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One Pastor's Trial by Fire... Literally

By David Newkirk

It was a warm, late summer day. One of the trustees from my church and I decided to start a project to re-do the flooring in the church kitchen. We propped open the double doors next to the kitchen to get some air flowing through the room on that hot day. 

After removing a few appliances from the kitchen, we had to assess removing the gas stove. We noticed there was no shut-off valve on the outside of the building, so we assumed it was behind the stove, as many are. We slid the stove over just a few inches. 

We had no idea at the time, but moving that stove a few inches would drastically change our lives for the next two years. 

A drastic change

I was a young pastor leading a small church at the time. I was still trying to learn how to navigate all the typical duties and responsibilities one would expect to go with being a pastor. After the incident, though, my responsibilities looked more like being a bookkeeper, a project manager, and an insurance adjuster than one who oversees a flock.

You see, after we moved the stove just a few inches, the gas line that was designed to move with the stove broke off and filled the kitchen and fellowship hall full of natural gas. The trustee and I ran through the doors we had propped open, and we ran across the street of the church. As we stood there dialing 9-1-1 and awaiting the impending flames, we were struck with a surreal feeling that everything was about to change for our church. 

At some point, while I was on the phone with the emergency operator, the gasses ignited. With a loud whoosh, a ball of flames came roaring out of the very doors we had just sprinted out of moments ago.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. But I realized at that moment that the church building and all of its contents would be lost. 

Many questions flooded my mind as I stood on the street corner waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. Some of those questions included:

  • Do we have insurance?
  • Do we have good insurance?
  • What kind of coverage do we have? 
  • How are we going to replace all of the items in the building?
  • Where will we meet?
  • How are we going to rebuild? 
  • What about all of the history and memories that were made in this building?

I had only been the pastor of this church for nine months! And now I was overseeing the monumental task of finding the answers to all these questions.

Burnt, charred hymnals found after going through the remains of the fire. PHOTO BY DAVID NEWKIRK

A long, trying journey 

As it turned out, the church did have insurance, but to our disadvantage, the church was definitely underinsured. Our "Replacement Cost Value" insurance would cover our assets and the building, but not in full. (We  had help from volunteers to build half of the building.) The next two years were going to be a long, trying journey. 

This journey, which we thought would be just as simple as rebuilding, led us on a path where we had to:

  • Take inventory of all assets,
  • Estimate the purchase value of those assets,
  • Calculate the depreciation of those assets,
  • Estimate the cost of rebuilding,
  • Enlist the help of many volunteers to labor in the construction process, 
  • Deal with the influx of all these new construction transactions hitting the bank, and
  • Maintain the budget of both the general account and the building account. 

This trial we faced ended up be more trying than necessary. If our church had a bookkeeper, or used a bookkeeping service, many steps of our journey would have been much easier. 

You see, we had no idea that a church, or any nonprofit, should keep an inventory of all its assets; a component that is included in our bookkeeping service. We also did not know the depreciated value of our assets. If we had hired a bookkeeper, these needs would have been made known to us, and it would have relieved much of the burden that was on us. 

Many months after the fire, we would enter that burned-down, smokey church building with masks on our faces and clipboards in our hands taking inventory of each item that we could recognize. 

After we completed this task, we had to assess its original value and age. After taking inventory of all the items we could find, and after finding their “Replacement Cost Values,” we then were finally able to move to the next stage. 

It was at this point we had to determine the cost of rebuilding. Because we never maintained a proper inventory of our assets, we never knew what the value of the church was. Therefore, we had been unknowingly paying for an insurance policy that was not properly covering us. 

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A valuable lesson

After the fire was extinguished, the congregation gathered in the front lawn and rejoiced in the Lord over all the wonderful memories that had been made over the previous 72 years of the church’s existence. 

In the end, the Lord was so good and faithful to us. He provided us with a temporary meeting place, and everything was resolved after two years of hard work. But, as I mentioned before, if we had used a bookkeeping service, we would have been better prepared for this journey.

With the StartCHURCH Bookkeeping Service, you gain a team of professionals who will help guide you in the right direction. Plus, you'll be assigned to a bookkeeper who will help you balance your church's books.

When you sign up with our bookkeeping service, you receive access to our Secretary Suite at no extra charge. If you're looking to better understand the different types of insurance policies that exist, you can also use our Tax Suite. This resource is useful in helping you assess which one is best for your church or ministry. The suite also provides you with a step-by-step guide to collecting an inventory of all your assets.

Don’t find yourself in the same trials as we did after the church fire. Give us a call today at 877-494-4655 to see how the StartCHURCH Bookkeeping Service can save you time and prepare you for whatever trials and challenges life brings your way. 

The new church building. It took two years to build after the fire. PHOTO BY DAVID NEWKIRK

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