On Sunday afternoon, June 27, we hosted Stewarding Your Generosity, a financial forum, where we invited the congregation to ask questions and hear about our finances. We hold meetings like this a few times per year to show you where your tithes and offerings are going. Below is a video which highlights some of the areas your donations contribute to.
Towards the end of the meeting, a senior employee of Northland read from a prepared remark in which he shared his own personal narrative around controversial events from the past few years, including a breach of confidential HR information. This was done without the prior approval of Pastor Gus or governing elder Mike Kemp, who were also on stage at the time. These statements were a damaging affront to the legacy of Pastor Kevin, who as you know was released from our staff recently. This action was not acceptable and does not reflect the values of Northland Church as a Christ-centered organization. The employee who made these remarks was placed on administrative leave and upon discussion has resigned from our staff effective July 7.
After that first statement was made, another senior Northland employee took a microphone and started seeking to refute what had been said from the stage. During her statements, this other employee disrespected and dishonored Pastor Gus in a serious way. That is not how we treat our senior leader; that’s not how we treat anyone for that matter. As a result of that other incentent, that other employee has been placed on administrative leave. This person, Pastor Gus, and some of our elders have already begun to have conversations around what the next steps may be, including, of course, forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, and what that looks like. But from here, that process will be under the oversight of our leadership, and guided by our HR practices.
The words truth and transparency have been used a lot. Truth and transparency does not mean, however, that public announcements will be made around every internal issue that the church faces, nor do they mean that we’re going to open up HR processes and files for public review. There are proper checks and balances, there are protocols that are to be followed, and rumors and hearsay should never be believed at face value.
Even when we disagree, even when we have staff transitions, we strive to honor one another and to honor our Lord Jesus Christ.
To clear up any confusion about Pastor Sean and Pastor Kevin, we want to state here that both have received a letter of commendation and gratitude from governing elder Danny Gordon for their faithful service to Northland Church. They also received a severance package commensurate with their long tenure at Northland consistent with how we have treated long-serving pastors at our church. A damaging statement directed at one of these men, sharing one person’s perspective on the last few years, should not muddle these facts.
In last weekend’s worship service, Governing elder John Cortines addressed this recent controversy, including some additional information about our governance structure at Northland, which you can view a clip of below.
Due to a decline in giving over the last several years as well as some other factors, we had to reduce our budget for the new fiscal year. We know some were unable to attend and some may want to review a summary of the forum. In this blog, we’ve outlined the financial questions asked during our time together. If you have a finance-related question not answered here or you were unable to attend the meeting and would like to see the presentation slides, email our finance team at email@example.com.
What is the approximate average weekly attendance, both online and in-person, over the last 6 months?
This number is very approximate because the online piece is really tricky. However, we conservatively estimate around 2,400 online. There are a many statistics that will give you a higher number than that, but those can include someone who’s just “looking,” not necessarily watching and engaging. The Communications Team does an incredible job looking at all these stats. I will add, giving that is identified as “online” is about 4.5% of our total giving. So there may be 2,400 people watching, and they may be giving, but not giving under the dropdown title “giving online” (and instead just giving to “general”).
We average 600 to 625 people in person. We’ve been very obedient to the restrictions imposed on us during COVID for many reasons. We’ve recently opened up and are now allowed to sit wherever we want without requiring masks. Hopefully, in-person attendance will pick up as a result. We also know that the world around us has changed because of this pandemic. The habits and the weekly routines people go through are totally different. Getting people to return to church will be a bigger challenge across America than at any time in America’s history.
Of the roughly 3,000 weekend attendees, both online and in-person, what percentage of attendees are donating? Where were you 3 or 4 years ago as a percent of donors?
We’re at about half the donors we were 3 ½ to 4 years ago, and there are many reasons for that. During this pastor search process, the elders put together, “what is the real size of Northland’s congregation?” It was somewhere in the 3,500 to 4,500 range. If you look at our donors in relation to the congregation, we have a good percentage of donors compared to the national average (where the donors are around 22% to 23% of the total congregation). The difference is, what we need to sustain a space like this requires a lot more resources. For example, our electric bill runs between $23,000 and $24,000 per month (even with all the things we do to drive it down, like LED lights). We’re grateful for those who give to Northland and encourage anyone who doesn’t follow God’s command to give because God will abundantly bless everyone who gives.
Have you engaged in conversations with the staff to look at a deeper level of other cuts?
The directors of all of our departments build our budget. When we go line by line, we look at everything and say, Do we really need this? Can we do something different? Is there something that you really have to have? This budget was a little more unique than last year because we’re trying to ramp back up at the same time as giving is declining. Last year, we were forced not to spend money on things like our middle schoolers out at camp this week. We didn’t do that last year because we couldn’t send them anywhere. This year they’re at camp, and we know we had to make those kinds of adjustments. We budget line by line, and every department has a say in where that number is. I can tell you they’re a committed group and stay at those numbers. This past year, I don’t think we had any overspending that wasn’t justified by some underspending someplace else.
