Torrey Zimmerman

Crossroads Church
Albert Lea, Minnesota

"FCMM provided not only really good information but an actual solution"

When Torrey Zimmerman stepped into his role as senior associate pastor, he immediately faced a problem: The church had missed the deadline for filing a retirement plan document—which meant that if anyone on the staff was planning to retire soon, they couldn’t access their funds. 

The error had occurred due to changes in government regulations. And, fortunately, no one was contemplating retirement, so Torrey had a bit of time. Yet as he began contacting plan administrators to walk them through the process, he realized he faced an uphill battle. “Most groups told us, ‘We don’t deal with individual churches,’” Torrey says. So no one would help him. 

That was before he learned about FCMM and how, by signing onto FCMM’s group plan document for EFCA churches, Crossroads Church could transfer over all its accounts. “FCMM provided not only really good information but an actual solution,” Torrey says, “whereas other people had refused to step in.”

And throughout it all, the customer service rep he dealt with “was the magician who made the whole thing happen.”

“If she wasn’t aware of the answer to our question, she’d get back to us really quickly,” he adds. “As we prepared to get everyone enrolled, she even helped us get all the paperwork filled out—down to that granular level. We had a strong sense of being valued that we didn’t experience with anyone else.”

Torrey’s commendation of FCMM goes beyond the customer service to the actual products offered. “FCMM offers a high degree of control to the individual investor, helping you customize—even choosing to invest only in businesses and opportunities that aren’t morally objectionable.” 

Although only 43 himself, and “hoping to not need to draw on retirement funds for a couple of decades,” Torrey has a whole staff team to care for. His advice for others in an executive pastor role? “Get in there and allow the people at FCMM to help you explore the options. There’s no reason not to.

“This is an amazing gift you can give your staff.”

Robert Page

Live Oaks Community Church
The Villages, Florida

“Each month when that FCMM deposit appears in my checking account, it is a marvel of God’s blessing to me, for which I am hugely grateful.”

About four years ago, a pastor friend in his 70s approached Bob Page in anger and near despair. He had never paid into Social Security, and the churches he pastored had never paid into a retirement plan like FCMM. 

“He was having to bounce from one struggling church to another just to find a salary to support him and his wife,” Bob says. “He was angry at the churches that hadn’t supported him by paying into FCMM.”

Bob’s heart sunk, knowing that his friend could have been paying into the retirement plan himself, if only the future hadn’t seemed so far away. 

If only. . . . That regret too often lies at the core of discussions regarding retirement.

For Bob, though, his own retirement has unfolded as an unexpected blessing—due to decades of investment in FCMM, starting with his very first congregation. 

Bob was 30 at the time, already a family man. From the 5-percent investment of that church, to others along the way who contributed something, Bob and his first wife, Linda, saw their retirement fund grow. “If the church doesn’t pay into it, the pastor himself has to have the discipline to do it,” he says. “I don’t know that we ever had a church put the full 10 percent in that is recommended. So we always made sure that we put in the rest. 

“But it was hard on a pastor’s salary. There was one two- or three-year period where we didn’t pay in because we were buying a house. But thank God we got back to the discipline. And that’s paid off big time for me. 

“Now that I’m retired, I serve part-time with Live Oaks Community Church, which is experiencing rapid growth. My annuity from FCMM, together with my Social Security, has given me the flexibility to serve our Lord with a modest salary. It gives me incredible freedom and allows our church to have strong staffing with minimal cost.”

Although he lost Linda to cancer in 2009, Bob and his new wife, Vickie, are thriving in life and ministry in The Villages. Their church’s motto in its surrounding 55-plus community is, Play hard, pray hard, finish well.

“We teach our people that whatever activity you’re involved in, you look at it not as the end, but as the means for the mission, the means for building authentic relationships. That’s how we finish well.” 

An apt motto for this not-so-retired pastor. “I still have other funds in FCMM that I have yet to touch, if my rather fixed income needs a transfusion later on,” Bob adds, “should the Lord give us many more years to serve Him. 

“Each month when that FCMM deposit appears in my checking account, it is a marvel of God’s blessing to me, for which I am hugely grateful.”

