Our church purchased and occupied a 54,000-square-foot industrial building in 2004 that we still call “home” today. It was such an exciting time filled with joy and anticipation. Everything was fresh and new – paint, carpet, chairs, sound system, lighting, decor, and even people. Yes, our attendance almost doubled as people came to check our church because we had a giant new building. No doubt about it, our facility is a tremendous asset for our church to accomplish our mission. And despite our best efforts to lovingly and adequately care for it, time and use eventually took their toll. One day, we noticed that you could follow the traffic pattern of dirt on the carpet to find your way to the Worship Center. The paint color on the walls was so outdated that it’s not even retro; it’s just dingy. The truth is, our facility no longer sent the intended message to guests that we are glad you’re here; we were expecting you. As a result of this revelation, our church embarked on a capital campaign project to renovate our campus a few years ago. New carpet, paint, lighting, decor, and improved technology for a building that size are expensive. And when a church decides to spend large sums of money, some people will question and oppose the plan – and they did. Some said the renovation was unnecessary, and the building is fine, but acknowledge that as the carpet stretched and bubbled, it became a trip hazard. Some were in disbelief at the cost of the carpet and paint, holding firm to an unfounded belief they could do it for less. Others prefer we send the money to missionaries overseas. By the way, these critiques were from well-meaning people who love Jesus and desire to honor God through stewarding the church’s finances. While differences in opinions will abound on the best way to manage the church’s resources, unity occurs over the church’s shared mission, vision, and values.
The Church Budget
Although the example above describes the challenges of a specific capital campaign, it highlights the disparity in views on allocating the church’s financial resources. It’s easy to get caught up in the hows and whats when spending money, especially at a church. Here are three ways to align spending with your church’s values and increase unity through the budget process.
Review the Mission and Vision: A mission statement defines the organization’s purpose; it gets to the heart of why the church exists. Most Christian churches base their mission statement on Matthew 28:16-20, known as the great commission. The vision statement should paint the picture of the future state of your church and often fills in how your church will accomplish its mission. The budget must reflect the mission and vision of your church.
Zero-based budgeting: Avoid the temptation to copy last year’s budget and make minor modifications. Always start from scratch or zero. A zero-based budget will force each area to evaluate the specific plans for the upcoming year against the mission and vision. Just because a ministry did something in the past doesn’t mean it still fits and needs to be carried forward in the future. When creating the budget, keep asking how will adding or removing “X” move the church forward to realizing the vision.
Communicate: Just because churches have an audience with their members at least once a week doesn’t mean they communicate everything well. Often the basics get overlooked. When was the last time your church articulated its mission and vision? How was it shared? Whenever there is a lack of information, people tend to fill those gaps with all sorts of ideas, most of which are wrong. Whether it’s putting the annual budget together, raising funds for a capital improvement project, or bringing clarity to the church about its function, it’s impossible to over-communicate.
During our capital campaign to renovate our church, we quickly learned the importance of casting the vision for this project. We used conceptual renderings and videos on our website, sent email updates, wrote blog posts, and openly talked about it on Sunday morning. Once people caught the vision, the voices with differing opinions not only quieted but supported the effort. In time we raised the needed funds to complete the project debt-free, laying the groundwork for the next project.