they thinking” or excusing them because “it was the best they could do.” 

I have found that seeing things from the view of their children often pushes people to see the big picture, sacrifice more, and make a courageous decision even in the face of those who say “we can’t afford it, or we can’t afford it now!”  

My suggestion is find a way to help your leaders face the consequences of short sighted and limited decision making from the point of view of those who will inherit and have to live with it.

Once last word, wouldn’t it be great if the current leaders of our Nation faced with growing demands on our budget, increased deficits, and conflicting priorities would make their decisions from the point of view of their children and grandchildren.  Maybe if they did, some current 10 year old who becomes a future President will declare them “the greatest generation!”  My vote right now is that the future President will say “what were they thinking back then and how could they have been so short-sighted about the future?”  

But we can hope.