Kurt Hettinga

Bethany Evangelical Free Church
Clintonville, Wisconsin

Thanks to FCMM, the Hettingas learned about an exception in the tax law that returned more than $9,000 to their pockets.

In the confusion of tax laws and changing health-care choices, Kurt and Karen Hettinga are incredibly grateful that someone understood all the options and could guide them step-by-step toward a huge financial reimbursement.

The Hettingas unwittingly got into hot water in 2014. That’s when they enrolled in new health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. 

The premiums would normally be large—more than $16,000/year—but healthcare marketplace subsidies helped cut premiums in half because of Kurt’s age (60) and taxable salary level. Yet when the Hettingas prepared their taxes last February, they were in for a surprise.

“We discovered too late,” Kurt says,” that in the new arrangement under the Affordable Care Act, the money our church had given us toward our healthcare premiums had become taxable income. In all of our previous years with the church, our healthcare premiums were excluded as taxable income.”

This news, plus an unforeseen financial gain during the year, had boosted their total taxable income just beyond the threshold of coverage. The result? The Hettingas owed the IRS approximately $9,000. “And, of course, the IRS wanted it all back.”

Fortunately, Kurt and Karen were able to pay the money back, but for 2015 they wanted to safeguard against something similar happening again. That’s when they turned to a financial consultant. 

After asking a few questions, their consultant learned that Bethany Evangelical Free Church had been paying into an FCMM retirement account for Kurt for all 23 years he’d been there. The consultant did some research, made some phone calls to FCMM on their behalf, and came away very impressed with the office’s knowledge of the intricacies of clergy tax law. He encouraged the Hettingas to meet with FCMM staff.

When Kurt and Karen sat down with two individuals from FCMM, “they had a gleam in their eyes,” Kurt remembers. “They had done their homework and had something up their sleeve.” 

After confirming that Kurt was the only full-time employee at the church, they were able to inform the Hettingas of an exception clause in the tax law: A full-time pastor of a church with only one full-time employee is exempt from the health-care premiums being treated as taxable income. 

Kurt and Karen were stunned. And their FCMM colleagues were smiling. “We had to re-do our taxes,” Kurt says, “but we should get everything back and then some. That was some very, very welcoming news. 

“It really seemed to matter to them, too,” he adds about his FCMM advisors. “They’re ministry people. They cared and rejoiced with us. No one else we had talked to in the tax world had known of this all-important exception clause.

“Taxes and health care are so complicated now; pastors don’t know where to turn. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gotten into trouble. That whole thing is a different language—to make it understandable, that’s a gift.”

Ves Sheely

New England District Association
Farmington, Connecticut

He’s grateful beyond words for what he calls “the generosity of God’s people.”

Back when Ves and his wife, Jill, were in their 30s, they rarely considered retirement. “We were living paycheck to paycheck,” Ves admits about those early years as a pastor. “Life was busy. Our kids were growing up. We just didn’t think about it.”

But his third church, Wethersfield (Conn.) EFC, was thinking about Ves’ retirement. When he candidated in 1981, the church board told him that part of his compensation package would include an investment of 10 percent of his salary—above and beyond his salary—into FCMM. “I thought it was a nice benefit,” Ves says simply.

The next church he pastored—Woodbridge EFC in New Haven, Connecticut— did the same. As did the New England District, when Ves took on the role of superintendent in 1999. So Ves and Jill’s retirement nest egg quietly grew and matured.

At one point when he was in his early 50s, Ves met with a Christian financial advisor and mentioned his FCMM account. After some thorough research, the advisor basically said, “You need to put as much money as you can into this plan.” 

Ves explains, “He told us that many of these types of retirement plans are no longer being offered. And compared to similar plans, FCMM was the best, most careful investment plan and portfolio he had ever seen.”

As their children grew, Ves and Jill made it a goal to help the kids get through college with as little debt as possible. “Finally, after four weddings,” Ves says, “we realized that we now needed to put as much money toward retirement as possible and take responsibility ourselves to contribute to FCMM.

“Our plan with FCMM means we can experience retirement in a way that facilitates continued ministry—where we can totally give rather than try to find a way to be reimbursed for it. We just have more options.

“Now, every time I help a church call a pastor, I encourage them to use FCMM and make sure some percentage is part of the package.” 

