What is TFI?
The Thrive Financial Initiative (TFI) is a program designed to help pastors overcome economic challenges that affect ministry effectiveness. Working together, the pastor and key lay leaders in a local church collaborate to provide extra funds or resources to support the pastor, complete required financial learning journeys that will help the pastor and the local church, and receive a matching grant. TFI is a program of the Education and Clergy Development Division of The Wesleyan Church with the help of a generous grant from The Lilly Endowment. Any pastor serving in a local church in the denomination can participate. Districts may also create some custom approaches to TFI. TFI’s aim is to promote thriving clergy, thriving congregations, and thriving communities.
How It Works – The Five Steps You Need to Know
1. Gather your Thrive Team – A Thrive Team is a pastor and at least two key laity who agree to collaborate together each year to learn more about the economic challenges facing their pastor and complete a simple TFI Well-being Development Plan.
2. Choose Well-Being Investment – To receive a matching grant the local church chooses a new investment in their pastor’s financial well-being (e.g., help reduce debt, give a raise, larger pension contribution, etc.). The options for how a church can address financial well-being for the pastor are nearly endless and give the church a lot of flexibility.
3. Complete Two TFI Learning Journeys – Participation in financial management education has proven extremely helpful to pastors and local church leaders. In the first year learning journeys, Thrive teams explore Ron Blue’s “God Owns It All” DVD curriculum and “Master Your Money” book.
4. Submit TFI Well-Being Report – To Complete the process for receiving a matching grant, the Thrive Team submits a Well-Being Development Report about the outcomes of their experiences and the Well-Being Development Plan.
5. Receive TFI Matching Grant! – Thrive Teams that complete all the requirements each year can earn a $1,000 matching grant for their pastor. Often, TFI is able to create even larger matching grants. Some matching grants have been as large as $2,500
A fuller explanation of each step is below…
Thrive Team Resource Center
Once you’ve registered your team,
to access information about the process, investments, learning journeys, and reports.
What is a Thrive Team?
A Thrive Team is a pastor and at least two key laity to who agree to work together each year to learn more about the economic challenges facing their pastor, lead the church to make investments in the pastor’s well-being, complete the learning journeys, and collaborate on a final report. Typical time commitment is 15 – 20 hours per year. Pastors, to begin, click on the blue box that says “To Get Started” and register your team. Then, click on the blue box that says “Thrive Team Resource Center” to access information and materials to guide you through the process.
What is a Thrive Well-Being Investment?
The first requirement for earning a matching grant is for the local church to make a new investment in their pastor’s financial well-being (e.g., help reduce debt, give a raise, larger pension contribution, etc.). The local church can also make an investment in another well-being category (e.g., emotional, spiritual, relational, physical, or intellectual) and have it count towards the matching grant too. Guides in the Thrive Team Resource Center can help you think about the investments for your pastor.
What are Thrive Financial Learning Journeys?
The second requirement for earning a matching grant is for the Thrive Team to complete two Financial Learning Journeys. The Thrive Team Resource Center provides links and information about the specific, required learning journeys for each year of participation. Both the pastor and lay leaders on the Thrive Team must complete the Journeys (unless otherwise noted).
What is a Thrive Well-Being Development Report?
To receive a matching grant, the Thrive Team must submit a Well-Being Development Report (WDR) by April 30 (near the end of the conference year). The link to the WDR is available in the Thrive Team Resource Center. The report must be a collaboration between members of the Thrive Team. The report will ask for specific details about the investments made, the learning journeys completed, and the impact of the process.
What is a Thrive Matching Grant?
Thrive Teams that complete all the requirements each year can earn a matching grant for their pastor. For example, if the church invests $200 in their pastor as part of the process, the grant will be at least $200. If the church invests $1000, the grant will be at least $1000. TFI will at least match the first $1000. However, churches are encouraged to do as much as they can. The average church investment so far in TFI is almost $3000 per year. The more that churches invest, the larger the grants we can give every participant. In 2018, TFI distributed matching grants averaging $2500.
I'm a Pastor. How do I get started?
Once you have recruited the members of your Thrive Team (pastor and two key laity), click the link in the blue square on this webpage with the title, “To Get Started.” You will register the members of your team using the form at that link. Then, click the link in the blue square with the title: “Thrive Team Resource Center.” That link will take you to a page with information and resources that can help guide you through the process. If you have questions, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d be happy to help you.
I'm not a Pastor. How do I help?
