On Monday March 9, 2020 the RBI staff was busy preparing for the quarterly meeting of our board of directors. There were meetings to plan, agendas to finalize, and a retirement party for Gary Campbell, our retiring president. Little did we know in less than 48 hours the world around us would change, drastically altering our ways of working together. A little over a year since COVID-19 plunged us into a temporary lockdown and a slow return to something like normal, the RBI leadership and staff reflected on lessons learned during this extraordinary time. Those lessons fall into three broad categories: flexibility, generosity, and the importance of a wise investment strategy.
Like most businesses, we scrambled to equip a staff of 20 to work from home. Soon a second problem arose: how could we offer services to churches, pastors, seminaries, and other PCA employees? While one-on-one meetings were relatively simple to arrange, travel restrictions rendered access to larger groups extremely challenging. Thankfully our business operations team already had long-term plans for video conference rooms. We accelerated those plans, funding them with revenue saved from cancelled travel. We now have two video conference rooms and produce webinars available to anyone with a computer and internet access. In the aftermath of COVID we have actually increased our capacity to present information on retirement, benefits, and pastoral call packages. In 2019 when we were able to travel, we met with 385 people in person. By contrast, in 2020 484 people registered for our webinars. While we do not believe video will replace in person visits, we are grateful that we now have the ability to reach more people in a cost effective way with the important message of wise planning. The lesson we learned is to be ready to act quickly, adjust if necessary, and trust people to make decisions in their area of skill. Setting up a webinar for your presbytery, church staff, or another group, is simple, simply contact Peggy Henry.
As COVID lingered, church finances and the mental health of pastors and their families suffered, and we began to fear for the future of RBI’s Ministerial Relief fund. The Relief fund exists to help pastors and PCA employees in serious economic need. The pandemic caused many more people to experience hardships that warrant Financial Assistance from Relief. In response, RBI’s Dir. of Philanthropic Giving organized a campaign devoted to raising funds to help churches and pastors with COVID related needs. The response was overwhelming. Individuals, private companies, and churches donated with unexpected generosity. One PCA church contributed $50,000.00. In total, we raised over $200,000, which allowed us to provide counseling, salary support, insurance coverage, and help with medical and living expenses to pastors, their spouses, and PCA workers. Otherwise, these ministry workers would have faced these needs in a time of deep economic uncertainty. The lesson we learned is to never underestimate the generosity Christ’s body. To donate to the Ministerial Relief Fund, click here.
Our last takeaway from the past year is a reminder of a very important lesson about the importance of having a careful, long-term investment strategy for retirement savings. The economic impact of COVID was dire. The need to separate our population through sheltering in place brought the US economy to a hard stop. Businesses shut down, millions of jobs were lost, and financial markets fell drastically. The post-pandemic market volatility and economic uncertainty threatened to drastically devalue investments, including retirement accounts. Thankfully, RBI has long advocated that our participants place retirement assets in Target Date Funds. Target Date Funds strategically allocate investment assets for every stage of life and rebalance the allocation at appropriate times. This absorbs the impact of an unstable market and protects investments against sudden downturns. In this instance, our Target Date Funds worked exactly as designed. While all funds lost money in the months after COVID, our Target Date Funds uniformly performed better than the stock index at large, especially funds for those approaching and in retirement (see the chart below).
This may sound a bit technical, but the main point is this: A strategic, long-term investment strategy is the best way to protect retirement assets from market uncertainty, especially in times of crisis. For more information about RBI’s investment strategy, or to speak with a Financial Planner about your retirement account, contact Peggy Henry.
Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.