Ves looks back at all his years of ministering without paying attention to his future financial needs, and he’s grateful beyond words for what he calls “the generosity of God’s people.”

Ken Long

Grace Fellowship Church
Newport, KY

“With FCMM, we know we’re being good stewards of the resources of our people, and in meeting the laws of our country.”

In the city of Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, one church is taking an unconventional approach to gathering. While Grace Fellowship Church’s main campus is about 12 miles away in Florence, a group meets in a movie theater in Newport, in an area along the river that’s undergoing urban renewal. There, they watch a screening of the message and welcome the diverse people who live nearby.

Similarly, pastor Ken Long knew a one-size-fits-all retirement plan wouldn’t suit the people working behind the scenes at Grace Fellowship. “Some are young, some are old,” he says. “Some have retirement resources, some don’t yet.” Still others want help from a financial advisor, while some want to simply, faithfully, feed money into a fund and watch it grow.

Before switching to FCMM, Grace Fellowship invested with a well-known national firm, yet the options were narrow and the support was minimal. While it was FCMM’s flexible investing options that first attracted the church, the patience the staff showed during the transfer process demonstrated their level of support.

The process, which essentially involved moving a million dollars around, was neither fast nor simple, Long says. But FCMM “never gave up on him.” He adds, “I had a lot of questions, and they answered all of them.”

Today, many of the Grace Fellowship staff take advantage of FCMM’s Self-Selected Mutual Fund option, in which an individual can self-direct dollars toward funds managed by top-notch firms like American, Vanguard, and Timothy Plan (a biblically responsible investor). Through this option, employees can also seek the counsel of an advisor with Alliance Benefit Group, an FCMM partner for access to mutual funds.

The church also decided to turn to FCMM for its Long Term Disability coverage, to be able to continue a portion of an employee’s salary in the event of a disability. “There is peace of mind knowing that, should someone on our staff need it, we’ll be able to provide adequate funds for their daily necessities.”

Naturally, Long continues to have questions, mostly regarding how to stay in good standing as a nonprofit church in the midst of ever-changing laws. FCMM helps simplify and solve these issues. “With FCMM, we know we’re being good stewards,” he says; “good stewards of the resources of our people and in meeting the laws of our country.”

Esther Decker

Christ Community Church
Leawood, Kansas

“[FCMM] takes care of all those legalities and loopholes — things the average person either doesn’t think or know about.”

Esther Decker is the Director of Human Resources and Office Manger for a 24-year-old church with more than 100 people on its staff. So finding a retirement plan that would not only accommodate both new and savvy investors, but also offer personalized service to lighten the administrative load, was essential.

“[At FCMM,] They’ve done all the legwork to understand the church world in relation to retirement plans,” she says. “They take care of all those legalities and loopholes — things the average person either doesn’t think or know about.”

Before committing to FCMM, it was changes to laws surrounding 401(k)s and 403(b)s that drove Christ Community Church to reevaluate its retirement benefits. They asked themselves, “Who understands the church world?” Their answer: the EFCA. So they decided to switch to FCMM, because the denominational plan best addressed the needs of their people. Ministry people.

Among the biggest benefits they've gained, Decker believes, is working with experts who understand the nuances of the housing allowance tax benefit, which FCMM, unlike most plans, allows pastors to extend into retirement.

Decker can also attest that FCMM not only supports pastors, but makes the lives of administrators like herself much easier. “If someone leaves our staff, we just give FCMM their name and number and they work directly with them [to handle the transition]. We get ourselves out of the middle.” She also appreciates the ability to access forms and information online. “They’ve taken a lot of strides to stay current with the way people communicate these days.”

And with such a large staff, the church is able to offer support to individuals no matter how close they are to retirement. Some might be just beginning to save, while others are focused on finishing well. “We talk about doing those things up front that lay a great foundation. The little things you do now go a long way later.”

Rev. Rob Harrell

First Evangelical Free Church
Austin, Texas

"[At FCMM,] They understand ministry-minded people and they’re really watching out for those in full-time ministry.”

When a retirement advisor from another firm suggested Rev. Rob Harrell switch to a plan with FCMM, he decided to pay attention.

“The advisor looked at what FCMM was offering, and it just made sense that it was the better way to go for pastors,” says the church leader, who’s shepherded his Austin congregation since 1990 and engaged with the citywide church movement for more than two decades.

