The church budget should not be a mystery to the board (yes, all non-profit organizations need a board of directors), the staff, the ministry leaders, or even the congregation. But who gets to spend hours and hours of intensive labor to produce the final product? Is it just one person, the entire board, the staff, or input from the whole congregation? While there are a lot of factors involved in determining the answers to these questions (denominational guidance, policy, size of the church), there are some basic practices that ensure accountability and stewardship.
What the Church does not need today is another scandal. According to a Christianity Today article, 1 in 10 Protestant churches experience embezzlement. That’s beyond an embarrassment; it is a tragedy that is avoidable with sound practices. Churches tend to trust the people put in roles of leadership or oversight; usually, for a good reason. They are proven as trustworthy, competent, and have a track record of success outside the church. But that doesn’t mean transparency and oversight are not needed. For these reasons alone, one person should not be responsible for creating the budget. It is too big of a task that has too many implications. And, it is far too big of a burden for any one person.
Stewardship is a word commonly used in the church world but not so much in the business world. The word harkens back to a time when a person, the steward, managed the land and property of another person, usually the “lord” of the land. Today, Christians use the word stewardship to describe the act of managing God’s resources. Good stewardship when budgeting means keeping the mission of the church in mind throughout the process. It does not mean cutting salaries, maintenance, or operational costs and put it all into ministry. Stewardship is acknowledging the tensions between compensation, operations, and ministry costs to fulfill the mission. It requires the input of many invested individuals.
The Team Approach
A team approach to creating a church budget provides both accountability and stewardship. The size and makeup of the team will vary, so here are some considerations when building a budget team.
- The Lead/Senior Pastor needs to have input and is responsible for ensuring the mission, vision, and values are at the core of the budget but should not be a part of the budget team.
- The CFO should not be the only member of the team but is instrumental in building the team, providing guidance, and producing the final budget for the board, staff, and congregation to review.
- Include the board of directors (elders) in the process. In a non-profit organization, the board of directors holds fiducial responsibility, meaning that the board acts in the best interest of the people they represent. It does not mean all board members need to be on the budget team, but they need to be involved in the process.
- Include all ministry leaders when creating the budget. No one will know what the High School ministry needs better than the High School Pastor/Leader. Cast the mission and vision along with realistic financial expectations for the upcoming fiscal year, and let the ministry leaders provide input on their portion of the budget. It does not mean each ministry leader is on the budget team but give them input on how much they need and the allocation of their portion.
A healthy budget team will vary based on the church size, church policy, and denominational guidance. Keep the size of the team manageable. It’s like the idiom too many cooks can spoil the broth. A budget team should include the CFO, a board member, and qualified non-staff members of the congregation. The budget team should not contain the Lead/Senior Pastor or anyone related (spouse, sibling, parent, or child) to a person on the budget team or any of the ministry team leaders. The budget team’s role is to provide accountability through transparency by providing the board, staff, and the congregation with access to the budget. And provide stewardship through helping ministry leaders stay on mission and within the confines of the resources allowed. The end product is a budget created through a collaborative effort of many people, directed by a select few on the budget team to serve the church’s best interest.