Key lay leaders are crucial to the success of the program in the local church. If your church is not yet participating in TFI, you can be the person who helps start the conversation. Ask your pastor about participating. Recommend that the pastor participate. Encourage the church to provide some of the extra funds/resources needed. Volunteer to be a member of the Thrive Team. Recruit another member for the Thrive Team. If you are already on the Thrive Team, great! Make sure that your pastor has signed up your team (the pastor will use a link in a box at the upper right hand corner of this web page). Then, help your pastor think through the best way the church might provide some extra support (e.g., pension, debt help, ministry resources, etc.), and work with the pastor to complete the required financial learning journeys. Still have questions? We’d be happy to answer them, contact us at email@example.com
Who is TFI for? – TFI is available to each of our North American congregations. Districts can help pastors earn larger grants or even create custom approaches to TFI. However, even if a district is not actively participating, pastors/churches in that district can still get involved and earn a matching grant.
How many pastors in my church can get a grant? – Each participating church is eligible for one matching grant from TFI each year. For churches with multiple pastors, they may choose to include several pastors on the local church Thrive Team and split the matching grant among their clergy. In some cases, a senior pastor may wish to provide the opportunity to be on a Thrive Team (and receive the matching grant) to a staff pastor.
What are the characteristics of churches that need the project? – Our research shows that economic challenges (and the effects of those challenges) are widespread among our Wesleyan Clergy. Pastors of small, medium, and large churches often experience economic challenges, suggesting the project is appropriate in nearly every church. Districts who choose to create a custom approach may wish to focus the project on areas of greatest need. For example, perhaps small churches or bi-vocational pastors seem to be a particular concern in your district and represent the best opportunity to enhance clergy and congregational thriving. Alternatively, perhaps education loan debt, pension, or medical cost is the most important focus for the district.
What are the characteristics of churches who are successful in TFI? – The single, clearest defining characteristics of churches who have experienced successful projects is a collaborative spirit between clergy and lay persons. Rather than approaching the project with suspicion or attempting to assign blame, churches with collaborative environments start with openness to learn more about the problems and then work together to build collaborative solutions. Rather than just thinking about problems as clergy issues, successful churches view a thriving clergy as an essential ingredient in a thriving congregation. Additionally, successful churches almost always have a lay champion for TFI. The lay champion helps promote the project in the local church and advocates for supporting the pastor. The church does not need to know all the specific details about the pastor economic concerns. The church can just presume the pastor has some and that any help they can provide will be appreciated and beneficial.
What characteristics make the best lay champion? – Common characteristics of lay champions (of TFI and supporting the pastor) include someone who has developed empathy for the economic challenges experienced by clergy and the multiple, negative impacts of the challenges. Good lay champions usually possess some leadership role (formal or informal) through which they are able to influence the board of administration and build a core group of congregational members who want to support a thriving clergy and thriving congregation.
Why do churches not participate? – It is not always clear why some churches do not engage TFI.
Some pastors decide that they do not need the financial assistance or that they don’t want to take a grant away from others who might need it more. However, it is important to note that grants are not competitive (meaning some get them at the expense of others). Rather, every church is eligible to receive a grant on behalf of their pastor.
As another reason for non-participation, some pastors may be unwilling to share their economic challenges with their congregation. The silence and shame factors can be difficult to overcome. Embracing the idea that we can all “presume” a pastor has some economic challenges inhibiting ministry, that we (laity) don’t need to know the exact details, and that any type of assistance will be helpful can be important ways to overcome the silence and shame.
Some lay leaders may not be convinced that pastors’ economic challenges are unique or problematic. However, pastors economic challenges seem distinctive in their impact upon local church ministry.
Some churches mistakenly believe that they must provide a full, extra $1000 of support to participate. However, a resource investment in the pastor of any size can be matched. For example, if a church can only do $250, then they should be encouraged to do $250. The $250 will be matched and celebrated! Each local church should do what they can. When everyone does more, we can write larger matching grants.
Is there limit to how much extra resource investment a church can provide? – No. Churches should provide resource investments in pastors’ economic and other well-being as they are able. Churches should be encouraged to report the full amount of their investment, including amounts in excess of $1000 so that we can report accurately to Lilly Endowment. Plus the more that churches give, the larger the grant checks we can issue. We will match at least the first $1000 a church contributes to their pastor. Usually we match more and can add some bonus amounts. In 2018, grants were for $2,500.
How many years can a church participate? – A pastor and local church may participate for three consecutive years in the “Thrive Cycle.” The web portal will guide the Thrive Team through each year of the project. Our hope is that pastors and churches completing a three year cycle will have begun to thrive and be able to support others’ engagement in TFI. We are currently designing a longer term “after care” element that will allow churches to continue engaging the process and receiving benefits.
