Skills and Bills: Working with Churches & Contractors

July 21, 2008 by

A recent comment about churches paying their bills prompted my post today, although this has been a pet peeve of mine for as long as I can remember. Having worked on both sides–both as the church paying the bill and as the person looking to be paid from the church, I’m keenly aware of the systemic issue this is.

I’ve been ripped off and taken advantage of more than I care to even remember when it comes to “working for the Lord.” Although it’s easy to slip into bitterness-mode, I’ve always found more harm than help doing that. Perhaps a few of the following lessons can help you–whether you’re paying or being paid.

  • Do your homework. Whether you’re the church looking for contract work or supplying the church with a service, both of you should do your homework. Why did the church leave their last contractor? Why does the freshness of this new relationship seem too good to be true? Why am I the only person bidding this job? What are the standard payment terms for this church? What other churches have worked with this service provider and do they recommend this person?
  • Write it down. Everything should be discussed first through conversation. Capture the big picture, understand the goals and get to know each other. Talk through the deliverables and deadlines. Come to verbal agreement. Then write it down. If anyone suggests otherwise–or does not sign the written understanding–do like Joseph and run as fast as you can because someone’s about to lose their shirt.
  • Communicate changes. I don’t care how much the fine print in the written agreement covers additional charges, change rounds or hidden fees, don’t put them on an invoice unless the church specifically knows they are coming. Sure, it’s technically OK to charge them, but make sure they know they’re coming ahead of time. If there is any change to the original agreement, start the process over. Yep, verbally agree and then write it down again. The sloppier the communication gets, the more frustration you will both experience when it comes time to settle up.
  • Agree to a deposit. If you can’t be trusted with a deposit or if the church can’t pay a deposit, you both shouldn’t be working together. This does not mean that a deposit should always be required, but it’s not a bad idea if you are just starting to work together.
  • Pay your bills on time or earlier. This goes both ways. As the service provider, if you’re not paying your bills on time, don’t expect that churches will either. It starts with you! And if you’re the church, if you can’t pay the bill on time or earlier, don’t request the work. No faith-speak or “Lord’s work” excuses. God is not readying his bride on the backs of slaves.
  • Part purposefully. There are plenty of times when the relationship just doesn’t seem to be working. The church appears to never be satisfied. The service provider isn’t meeting or beating expectations. This stuff happens. And when it does, I’m convinced that God cares more about how we deal with the breakup than he did with the meet-up. It might take twice as long to come to a peaceful parting, but you’ll both be a lot better for it when you do. It might mean the church needs to suck it up and pay a portion of the bill even though they don’t think they owe it. It might mean the service provider needs to back off, suck up his/her pride, and chalk it up to a lesson learned. It’s probably a little of both. If you can’t leave in love, get a mutual party that can help you get there. Life is too short to be carrying grudges.

If you have your own ideas please leave them in the comments. And please friends, this is not a forum for name calling or airing dirty laundry. Your comments should be motivated by helping others learn from your mistakes, not criticizing other churches or service providers, regardless of their shortcomings.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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7 Responses to “Skills and Bills: Working with Churches & Contractors”

  • Evan McBroom
    July 21, 2008

    I have been so fortunate – that almost all of our church clients pay their invoices promptly – and if they are late, its an process error, not an intentional delay. I occassionally send thank you notes/emails to let the really quick payers know what a huge positive impact it has on our small enterprise. (cashflow!) I appreciate your comments on “parting purposefully.” In our five years, we only had one situation where it became painfully obvious that forward progress was not in either party’s best interest. I believe we parted peacefully and with the same understanding of where things went off-track.

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  • Kyle Baker
    July 21, 2008

    It’s like this in every sector…I’m a music guy, and even after starting every project conversation with jokes about non-paying churches (as soon as my landlord starts taking “the love of music”, I’ll start working for it), I still have had people “forget” to pay me! The challenge in contracts like these is that “arbitration” is more expensive than the project. I’ve often toyed with the idea of putting the church elders in the contract in lieu of the Attorney General of the state, because they generally have a distant relationship to the project.. what do you guys think?

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  • Kirk Longhofer
    July 21, 2008

    In a former life, I had only two groups that were NEVER extended credit. Lawyers, and churches. Credit card in hand, or no product. Sad… but hard won experience made this necessary.

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  • rage
    July 30, 2008

    Don’t these ‘good’ Christians read the Book? It says in there to owe no one anything but love! Pay up!

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  • Christi
    October 14, 2008

    My dad was a successful and talented architect with his own firm. He began helping a lot of churches rebuild and retrofit after the big LA earthquake. Subsequently, my dad lost his life-long dream of hisown company and my parents had to file for bankruptcy because churches weren’t paying my father for his services. Thank God, our family of 5 pulled through the situation okay eventually, but a less solid family might not have. PAY YOUR BILLS. If you don’t, not only are you cheating good people out of their living, you’re messing with their families’ lives.

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  • tiffany wilson
    October 26, 2009

    hello to whom ever will read this i really need help paying a light bill i live in winterville north carolina and i have been out of work for about 6 months looking every day for a job i have 4 kids and im a single mother with little to no help please if any body hear my cry contact me my bill is due today so there for it will be cut off tommorow me and my kids have lived n the dark for 2 weeks about 3 months ago and iv’e been maintaining but know im back in debt i dont have any family around to help my bill is $189 and if it get cut off there is a fee of 25 extra dollars please contact me at 252-320-1958 if u can help me may god bless the ear’s that heres my cry!

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  • Nancy
    May 28, 2011

    I really want to thank all of you for the comments. I’ve taken over a company that services churches and found all of the outstanding debt interesting. This blog has really helped me calm down and set the future course for the company.

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