“It’s a Heart Problem, Not a Wallet Problem”

Steve Pridemore has been on staff at Hillside Church of Marin since 2006. For years he served as executive pastor; but when the lead pastor was getting ready to move, he told Steve, “I think you’re the right person for the job, and I’m going to recommend that the board consider you.”

For some leaders, that affirmation is all the encouragement they need. But Steve was hesitant.

“I didn’t want to step into that role unless I was sure that was what God was calling me to do. I wanted to be sure they had the right person. I was fine in an executive role.”

“We can keep going like this . . . Or we can start to ask some bigger questions”—Steve Pridemore

As Steve prayed about it and talked with his wife, he felt that God was leading him to be the new lead pastor. But while this transition was something Hillside could celebrate, their budget was not.

“When I took the lead role, we had been drawing down our reserves for several years to fully fund the operations of the church,” Steve said. “And we were almost out of money. We had been trying to turn things around financially without laying off staff yet had not been able to do it. We were subsidizing staff by about $60,000 per year.”

For Hillside, $60,000 was a lot of money.

“Our operating budget is probably $700,000,” Steve said. “So we were going in the hole about 10 percent a year.”

With one pastor leaving and Steve switching jobs, suddenly the church was in a position to save money without laying anyone off—so they did not hire a new executive pastor.

“We went from four full-time pastors to three full-time pastors, and we redistributed those roles. That and some other things balanced the budget, so we were treading water. But we always knew that if we wanted to do everything our church was called to do, we needed that fourth person.”

Asking the Big Questions

“The boat’s not rocking anymore,” Steve told the staff. “The transition is over, and it went smoothly. We can keep going like this and it will probably stay smooth, with some little bumps. Or we can start to ask some bigger questions.”

They decided to ask those bigger questions.

“That’s when we brought Sean in to lead us through the Strat Ops process,” Steve said.

Steve met Sean Morgan, CDF’s Vice President of Leadership Capital, at a leadership conference about a month before his transition to lead pastor.

Image above: Steve Pridemore

“I met Sean on accident almost,” he said. “We got to talking and hit it off. He comes hiking here a lot, and we connected over some of the places we hike and the outdoors.”

When Hillside was in a position to start thinking further down the road, Steve thought of Sean.

“I’ve always known that I needed help, whatever role I was in,” Steve said. “But for leaders I think it’s more of an issue of, where do you get that help? With Sean and CDF, it was a mix of divine appointments—being in the right place at the right time—and being in alignment with our philosophy.”

Steve also knew that his role as lead pastor could make it hard for his staff to fully explore all possible solutions to their problems.

“Sometimes when the lead person is the facilitator of a process, it can mute some of the flow of ideas and conversation,” he said. “I needed somebody else to facilitate that conversation so that I could be a participant, not the one guiding it. We used the fruit of that process to put together a three- to four-year vision and plan for some bold steps forward.”

Some of those conversations involved restructuring the staff. Early on in their experience with Leadership Capital and Strat Ops, Hillside staff reencountered their need for a fourth pastor, and things started moving quickly.

“We consolidated some part-time positions and rearranged responsibilities, and we were able to hire that fourth full-time person,” Steve said. “The fourth pastor came on last summer.”

But navigating staffing challenges is not the only thing Leadership Capital helped Hillside through. Steve and his team also realized there were stewardship issues to address with the entire congregation.

No More Passing Baskets

“We needed to do some updates to our facility,” Steve said. “Not a huge thing, but it was probably a little under a year’s worth of our regular operating budget that would need to go into repairs.”

Hillside did not want to dip into their reserves for facility updates, so they needed to do something big.

“There are a couple of ways we can do this,” Steve said to the board. He had started looking into capital campaign consulting firms. “But that just didn’t sit well with me,” he noted.

Steve did not want to let the church’s fundraising approach treat people like numbers. So he presented to the board a different solution.

“What if we treat this not as a financial issue, but as a discipleship issue and a stewardship issue?”

He knew Sean did stewardship coaching, and that aligned better with the church’s philosophy than hiring a campaign consultant.

The board said, “Let’s give it a shot. Worse case scenario: we have to come back later and pay somebody to help us work through a capital campaign.”

“It’s having good people in your corner that you can reach out to at any moment.”—Steve Pridemore

“So we had Sean work with me to develop better systems and an approach to teaching and giving as a whole,” Steve said. “We wanted to see if we could fund this with surplus giving over the next three years, which would mean at least a 15 percent increase in giving.”

A capital campaign can last for years, but it is still a temporary solution to giving needs. Hillside had a more ambitious goal: create a lasting culture change that would lead to a sustained increase in giving. They were willing to reconsider everything. Thankfully Sean was too.

“There have been times when Sean and I were both thinking the same thing separately,” Steve said. “One of those was something I’d thought about for a while but never had the courage to do: stop passing baskets during the service. It’s a pretty scary thought to just all of a sudden do that.”

Sean was more than ready to talk about it.

“When I brought it up to Sean, he just kind of chuckled,” Steve said. “That was one of his recommendations he jotted down for me that day. So he walked me through the process and how to talk about it with the church, what’s worked for people and what hasn’t, how to convince the board that I wasn’t crazy.”

And while the idea of not passing a basket still sounds crazy to most modern churches, it was the right move for Hillside.

“We started doing it in November when I was preaching on generosity,” Steve said. “I wanted people to know, ‘I’m not just saying all this to get your money.’ If people wanted to give us something, they could drop it in the box on their way out.”

The results speak for themselves.

“Giving has not decreased at all. In fact it’s been higher than we ever had—without passing the baskets.”

People in Your Corner

“We were in the black last year, but only by about 8 percent,” Steve said. “For the last year I’ve worked with Sean, focusing on stewardship. We’ve reworked a lot of how our billing is structured, interfaces, and at this point it looks like we’re going to end with about a 20 percent surplus. Some of that’s the coaching and the ideas Sean had, but some of that I think is God honoring the decision to say, ‘Let’s treat this as a heart issue, not a wallet issue.’”

Since Steve took the helm as lead pastor, the church has moved further and further from the red. Since working with Sean and the Leadership Capital team, that movement has accelerated.

“That first year when I switched roles, we cleared like $300 in the black,” Steve said. “The following year we cleared about $30,000. The last two years it was $70,000. I think we’ll probably clear somewhere between $120,000 and $150,000 this fiscal year. And the amazing thing about that, is that’s after hiring a fourth pastor.”

For Hillside, CDF Capital has been a valuable ally as they work to create lasting growth.

“Leadership Capital has been a really good resource,” Steve said. “I’ve been impressed with the people I’ve worked with and talked to. It’s not magic. It’s having good people in your corner that you can reach out to at any moment.”

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