Pew Resized

Trouble Meeting Your Budget? Try Pew Rentals!

Article Type: Pastor to Pastor

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

Budget shortfalls are like death and taxes… you can count on them. Okay, maybe they’re not exactly the same level of doom, but for many churches, deficits feel tragically inevitable.

If your church has a plan to close its budget gap, I’d love to hear about it! Even more, I’d love to help share it with other churches – so let me know!

But sans any plans, here are a few potential strategies off the top of my head…

How about offering pew rentals each Sunday? Depending on size and location, you could vary rates or even designate a “golden circle” with premium rates!

Sounds crazy, except history buffs know this was common practice for churches in the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, pew rental rates at First Reformed Church of Albany, New York in 1790 ranged from $2 to $4 annually (again, depending on size and location).

Not a fan of “pay-for-pews”? How about a realtor license? In early America, the main source of income for cash-poor/property-rich churches was from lot rentals and sales. Although some churches today narrow their budget gap by renting classrooms, parking lots and even bell towers, it’s a far cry from the pastor’s study doubling as a real estate office!

By now, it’s probably clear I don’t have any actual ideas for closing a budget gap.

However, I offer you this insight from Kennon Callahan who makes this very provocative insight in his book Effective Church Finances (1992)...

It’s easier to raise money than to cut the budget.

This is counter-intuitive since slashing line items on a spreadsheet takes only a couple of minutes. But Callahan posits that the endless cycle of shortfalls and then budget-slashing is a recipe for organizational disaster. It subtly but powerfully communicates declining ministry which culminates in the inevitable conclusion of closed doors.

Which brings me back to raising money…what’s your plan? Unless a budget gap mysteriously closes itself, some basic measures should be pursued to close it.

Callahan suggests five very basic steps:

  • Set goal(s)
  • Educate
  • Motivate
  • Invite
  • Follow-up

This sounds like a lot of work — but any loss of time or energy pales in comparison to the cost of perennial budget cuts. Even more, it demonstrates an understanding of the reciprocal relationship between church finances and effective missions.

Specifically, those who lead for mission also actively work a plan to raise money for expanding that mission. Effective, mission-driven budgeting takes foresight, insight and courage – the marks of a strong, faith-led leader.

On second thought, maybe pew rentals and real estate aren’t such terrible ideas (though I’m confident you’ll come up with something better). Any purposeful pursuit of mission beats the doom of doing nothing!


Barnabas Foundation is proud to be your partner in promoting financial literacy and generous giving at your church. Find articles, books, studies and more for your church under Tools and Resources. You can also email me at pleo@BarnabasFoundation.com or call 888.448.3040.

Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil's online bio.