I plan to schedule relational meetings with three leaders from local churches, one from the church I attend, and two from other churches. I’m going to map out my plan for meeting with the woman in my church who handles all financial decisions–let’s call her Sister Smith.
In my relational meeting with Sister Smith, I’d like to share with her a high-level description of CPA, a network of institutions facing similar opportunities to save money through group purchasing, and ‘a vehicle to act together on common problems that are bigger than any one institution can tackle on their own.’ Each year in DC, 20 schools and 20 faith institutions find the insight, pricing, and convience so helpful they choose to work with the co-op for more than 100 contracts in the areas that make sense for their institution. The co-op gets a rebate from the vendor that pays for their time, but because of the group negotiating and the better service, the individual member experiences either a lower cost or better value and chooses the co-op. The co-op is owned by the members and works for the members.
Before we go into the details, I’d like to share why I feel called to do this work. (This is my story of self.) That story starts for me in middle school, when I felt so excited to go to my first middle school dance. I put on my shiniest shirt and walked into the dark gym at Mayfield Middle School. There was a smoke machine and a DJ playing Limp Bizkit. Perfect. I found some friends and started dancing. Almost right away a guy I was on the football team with yelled out, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Hey Welle! Dancing is for girls and for gays!” I froze. I felt a hundred eyes on me. I had no idea dances came with all these rules. I stopped dancing right then, and I stopped dancing for years.
It wasn’t until years later, after I’d seen my mother stand up for her own career after years of feeling like her role in the family, and the expectations of my father, did not give her the space to pursue her professional passions, that I found courage to stand up for myself. I stopped hanging out with the football guys and instead find true friends in honors calls who accepted me as I am. I have a picture from junior prom of me with those friends, with my face red and shirt disheveled from dancing so much.
That experience inspired me to stand with people fighting against the rules that hold them back.
Small churches in Cleveland like the one I’m a member of have for years had to break the rules to keep their congregations intact. The city has lost population every year since 1950. The population is getting older as young people move out of the region. Finances are tight as building age and the economy stagnates–or even declines. For churches that have survived these headwinds–mostly Black churches–staying open means fighting for their faith, for their community, for the relationships and history they believe. As they fight to stay open, they’ve shown a lot of the courage I found in modest ways back in high school. (This is the story of us, and the beginning of a story of now.)
I’d love to know why Sister Smith believes the longevity of her church matters to her. What motivates her to put in long hours to keep paying the church bills, to keep cooking dinner for the Pastor’s appreciation lunch? When was the first time she know our church would be her church home? What’s a moment from church she’ll always remember?
What’s her hope for where the church should go? What priorities does she hold for how the church evolves in its ministry?
I will ask Sister Smith two or three of these questions in a way that invites her to reveal her values, the things she cares about as it relates to her work sustaining our church’s finances.
I’ll bring the conversation back to that work, and ask what substantial expenses and contracts she sees on the horizon for our church, and what routine expenses are the most taxing.
I’ll invite her to share some specifics about how much our church spends on specific types of contracts–electricity, trash pick up, copier services, etc. I’ll ask what services she’s happy with, which leave something to be desired, and which vendors stand out and which aren’t meeting standards.
I’ll let her know we plan to convene a meeting of 10 or so faith institutions this winter to see what opportunity there is to work together to save our church some money by working together. I’ll also ask to follow up later one regarding some of the details about spend data.