The Senior Pastor assembled a team to talk about reimagining the form and function of the Worship Center. It was a time when attendance had waned, and the sudden emptiness in the room was draining energy from the services. I recall that at some point in the meeting, adding small tables with six to eight chairs around them and a lamp in the middle of each table, like a nightclub, was the leading idea. That’s when it happened. I learned a valuable lesson about myself – I’m so rooted in details and what’s practical that it can prevent me from allowing myself and others to dream. All I could see were the impracticability and impossibilities of this idea. It was a long time before I was invited back into a dream session meeting, and rightfully so. Since then, I’ve learned the importance of dreaming about all the ways God may want to use our church (the people and the building) to accomplish His mission.
As much as I felt somewhat justified in throwing a wet blanket on the “nightclub” worship center vibe dream, I had plans of my own. I wanted to improve the landscaping, replace some interior lighting, purchase new IT equipment, and, you know, do practical things. Of course, now I can see that these were dreams too. Then I heard about how some ministry teams wanted to host a conference on campus. Others wished they could subsidize camps to lower the price so under-resourced families could go. And others wanted to find a way to help a missionary family pay for schooling for their kids while abroad. These are all worthy ideas that fit within our mission. That’s when it hit me, we all have dreams that far exceed the financial constraints of the budget. So how do you capture and prioritize these dreams without budgeting the church into a deficit?
Dream Budget Line Item
When building the church budget, church leaders should dream about what could be if money weren’t a limiting factor. Once I learned this valuable lesson about dreaming forward, I modified the church’s annual budget guide for each budgeted area to include a section called “Dream Budget.” This section encourages the leadership of our church not only to dream but financially plan the costs associated with furthering the church’s mission through this new endeavor. It is important to note that the Dream Budget is separate from the operational budget. It is not a guarantee that any dreams will find funding, but if funds are available, it’s great to have the plan to allocate the money.
Budgeting a Deficit is Not an Act of Faith
When a church struggles to make payroll, stay current on its bills, and lacks an adequate emergency fund, funding a Dream Budget line item is not an act of faith, it’s foolish. Dan Busby, former President of ECFA (The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), shared his thoughts on this topic in an XPastor post and said that deficit budgeting, especially with zero reserves, is incompatible with how churches should operate. Do not confuse budgeting (and spending) beyond the resources God provides as an act of faith; it’s not. Proverbs 21:20 is clear on this topic, “The wise have a generous supply of fine food and oil in their homes, but fools are wasteful, consuming every last drop.” (The Voice)
I’ve come a long way since the let’s turn the Worship Center into a “nightclub” meeting. I now see the importance of dreaming of new and creative ways to accomplish the church’s mission and encouraging that kind of forward thinking. Adding a line item for dreaming in the budget takes it to the next level by associating costs with the vision. Separating the Dream Budget from the operational budget promotes good financial management by avoiding deficit spending while having a plan in place when funds allow. You’re not dreaming big enough if your dreams don’t outpace your budget.