Yesterday, Mark Mitchell, the Executive Pastor for Covenant Life Church, sent out the following email to all the members. I’ve interspersed comments in bold print.
From: Mark Mitchell
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2014 6:00 PM
To: [Covenant Life Church Members]
Subject: Budget Outlook
November 21, 2014
Dear church family,
Earlier this year when we affirmed our budget, we said that we would update you as the year unfolded if giving decreased and we needed to make adjustments to our plans. In the providence of God giving has decreased, and I’m writing today to share how we’re seeking to be good stewards in response.
Comment: The budget was affirmed by the church in August. It runs for the fiscal year, September 2014-August 2015. Corby Megorden, the church administrator, wrote the following in his introduction to the budget.
“One could make a case that it [the budget] is optimistic, given that membership has decreased over the past few years, and the average giving per member has dropped also. However, in prior years we have experienced giving that exceeds this budget with fewer members. If the average members were to give at the rate they did in 2009, 2010 and 2011, this budget will be attainable. It is our hope that the vision for Covenant Life defined here will appropriately challenge and inspire members to investment of their time, talent and treasure.”
Just the opposite has occurred. The giving rate of members has not gone up, it has rather drastically gone down.
In Psalm 16 David writes, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” God is in control and he is good and right now he is redrawing our “boundary lines” as a church when it comes to our size and budget.
Comment: The Sovereign Lord has greatly reduced the size and income of Covenant Life Church. Mark Mitchell gives no explanation for this “redrawing.”
Over the last three years Sunday attendance and giving have declined. Since 2011, Sunday attendance has dropped from 3,305 to 1,715, and giving has declined from $8.2 million to $6.2 million. Up until now, we have been able to keep in step with these realities through the departures of several pastors and reducing other expenditures.
Comment: Attendance has basically dropped by half over the past three years. CLC used to do two Sunday services that were full. Now they do one service.
But in September of this year, giving took an unprecedented downturn, dropping from the norm by about 25% and remaining at or near that level since then.
Comment: 25% of $6.2 million is approximately 1.5 million. That means a 125k loss of income each month. Covenant Life is already 375k in the red after three months of operation on the new budget.
Very simply, we are a smaller church with less than expected revenue, and we need to reduce our staff to match this reality. While this is difficult we believe it’s part of God’s ongoing work of pruning us and focusing us as a church so that we can be more fruitful in the days ahead.
Comment: Covenant Life Church will need to reduce its support staff, not just its pastoral staff. It lists 34 support staff employees.
The elders, having consulted with the non-staff elder candidates and Financial Advisory Committee, are in agreement that we cannot sustain our present budget and that it’s necessary to lay off two pastors.
Comment: Laying off two pastors will not nearly make up for the budget deficit. Cuts will have to go much deeper.
I realize this is unexpected and uncomfortable news that affects our whole church body. As the one with specific responsibility to implement the layoffs, my heart is heavy at the prospect.
Comment: I guess this means Mark Mitchell is not a candidate for being laid off. Is Joshua Harris a non-consideration too? Who decides which pastors get to stay and which ones are let go? On what basis will these decisions be made and will the church have any say in the process or decision?
We plan to share more specifics on the layoffs at an after-service Members Meeting on Sunday, December 14. We would appreciate your prayers for the whole staff in the interim.
Comment: From what I gather, Joshua and Mark will be making the decision. The other pastors will be left in the dark. It appears the pastors won’t be functioning as a plurality and there will be no congregational input.
Also on the 14th, we will share plans to help the congregation get to know the non-staff elder candidates during January and move forward with an affirmation vote in January or February. Even as the Lord is taking away, he is providing new means of care and leadership for his people.
Comment: Non-staff elders are greatly limited compared to staff elders because they work full time jobs that are typically demanding. They cannot provide the same level of care and leadership and they often suffer from over-extension.
Finally, two notes about this coming Sunday. First, we’re having a Coffee & Conversation meeting at 12:15 p.m. in the Edwards Room, and we invite you to come and ask any questions and share your thoughts with us there. Second, I’m preaching a message in our “Life Together” series on giving and its role in our community.
Comment: During October and November, the pastors have been defending themselves against charges found in the Second Amended Complaint (lawsuit) and against charges that arose from the Nathaniel Morales trial with the help of their lawyer, Lars Liebeler. That two month defense wraps up at the Coffee & Conversation tomorrow.
When we planned the series earlier this year we didn’t know that giving would drop in September or that we’d be facing the prospect of laying off staff. I want you to know that the purpose of this message is not to trumpet the need for giving in hopes of quickly reversing the trend. We are entrusting that to the Lord. The purpose of the message is simply to let God’s Word speak and remind us all of God’s call to generosity and faith in regards to our resources—something that so many of you are already modeling.
Comment: I’m sure the pastors hope their defense against the conspiracy to commit and cover up sexual abuse has restored some trust. I have closely followed their defense. It's had the opposite effect upon me. The recent “independent investigation” by Lars Liebeler was neither independent nor an investigation. Liebeler did his review as the church’s lawyer. As such, he was forbidden from sharing incriminating evidence in his possession against the pastors. He withheld it.
May God help us to process this news in keeping with the truths from God’s Word throughout the “Life Together” series. We are God’s dearly loved children, redeemed for his glory, and called by his grace to draw near to one another in enduring love and service.
Comment: 1,600 people no longer do “Life Together” at Covenant Life Church. Most of them were godly believers and church members. They lost confidence in their pastors and no longer attend or actively participate. A teaching series is not the answer to the decline in giving or attendance. The pastors have often compromised themselves and refused to do what they knew was right. Nor have they been accountable to the church as promised in their “Jesus ruled, elder led, congregationally accountable” creed.
With faith, hope and love,
Mark Mitchell with the Elders