Recently a valued and dedicated volunteer approached me moments before a church service and asked me why we had not mentioned an upcoming co-ed Bible study. I was taken aback by the comment because we promoted the study on social media, the website, the weekly email to the congregation, the TVs in the Worship Center and the hallway, and made verbal announcements during the service. Even with all of these communication streams, this person missed the information. Communication is only as successful as the person receiving the message – and that’s why communicating is so difficult. It’s not enough to put a message out there and hope people digest it. Too much information is coming at us; we are bombarded with messages all day. A 2015 study found that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads daily. That’s a lot of information to take in; no wonder the volunteer missed the co-ed Bible study. Although churches have more ways to communicate information than ever, the message, even about the church budget, is often ignored or forgotten, leaving both the church and the congregant feeling disconnected.
The church budget is a financial plan showing how the church intends to invest each dollar toward the church’s mission, vision, values, and goals for the upcoming year. Creating the annual budget is time-consuming, forcing the church’s leadership to prioritize spending. The church budget, like any budget, starts with projecting a realistic income amount and then allocating the projected income to the various expense accounts. The expense accounts often reveal the heart of the church – for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21). Sharing the budget is a time to celebrate – not just because the budget process is over, but because God is moving and using the church to accomplish his mission. Providing the church budget is the best way to demonstrate financial transparency and accountability to the church.
How to Share: With so many communication streams available, churches may want to be selective with their audience. Unlike an upcoming Bible study or outreach event, sharing the budget information is not always for everyone. For example, social media is a great way to show the world what your church believes and how it’s living out those beliefs, but probably not a great place to show much of the budget is allocated to compensation. However, the church budget is not a secret or anything to be ashamed of. Make it available via the website, through regular periodic emails, blog posts, and talk about it during the church service or special meeting.
What to Communicate: Part of the reason a church should celebrate and share the budget is to demonstrate transparency and accountability, but that doesn’t mean sharing every little detail. For example, the amount of financial support given to each missionary can easily lead to hard feelings without providing the matrix or grid that determines the support. The same is true for individual compensation for the staff. Instead, give a summary of total missionary support or compensation. What’s important is to provide a way to show the allocation of the church budget to the chart of accounts.
Providing the church budget annually when it’s complete is a moment to celebrate and share, but it’s not enough. Throughout the year, update the congregation, inform them if donations align with the income projection, and share how they are invested in accomplishing the church’s mission. A word of caution: use prudence when providing ongoing updates. Financial contributions at many churches ebb and flow throughout the year, with some quarters carrying the financial load of other quarters. Refrain from sounding the alarm that giving is down unnecessarily; that can easily erode credibility. Conversely, share and celebrate ministry “wins” often and connect it to the congregation’s faithful, generous, and consistent financial support.
Even with all the new communication streams available to churches, conveying a message is more challenging than ever, and sharing the church budget is no exception. Churches that want to build trust, show transparency, and demonstrate accountability with their finances are intentional about when, how, and what they share. And it doesn’t end with an annual update; churches must continuously show how donations fund the church’s mission, vision, and values.