It’s that time of year again when stewardship ministry teams are planning church budgets for the coming year (for those churches that run January to January or October to October). Naturally many questions are being explored as these faithful teams attempt to craft a working budget for the year ahead. Here are four questions every committee would do well to ask when building a budget for the church.
What does our budget communicate theologically? I once heard a mentor say that “a budget is the most theological document in any church.” He was right. Our theology and what we believe about God always traces back to how we use our money. Anyone can look at a budget and tell quickly if a church values buildings over people, safety over bold mission, or comfort over outreach and evangelism, partnership or going it alone.
How we spend our budgets as churches communicates more about what we believe concerning God and the Bible than almost anything that could be said from our pulpits, taught in our Sunday school classes, or even written in a statement of belief.
How can we add revenue streams as supplements to people’s regular tithes and offerings? We want to cultivate biblical habits of stewardship in our churches, so side revenue streams should probably not replace tithes and offerings as the primary mechanism for funding ministry. Many churches, however, could bring in extra money through simple partnerships and creative thinking. There are churches across the country that receive rent from cell phone companies that have placed cellular towers on the church property, or even in the steeple. I know of one church, less than an hour from my own, that receives upwards of $20,000 in annual income from rent paid for a cell phone tower in the steeple. Could your church explore creative partnerships with a local bakery or a non-profit seeking office space in ways that might prove mutually beneficial?
Planned giving can provide revenue streams in perpetuity, and many churches have never explored inviting people to leave the congregation their wills. Some ways of garnering additional revenue may seem more palatable to your church than others. Has your church explored any of these possibilities?
What bold future is God calling our church towards? Not only do budgets communicate theology and values, they communicate mission and vision. Does anything in your budget communicate that the church is on the move? Does anything in your budget lead towards a need for the church to increase in faith? When our budgets communicate business as usual, or when we operate from a posture of scarcity instead of abundance, it’s hard to allow vision to form the budget, and it’s nearly impossible for a budget to communicate vision.
My congregation is in the fortunate situation to pay off our debt this year. After 10 years of payments, we’ll own our property completely. Thankfully, people are realizing that while a note burning is certainly an occasion for celebration, it is not cause to get comfortable. God is always calling us forward in mission, and thankfully, many wise leaders in our church are already asking, “What’s next?”
How is God calling our church to cultivate a spirit of extravagant generosity? Sadly, when churches struggle to make ends meet, budgets often drift inward. Outreach, discipleship, missions and denominational giving are often some of the first items to face budgetary reductions. Instead of getting “more people to give” or deciding what outwardly focused items to cut from our budget, we should cultivate a spirit of generosity in the church. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline, and not only a way to fund the budget. Stewardship committees are uniquely positioned in the life of every church to lead the effort of cultivating Christian stewards. Instead of asking the pastor to preach a few annual stewardship sermons, committees might do well to take ownership over creating an entire stewardship ministry in their congregations.
How can your church move from the stewardship committee meeting a few times throughout the year for the sole purpose of setting the church budget, to creating a robust church-wide stewardship ministry? If stewardship is a spiritual discipline no different from worship, prayer, or Bible study, then most of our churches have much room for improvement.
The budgetary process in churches is far more than a process to fund programs and protect assets. What if your church’s budgetary process took a different tone and focus this year, by asking deeper questions?