As a software developer for an industry-leading golf manufacturer, I worked on many interesting projects. It did not matter the amount of planning involved before starting the project or the size or scope of the project. At some point, change and enhancement requests came. The changes ranged from small UI (user interface) preferences to significant changes to the functionality. Dealing with this type of “scope creep” is bound to put the project over budget and behind schedule. To battle that, I developed a saying, “Is the juice worth the squeeze.” In other words, is the effort required equal to the amount of gain received from the request. It’s such a great visual of the request that I’ve carried forward when asked for changes to the church budget. I get it; we live in a dynamic world that is constantly shifting. Leadership unable to pivot will quickly find themselves left behind wondering what just happened. For churches, the COVID-19 pandemic was a proving ground for a leader’s ability to redirect efforts to accomplish the mission under severe conditions. For many of us in 2020, the budget was set, the strategic plan was in place, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that a worldwide pandemic was not part of those plans. In the best of times, it is difficult for a church to stay committed to its budget. But, during unstable times, that requires a whole new level of attention. Regardless of the scenario, finding creative ways to operate within the budget is crucial. In that regard, the juice is always worth the squeeze.
If there had not been a pandemic in 2020, I wonder how many times the same question would come to the person in charge of the church finances: is there any money to… and you can fill in the blank. Based on history, the answer is a lot. For some, creating a budget is merely an academic exercise to put numbers on a spreadsheet to pacify the requirement to complete the task on time. But, the moment the budget is complete and shiny new ideas come along, the requests for money to fund the unbudgeted new idea begin. Of course, unforeseen opportunities come along that allow the church to deepen faith or share the Gospel. But, those new opportunities can only happen at the expense of something budgeted. Understanding what you have to give up to go after something else is called an opportunity cost. The best way for the requestor and the finance person to evaluate the opportunity cost is through a collaborative meeting. The goal should always be to pursue the mission, and sometimes it means to change the plan (and budget) to seize a strategic ministry opportunity. But, more often than not, it means being disciplined and committed to the plan put in place and bathed in prayer. Or, another way to say it is the juice worth the squeeze?
During a crisis, it is more important than ever to remain focused on the mission of the church. New strategies, ideas, and opinions will come fast and require rapid evaluation. And they should. During the 2020 pandemic, churches stuck in the mode of in-person, on-site gatherings only missed opportunities. The pandemic made live-streaming church services a standard option for most churches. According to LifeWay research, 45% of Americans watched an online Christian service during the pandemic, and 15% said they don’t normally attend in-person services. If figuring out how to live-stream seems like a lot of squeezing, think about the juice of reaching 15% of those who wouldn’t typically visit your church. During times of crisis, it’s best to remain committed to the budget, but not the categories. Pivot. Innovate. Adjust. In some ways, a situation like the pandemic makes it easier to reallocate budget funds as many in-person activities paused. Think of the church budget as a pie. You can cut the pie into as many slices as you need, but the size of the pie remains the same. You can always decide to swap a piece of the pie cut for Jane and give it to Joan, but the opportunity to give it to Jane is gone. Leadership requires making the difficult decision to know when to swap pieces to achieve the mission. The key is to remain committed to the budget, understand the cost of the opportunities presented, and always lead with the church’s mission in mind. Continue asking, is the juice worth the squeeze.