A few years ago, my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking our first cruise. I remember thinking this ship is huge; how will it ever get out of the harbor without hitting everything in its path. I know that James was talking about the power of the words our tongue speaks, but I kept thinking of James 3, “And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.” A budget is a lot like a rudder, a small tool capable of directing an entire organization. That’s why every church needs a budget. It helps to steer the organization to create trust, demonstrating character and competence. It ensures the allocation of the funds donated supports the mission. And for a church, it provides opportunities for the leaders to exhibit stewardship.
A Church Budget Creates Trust
We all know the stories of churches caught in the scandal of fraud, embezzlement, and other moral improprieties. The devastation resulting from these failings hits like a giant boulder in a calm lake. The ripples continue to spread out and negatively impact the Church’s ability to share the Gospel, and it destroys trust between the church congregations and their leaders. According to a 2017 Christianity Today article, 1 in 10 Protestant churches experience embezzlement. Stephen M.R. Covey said, “Trust is equal parts character and competence… You can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.” A church budget is a simple way to demonstrate both character and competence. Exposing the allocation of donations via the church budget expresses transparency and shows the ethical quality of the church’s leadership. The very act of building a budget will reveal the competency of the team creating the church budget. Creating this kind of trust in your church, your community, and the world can begin with the simple act of demonstrating character and competency with a church budget.
A Church Budget Funds the Mission
Each year as we begin the budgeting process, I realize that the dreams and desires of the staff are always bigger than our budget. Honestly, if they’re not, perhaps you need to dream bigger. When a church has all these great ministry ideas, ways to deepen the faith of the believers, bring hope to those who need it, and love those around us, the challenge is determining what gets funded? A church budget is a perfect way to ensure the organization remains focused and identifies priorities based on the mission. When times are lean, that may mean decreasing or defunding ministries, and that is never fun. But, this often helps to refocus and identify the highest priorities. In a way, it’s actualizing Matthew 6:21 when Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Creating a church budget helps to identify the heart of your church by how it allocates the donations.
A Church Budget Provides Stewardship
Stewardship is right at the top of my list of words that I call “Christianese.” These are words that Christians use (or misuse) and have little context in today’s world. In the biblical sense, a steward is a person whose job is to manage the land and property of another person. That means that everyone at the leadership level of the church is a steward, not just the financial team. Yet, the question still comes up when a new idea or opportunity arises for ministry, do we have the money to do this? This type of question puts a tremendous burden on the financial leaders of the church. Most mission-minded financial teams I’ve worked with do not enjoy crushing dreams or stifling ministry. Creating a church budget based on realistic donation projections, developed to fund the highest priorities, including new opportunities, should answer that question, not the financial team. As we mentioned, everyone in leadership is a steward and responsible for managing the resources through the church budget. In doing so, they share the responsibility of forecasting, planning, reallocating, and negotiating collaboratively with the financial team.
In the same way that a rudder can steer ships of any size, a budget guides the direction of the church. Having a church budget is essential in demonstrating the character and competence of the church leaders. A church budget assures that the mission’s top priorities get funded by putting the financial resources at the heart of the matter. And a church budget provides the church leaders the tools to work together and share the burden of managing the resources.