Almost four years ago, as GuideStone’s long-range plan, GuideStone 100, was nearing a conclusion, the organization launched its Vision 20/20 campaign that would carry the financial services organization into the future. Its three strategic goals — increasing market share, responding to changes in the marketplace and aggressively managing costs while keeping customer service No. 1 — would help guide decision-making over the next several years.
Those guiding principles placed GuideStone® on a strong footing to weather the current crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our Capital Management team had been preparing for a number of years for an economic downturn,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “Given the length of the economic recovery, the jobs numbers, the stock market, especially the last four years, we knew that a stock market correction and/or economic downturn was likely. While we never could predict anything along the lines of the events of 2020, we knew that we must control spending in the good times so that we would be able to continue to serve the pastors, churches and other organizations we serve during a downturn. We have worked closely among staff, executive leadership and trustees to make the necessary adjustments to prepare for the future.”
GuideStone undertook significant efforts to aggressively manage operating costs throughout the mid to late 2010s, which means the 2020 budget is actually less than 2014’s; annual growth in the budget has only been 2% between 2012 and 2020. The relocation from GuideStone’s former home in Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood to leased space midway between downtown Dallas and fast-growing suburbs to the north has saved the organization $4 million annually — savings that were used to lower the fees on GuideStone’s MyDestination Funds® — even while offering a more efficient and modern working environment that aids staff today, as well as recruiting other best-in-class future employees to serve GuideStone’s 250,000 participants.
Additional cost savings were realized in moving most of GuideStone’s computing systems to the cloud, which helped GuideStone prepare for a mobile workforce. The results, along with cost savings, meant no interruption in service to participants during the transition to all employees — except for a small number of essential staff — working from home since the COVID-19 crisis expanded to the United States.
“Cutting expenses has not come at the expense of caring for our participants,” said Chief Financial Officer Mark Borchgardt. “We were able to make significant enhancement to our participant-facing technology, including our mobile app and public website. Our health care team has been able to offer more affordable health care solutions. And we have been able to work with our trustees to maintain adequate reserves as we’ve grown, some of which position us to support cash flow needs during temporary downturns. This ensures there is no interruption to our service levels to our participants, including and especially Mission:Dignity® recipients.”
GuideStone receives no Cooperative Program allocation for its activities.
Growth across all of GuideStone’s lines of business — retirement plans, investments, property and casualty, and life and health plans — helps provide stability and risk mitigation during times of economic turmoil, Borchgardt said.
GuideStone, though eligible, elected not to seek Paycheck Protection Program loans. Additionally, the organization has not had to lay off any employees, though some positions vacated through natural attrition may be left unfilled temporarily.
“To ensure we only hired staff we needed, anytime a position was opened, our executives met to determine whether that position was necessary going forward and what tweaks, if any, should be made to job descriptions,” Hawkins said. “What this meant was that today we have fewer employees than we did in 2011, and we have staff focused on the needs in the marketplace, rather than staff focused on a potentially out-of-date structure. It has led to agility and focus as we fill needed positions, without becoming bloated.”
Even as GuideStone is well-positioned to weather the crisis, it is capturing favorable budget variances caused by reduced travel, fewer conferences and the cost savings from the cancellation of the SBC Annual Meeting. Staff has also worked closely to identify discretionary spending that can be cut or delayed while guarding against impacts to customer service until the duration or longer-term implications of COVID-19 become clearer. Current budget forecasts indicate GuideStone’s 2020 operating expenses could well be at the lowest level since 2013.
Additionally, while the economic crisis is ongoing, GuideStone is committed to its work on 2020 initiatives, positioning the ministry for opportunities for growth in the coming months.
“We have no way of knowing how long the impacts of COVID-19 will be felt by the churches and ministries we serve, and by GuideStone itself,” Hawkins said. “Our Executive team, our staff and our trustees are working diligently to ensure we remain on a strong financial footing so we can continue to serve our participants well and are putting our trust solely in the Lord to grant His wisdom as we navigate these days."
Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention®.