How does a church get started? – The pastor register the entire local church Thrive Team (pastor and two key lay leaders) using the form located (link) in the upper right hand corner of this web page. Then, the Thrive Team can follow the process (and use the guided reflections as needed) provided in the Thrive Team Resource center to begin deciding on the investment and completing the learning journeys for the year. If you have questions about what to do, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
How much time will it take? – It will likely take each person 60-90 minutes to complete their personal reflection guide in the web portal (if you choose to use those forms/guides). Then, it will likely take the Thrive Team another 1-2 hours to sit down together and go through the partner guide to develop a Well-Being Development Plan (WDP). Completing the required financial management education activities will also require a time commitment. For example, the first financial management activity for first year participants includes six, 30 minute DVD sessions and a study guide. The second financial management activity for first year participants is reading a book. We also recommend that the Thrive Team sit down for a couple of hours after reading the book to discuss what has been learned and what can be integrated into personal and church financial management. Near the end of the conference year (due by April 30), the Thrive Team will complete a well-being development report to assess what happened in the previous year and begin planning for the following year. Altogether, a Thrive Team might anticipate 12-15 hours of reading and work during the year to develop and complete their well-being development plan.
How does the matching grant work? – The matching grant process begins in the local church. The local church makes an investment in the financial well-being and another area of well-being on behalf of their pastor (area and investment amount determined during the reflection guide process). The church also makes a modest investment in the financial management education materials (e.g., for year one, education materials will cost about $140). At the end of the year, the church completes the application process (in the web portal) which, in part, details how much they invested in the project. TFI will match that investment at least up to $1000 (and usually more!)
What can we use the matching grant for? – The matching grant is intended to further reduce the pastor’ economic challenges. The pastor should have key influence in determining how the funds should be disbursed. For example, the pastor may wish to have the full amount of the matching grant invested in his/her pension. Or, the pastor may wish to use the funds to help pay down some debt. Alternatively, the pastor may wish to use the funds to help cover cost of more financial management or other education. The local church should be careful to understand and address any tax implications for how funds are disbursed to the pastor.
What does success look like? – We want to reduce or remove some of the economic challenges that negatively affect ministers and ministry. We want to stimulate holistic well-being so that clergy and congregations can thrive. We expect to see measurable results such as an increase in the amount of money invested on behalf of pastors (to reduce economic and other well-being challenges). We expect to hear about impacts such as reduced negative feelings about ministry, increased ministry energy, and enhanced conditions towards thriving. We also expect to gather narratives showing how collaboration on the Thrive Team spread throughout the congregation and led to outward ministry. In summary, the highest level of success will be Thriving Clergy supporting Thriving Congregations supporting Thriving Congregations.
Will there be Spanish language versions? – Yes! We will launch TFI Year 1 on February 2021. This program will be Inicitativa hacia Finanzas Exitosas (IFE). You are invited to visit wesleyan.org/IFE that is the sister page of this page by 2021. You can invite Spanish-Speaking pastors to join the IFE journey. Another way to connect with us is by sending an email to email@example.com.
How can funds be raised for the matching grant?
The ways in which your church might develop “funds” to serve as the matching portion of the process are almost endless. A few examples from the churches/pastors who have participated thus far:
1. Adjustment to a budget line item (e.g., salary, health care, pension, etc.) that amounts to a “raise,” “increase,” or “new approach.”
2. Project or special fund support (e.g., funds to attend The Gathering, General Conference, Library purchases, Seminar/training Funding).
3. Expense reimbursement funding (e.g., start a mileage reimbursement or other accountable expense reimbursement plan).
4. Targeted offerings or projects (e.g., bake sales, yard sales, bless the pastor offering)
5. Bi-Vocational Work Allowances (e.g., church allowed pastor, who was working 25 hours per week in a second employment to increase to 30 hours per week to gain health benefits, which the church could stop paying for, and used the saved funds to further bless the pastor).
6. In-Kind Donations (e.g., church who donated labor to help pastor remodel a rental home; church member who donated some very lightly used appliances to the pastor to replace some very old appliances). We can often calculate a dollar figure to count for these types of things.
7. Individual Support (e.g., individuals in the congregation who decide they want to provide funds to the pastor or pastor’s family, such as one person who gave money to help support a pastor’s kids’ education).
TFI does not put a lot of restriction on how the church raise funds. Certainly, it must be legal and comply with any applicable tax regulations. But churches can be creative or find ways that best fit their scenario. That is part of the collaboration piece. What we find is that when churches do this collaboration well (at several points in the TFI process), it tends to transfer to better collaboration in other areas of ministry – which, when all is said and done is the main point – enhanced ministry.
For TAX purposes…
Once we receive the TFI grant for one of our staff, what is the best way to distribute that to have the least taxable impact?
