A New Budget

How much money should one allocate for a trip this summer? This is an appropriate question for anyone expecting to go on a trip to ask. It could be responded to in a multitude of ways:

  1. How much money did we spend on last year’s trip?
  2. What are other people spending on their trip next year?
  3. What has been the change in prices from last year to this year?
  4. How much do you think other family members will tolerate?

The first determining factor in answering the question, however, is to ask: Where do we want to go?

A similar process has been taking place within many of our churches when coming up with this year’s budget. Finance committees were tasked with bringing a budget to the Board or Council or Session or Vestry and they have put a process in place to do just that. Some have said, “Let’s have a budget that is three percent higher than last year’s budget.” Others have said, “I heard that First Church is raising their budget by ten percent, so we should also.” And then you always have the one, “How much do you think the members will increase their giving?”

These committees then start going through the process of framing a budget around these parameters. It could be that everything gets a three increase across the board; maybe staff get four percent, and the building gets two, but it all averages out to three percent Whichever way it is done, the bottom line is that the beginning premise gets met (percentage of increase, etc.)

Sometimes, churches ask their members to increase their giving by a certain percentage, and if they get it in pledges, then you hear loud shouts of “Hallelujah!” and victory is declared.

I propose to you that this is all wrong! This is a financial process that puts the emphasis on money, and not on mission. It’s saying that if we just reach a financial target, then we have been successful. Our victories are not measured in dollars and cents, but in lives changed and mission accomplished.

As a budget is put together, the only question that should be asked over and over again is, What is our mission and what will it take to accomplish it?

Do not ask: Should a church our size have another minister?
Instead, ask: Can we fulfill our mission with our present pastoral staff?

Do not ask: Should we upgrade our HVAC system to a more modern one?
Instead, ask: Can we fulfill our mission with our current HVAC system?

Friends, the issue is the mission, not the money.

When your budget is printed out this year, put your mission at the top of the page and then make certain that every person on the Finance Team can take every item in that budget and share proudly how that item and amount is needed to fulfill the mission at the top. At the end of the year, it should be whether you fulfilled the mission or not that is judged—not whether you got money or not.

Clif Christopher, M.Div., CFRE, is the CEO of Horizons Stewardship Company. He is the author of The Church Money Manual, Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, and Rich Church Poor Church. He is a certified church growth consultant and has earned the coveted title CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive). Christopher founded Horizons Stewardship Company in 1992 following a challenging and rewarding career in pastoral ministry. Since founding Horizons, he has led consultations in more than four hundred churches, conferences, synods, and dioceses in all phases of building, finance, and church growth. For the last ten years, Christopher has secured more than $500 million for his clients. He has worked in more than thirty-two states and is a frequent speaker at stewardship seminars around the country. Christopher has been an ordained minister of The United Methodist Church since 1975. He is a graduate of Hendrix College and Emory University. Christopher and his wife have four children.