The reasons for this recommendation were twofold, remembers Harrell, a member of the EFCA Board of Directors for the past six years. Though there had been some changes to tax law that weren’t favorable for church workers, the FCMM retirement plan allowed pastors to carry an important tax benefit into retirement, enabling them to designate a portion of their income as a housing allowance even after their formal ministry years had come to an end. Plus, as a nonprofit organization, the FCMM wouldn’t charge its participants hefty — or hidden — fees along the way.

These perks apply not just to male pastors, Harrell explains, but to women working in ministry as well. “Any licensed, commissioned or ordained officer of the church” is eligible to participate.

And while Harrell appreciates the way FCMM’s plan caters to the path he’s chosen, he also likes working with folks who share his values. “I know the people at FCMM through my service on the [EFCA] board, and they have the highest integrity. They understand ministry-minded people and they’re really watching out for those in full-time ministry.”

In the end, Harrell’s purpose in preparing for the future ties back to his church’s slogan: Soli deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. “As you leave a staff position,” he says, “you might move toward a time when you’re still giving your life away, but you’ll want to have resources set aside so you can be effective for the gospel.”

Collin Seitz

Crossroads EFC
Plymouth, Indiana

If a pastor is nearing retirement, the church needs to be able to move on and find new leadership. If there’s no plan set up to support the pastor, that can put a church in an awkward position.”

“We’re encouraged in scripture to prepare for the future,” says Collin Seitz, who's been a pastor with the EFCA since 1980. “It talks about saving, putting away for a rainy day. And I think I have an obligation as a faithful husband and father to care for life’s eventualities.”

In his late fifties, the pastor describes himself as facing a "10-year window" — a season that involves anticipating, and preparing for, a transition away from active ministry. To him, embracing this truth is simply a "matter of good stewardship."

Seitz first chose to invest with FCMM because of the tax advantages the plan makes available to those in ministry, specifically the deferred housing allowance. And his investment in the retirement plan has evolved over the years — just like FCMM itself. He first began contributing to the organization’s annuity plan, then took advantage of the opportunity to invest in funds like Vanguard and American Funds, when FCMM broadened its portfolio.

“I’m very pleased with the returns we’ve been getting with [these options],” says the pastor, who started saving early and is now watching his funds snowball.

Seitz also believes that good retirement planning isn’t just about him or his family; the church will benefit too. “If a pastor is nearing retirement,” he says, “the church needs to be able to move on and find new leadership. If there’s no plan set up to support the pastor, that can put a church in an awkward position.” So retirement planning becomes a “win-win,” he says.

Paul Phair

Oakwood Community Church
Tampa, Florida

“We may not, as pastors, view ourselves as 'retiring.' We always want to be engaged in ministry, but there will come a time when our income will decline."

Paul Phair recognizes that for some pastors, “retirement” is somewhat of a loose concept. “We may not, as pastors, view ourselves as ‘retiring.’ We always want to be engaged in ministry, but there will come a time when our income will decline."

He puts it more plainly: “We essentially need to prepare for 20-30 years of unemployment.”

Fortunately for Phair, the North Dakota church he began pastoring in 1979 was enrolled with FCMM and made a retirement plan part of the benefits package. So he was able to begin setting aside funds early — and easily.

Even then, before the plan offered the variety of options it does today, investors outside of FCMM advised him to participate. “They said it was an extremely good value because the overhead cost was low and the benefit was great. And [FCMM] is a nonprofit organization.”

More recently, Phair took advantage of another perk available to all participants. He met with an FCMM financial consultant to get personalized advice and to customize his plan.

Phair and consultant Jeff Englin spent an hour talking through possibilities over the phone before refining the specifics of Phair’s involvement. “He listened well to my values and helped me honor them with the allocations we selected together.” In the years to come, Englin and Phair will check in to make sure Phair is on target.

Moving forward, Phair hopes to put money toward FCMM’s Vanguard fund, which he describes as “a tremendous mutual fund family with low-cost fees.” The availability of this fund stands as proof of how FCMM has expanded over the years to meet the needs of its investors. “The options have been dramatically transformed,” Phair says. And as a plan participant for the past three decades, he would know.