There are a few options:
- If a pastor chooses to receive the funds as a cash payment, then the funds will be taxable and should be reported on the W2.
- One option is for the pastor to have the church put the funds into the pastor’s Wesleyan Pension Fund.
- Another option is to use the funds to set up a reimbursable expenses account for the coming year. The pastor can submit receipts/documentation of things such as business mileage or business expenses and draw from those funds throughout the year.
- Similarly, the pastor and church could determine if the recipient has past unreimbursed mileage (or other unreimbursed business expenses) which can no longer be deducted on Schedule A and then use the funds to reimburse them. However, generally reimbursements should be done within 60 days of their occurrence and documentation must be provided. No documentation – ALWAYS taxable income.
- Another option is to deposit the funds in a health savings account, if the person is covered by a qualifying HDHP plan and hasn’t surpassed the annual maximum contribution.
What are the tax implications for our pastor that we supported by making a payment on the student loan?
Repayment of educational loans for clergy or other employees by a local church or district are taxable. This is a benefit that arises from employment and is therefore taxable, even when the district makes the payment. These payments should be reported on a 1099-MISC as nonemployee compensation (box 7).
An employer can reimburse an employee up to $5,250 of qualified educational assistance annually. These payments must be made under an accountable expense reimbursement plan (requires documentation). Qualified expenses include tuition, books, supplies, lab fees, and similar items; certain travel costs; costs of research and typing a part. Debt forgiveness is not a qualified expense and when paid by a local church to the employee or a third-party, is a taxable event and should be reported on the employee’s W-2.
Thriving clergy display well-being spiritually, emotionally, relationally, physically, intellectually, and financially. But do you know the most common financial challenges facing clergy? Neither did we until we surveyed our pastors.
To find out what we discovered,
TFI Dashboard-Third Year Report
Thrive Teams Earning Grants So Far
Districts With Participants to Date
- Total Contribution to Pastors – $495,614
- Local Churches to Pastors – $296,764
- Grants to Pastors – $198,850
- District Contributions to Grants – $48,526
- Average Total Benefit to Participating Pastor Each Year – $5,006
Share your questions and stories
Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the form below:
From Our Premier Partners – Resources that anyone can use!
Thrive Teams will find the specific resources they must complete identified in the Thrive Team Resource Center. However, even pastors and lay leaders not participating in TFI can use these financial resources to enhance ministry and improve their personal financial management skill. Keep checking back, we’ll keep adding material as we build new partnerships!
Hope for Pastors
A Collaborative Approach to Clergy Financial Health by Mark Rennaker
From education debt to underfunded pensions, housing needs, and unreimbursed business expenses, pastors face many economic challenges. Written to raise awareness and help start conversations about pastors’ financial concerns, the book traces the development and lessons of the HOPE Project, a multi-year research and relief effort that has changed the lives of pastors, revitalized churches, and resulted in the transformation of communities.
God Owns It All
Finding Contentment and Confidence in your finances by Ron Blue
God Owns It All tackles the money question we all ask: How much is enough? With over four decades of experience in the financial-services industry, Ron Blue presents financial principles that are affirmed by the authority of Scripture and tested by the marketplace. The kit includes 2 DVDs and 1 study guide. Additional study guides are also available so that you can use the materials for group study.
Master Your Money
A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining and Enjoying Financial Freedom by Ron Blue
Combining the Bible’s timeless principles on money and stewardship with trusted, comprehensive advice for getting your finances in order, Ron Blue teaches you how to: (1) Understand your current financial situation, (2) Design a long-term, workable financial plan, (3) Spend, give, save, and invest wisely, (4) Get out of debt – and much, much more.
Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability
ECFA provides many resources for churches and non-profits.
ECFA resources include Knowledge Center documents, eBooks, governance resources, Podcasts, webinars, surveys, and more. You can sign up for monthly news, up to date resources and information about webinars. ECD and TFI have partnered with ECFA to bring you a free subscription ($199 per person subscription value!). Sign up for your free subscription to the latest resources.
Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax
Church Law and Tax provides many resources to help keep your church safe, legal, and financially sound.
The Church Law & Tax website provides access to reports, newsletters, blogs, and a library of helpful material. The Church Law & Tax Team of Christianity Today needs your participation in the 2017National Church Compensation Survey. By taking the survey you’ll help yourself and churches throughout America set fair compensation for pastors and staff.
National Association of Evangelicals
Financial health for all – Solutions for pastors and churches.
The NAE financial health for all site provides resources to help you improve the financial health of your family and church. Resources include solutions for: personal finances, church generosity, and pastor compensation.