Posted: August 27, 2014

This is an early warning.

Sometime next month, CFO Sheila Wiegel will report to the consistory on significant shortfalls between donation income and current expenses.  She is powerless to do anything about this, but we believe she is a competent, professional analyst.

These are some of the major factors contributing to the results.

1. The sanctuary renovation to support the Tree of Life 11AM service is turning out to be much more costly than anticipated.  The owners have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars already and they may have to invest even more to complete this project without sending the ministry into default.  The reason for the over-runs; numerous incremental decisions for new must-have items without an overall master plan or budget.

2. The cost of the new HOP production organization is already turning out to be much greater than anticipated.  Apparently the scope of work for the contractors wasn't defined correctly or wasn't understood – or both.  The reality is that it will cost much more to produce the show in the future than it did in the past.  Again, incremental decisions are part of the problem. For instance, a new audio operator for the Sunday service has been hired at a rate much higher than necessary or appropriate.

3. At this writing, the relationships with the new production organization are problematic.  There are indications of inflexibility in innovation and problem solving; decision-making is not taking place in a timely manner. Everything has to be run past Bobby, and he is both indecisive and unfocused.  As one reader here pointed out, he knows what he doesn't like but he hasn't decided what he does like.

4.  The core staff remains on a furlough work schedule based on current donation levels and projections.  The result is that unproductive people continue to be paid while key personnel are required to get important things done in less time or without pay.  This is showing up in the daily results.  For instance, key communications to the congregation and the television audience are often inaccurate, driving donor support and confidence even lower.

5.  The hefty HOP TV airtime budget is being increased.  For reasons that defy logical explanation, broadcast time is being purchased in two markets that are known to be dominated by older viewers, at a time when the “New HOP” is supposedly being re-tuned for appeal to younger viewers.  Airtime in a third market is even more bizarre.  Someone needs to ask the consistory why a presence in Grand Rapids, MI is a priority right now.  We think we know the answer, but we cant wait to hear the spin.

6.  Bobby has assigned a staffer to organize a “meet the star” tour in these three markets in the next few months.  This is a major new expense commitment and the person organizing the tour doesn't have a clue how to attract the right people to these expensive outings.  This will be a costly flop.

The next important point is a projection.  The new 11AM Tree of Life service begins September 7.  We believe that the confusion surrounding the logistics of staging the two service formats, coupled with the new realities of the renovated sanctuary will result in at least 100 faithful Shepherd's Grove worshipers leaving soon, disgusted and betrayed.  By the end of the year, the erosion is likely to be even greater.

This is our suggestion.

One blogger commented recently that donations should be withheld until such time as a coherent plan is presented to the congregation.  Another blogger answered quickly, saying that this approach, while warranted, made us all contributors to the final demise.

We agree with the second view. And we believe there is another option.   There are important parts of this ministry that need to be saved.  

More than half of the local congregants and the vast majority of the television viewers contribute because they appreciate the excellence of the music program.  Against great odds, the high standards for the organist, choir, musicians and guest artists have been maintained.  It would be a shame to see this excellence disappear.

This music program is costly.  The organist and choir have significant weekly cost, as do the performing musicians. Professional artists expect appropriate compensation. Don Neuen has also become a very costly part of the program. When the financial realities become obvious in the next few weeks, we expect these music expenses to be on the top of the cut-list.

We encourage Hour of Power viewers and local congregants to earmark their donations to benefit the music program by writing “Music Program” on the bottom of their check or attaching a note saying the same to other forms of donations.  Yes, in the past there were numerous abuses of similar designated gift requests, but we believe the perpetrators of that fraud are gone.  We recommend that the consistory should be trusted to administer this program honestly. We will ask that Music Program donations be reported separately in the bulletin.

For local congregants, there is also another element that should be saved.  The 11AM small study groups have immense value to the participants and to God's work.  We hope than many of the people who abandon the 9:30 performance will remain members of these groups. We also hope that contributions will be made directly to these groups, so that they can prosper and continue. This will require a dialogue between the members and the group leaders as to how the designated gifts will be used.  The group leaders need to convince us that the contributions will not just end up in the flawed SG/TOL/HOP funding bucket.

We’re amazed that so many members of the Shepherd's Grove congregation - and the small group of die-hard HOP followers who still remain - continue to hope that some miracle will keep the facts on the ground from being real.  We all lived in the same state of bliss just a few weeks before the leaders at CCM elected to operate under the protection on the bankruptcy laws. If more people were engaged and committed to saving this important ministry, things might be different. We don't need a new organization, Phil White style. We simply need the members of the existing organization to ask the right questions, demand real answers from our elected leadership, and participate in the solutions, with actions and with checkbooks.