Imagine the chaos if your church was still trying to figure out if it was having a Christmas Eve service on December 23. Without even touching on divisive theological issues like Carols vs. contemporary songs, real candles vs. battery-powered, or a family service vs. children’s ministry, it is clear that without planning, one of the most highly anticipated days for a Christian church would be a disaster. The same is true when you attempt to operate a church without a budget – it is a disaster. Ministry leaders face multiple opportunities and challenges every week; most require money. As an Executive Pastor with over 15 years of experience, I understand the importance that a thoughtful, prayerful, and well-planned budget makes for a church of any size. John Maxwell says it best, “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.” While some may see a church budget as restrictive and limiting, intentionally creating a church budget provides a plan, accountability, and a means to an end.
A Church Budget is a Plan
According to the legend, in 1884, Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, bought an unfinished farmhouse in San Jose. Construction on the farmhouse began in 1886 and continued until 1922. Sarah did not use an architect or plan. In the end, the Winchester Mystery House has approximately 160 rooms, stairways that lead nowhere, doors that open to blank walls, skylights that are not on the roof, and one functional toilet. Think of a church budget as a blueprint that guarantees you don’t wind up with a Winchester Mystery house. A church budget is a plan that helps navigate from point A (the beginning of the fiscal year) to point B (the end of the fiscal year). An overly simplistic view is that a church budget is similar to a personal budget, but for someone with an irregular income. A church budget determines the annual income, and then it allocates the revenue to the expenses based on the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Churches and other non-profit organizations want to fulfill their mission, and doing that requires resources, especially financial resources. Most donors want to know that they are not funding the next Winchester Mystery house of ministry. Show them that your church budget is the blueprint that will use each dollar wisely to accomplish the mission.
A Church Budget Provides Accountability
There is usually a level of trust required before someone decides to donate to a church or non-profit organization. When someone donates, it means the donor bought into the vision, has seen your organization in action and wants to support the effort financially. Nothing will erode that trust faster than mishandled donations. Rollie Demos at ECFA wrote in his article, Why Accountability Matters, “Accountability and transparency of financial operations aren’t meant to constrain leaders; instead, they are meant to protect leaders and the reputations of their organizations.” One of the easiest ways to assure your donors that their financial gifts are valued is to present the budget annually. A budget provides accountability and transparency, clearly showing how their donations support the mission. Embrace every opportunity to dialog with donors about how your church or organization spends donations to further the mission. In my experience, these interactions often increase giving as the level of trust grows, and it all starts with a church budget.
A Church Budget is a Means to an End
No matter how well planned and transparent your budget is, the budget is not the goal of your church or non-profit organization. The budget is a means to accomplishing your mission. Sometimes managing the finances can take on a life of its own, and the focus shifts from mission-minded to money-minded. One way to stay focused is to keep asking the question; does the budget reflect the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Since a budget is a means that tells the money where to go, it is the perfect tool to ensure that the mission, vision, and values resource the top priorities.
A church budget is a plan that brings clarity, order, and structure to the organization. It provides accountability to the church and gives donors peace of mind that their gifts further the mission. Often this kind of accountability builds trust and can increase donations. Remember, a church budget is not the ultimate goal, but it is a necessary tool to eliminate chaos and bring focus and clarity to the allocation of precious financial resources.