How long will it take to pay back the recent lighting purchases and energy bills? What’s the return on investment?
We have a capital plan that goes out through the next five years. Part of that capital plan is those lights. There are 26 lights in all that we had to replace, and they’re in the key spots that make this room function for me speaking here or worship going on. We spread that out over seven quarters, so we began that last year at the close of the fiscal year. We won’t wrap that up until probably the middle of next year’s second quarter.
Unfortunately, this building has many things that require attention, like an air conditioner we just replaced. Our objective is to plan for that, and our budget does that. We put $320,000 away every year, and we’re basically saving it to spend it. It’s about $187,000 that we’re actually spending. We spent a little bit of it a year ago, and some during this year we’re wrapping up, and will spend more in the next quarter. So that’s a total wrap-around of three budget years. These LED lighting fixtures were an investment to replace fixtures that were failing so we could properly deliver our services online and use this auditorium space. That’s why those lights are there. They were thought out, planned for, and built into our capital expenses. We made that decision based on the return on investment, reduction in electricity, and the need to upgrade those lights.
Not only do those lighting fixtures reduce the energy required, but they also reduce the amount of heat generated in this room, reducing the demand on the air conditioning. Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact number for the return on our investment, but we’re replacing other types of lights with LED lights all over the property. Every time a light goes out in the parking lot, we upgrade it to an LED light as well. It’s more expensive on the front end, but in the long run, the energy savings is well worth it.
With reductions of staff, is there an impact on the grant from Payroll Protection Plan?
How are we going to handle the roof? Because the roof has not been addressed in the years that this building has been here.
This roof is still under warranty, and the warranty is up next year. I (Jean) have a meeting with the company that installed the roof on this building on Monday to talk about how much it will cost to replace it and what, based on their inspection, they think the life of this roof will be. The Rink roof, on the other hand, is in desperate need of replacement. That is scheduled for 2022, but we have a lot of leaks over there. The replacement of that roof, at current estimates, is $240,000 to $260,000. The roof on the Children’s Worship Wing is also still under warranty. These roofs are a TPE membrane, but that roof (The Rink) is a shingle roof over a strange conglomerate of renovations, and it’s just complicated. Even when we have a leak, it’s tricky to track where the leak begins. I am talking to numerous roofers trying to find someone good at repairing leaks until we can get that one replaced.
What is the church doing to get the word out to the community, marketing-wise, and to let them know we’re open?
We do have a Communications budget, which is what the church calls “marketing.” We regularly utilize our communication mediums, such as social media, email, website, and other venues to get the word out. However, I think all of us have a responsibility to bring people to church.
What can we do to bring in and teach people what God’s word is about tithing? What can we do in order to teach our church family the proper way of tithing?
It ties into a whole lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of submission to Christ and what He called you to do. Once you’ve given it all to Him, then it’s not so hard to tithe. I think that’s really the crux of the matter: we hold onto all our stuff. One of the books Gus referred to has to do with financial discipleship, and it starts with who God is and who you are in relation to God. The book also talks about how it’s all His, He made it all, you’re not taking it with you, and some other basic concepts that as a Christian I grew up with and I never stopped doing. It’s something that as a new believer or anyone new to the concept, you really have to embrace.
With tithing going down year after year and pastors being such a critical part of the church, what made letting go of two of our longest-tenured pastors seen as the best financial decision when our tithing is already going down?
We can spend all afternoon answering that question, I think. And it’s a really difficult question. It’s difficult because we love Kevin and we love Sean. Many things had to be taken into consideration, and I don’t know that I can easily answer that question here and now. It is a difficult thing. None of us wanted Pastors Kevin and Sean to leave. However, we looked at the finances, and we took all the other information that informed those details. For instance, we took into consideration the size of our congregation and the staff that it takes to support a church of our size. In the past, Northland has not always done a good job of releasing day-to-day staff, while keeping top leaders. This year, reductions were needed at all levels. It's tough to see leaders go, so it's a difficult decision.
Why don’t we call people when they stop tithing to check in? How can we help and pray for them?
Thank you. I think that’s a good idea and we should be doing that.
How long can we sustain a $7 million budget? What are the checks and balances so we can have confidence in the leadership?
I (Mike) think that’s a fair question. The congregation and everyone else should have confidence in their leadership. I think there’s a good forum for that, and I don’t think this is it, simply because not all the governing elders are here to address that. I think we should plan another forum, and if everybody can be here, we should be here and address those things. We can talk about how decisions are generally made. I serve as treasury/secretary, so that’s important to me—the process, how we do things, making sure that they’re done right, and making sure that those checks and balances are in place. I would be open to having that forum and that discussion.