I’ve looked at a lot of church budgets over the years. It still amazes me how much I can learn about a church with a quick review of their budget. When it comes to a church’s core values and vision, the budget is the single most effective indicator of true priorities.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Well, replace the word “Actions” with “The church budget.” The church budget really does speak louder than words. Regardless of what we say to our people regarding what’s important to us, the budget always speaks truth.
When meeting with churches, I often hear something like, “Our people just won’t get behind our vision.” One of the best ways to gain buy-in for your church’s vision is to allow people to see that vision validated through the investment of the church’s resources.
If you say your church values students, I can quickly look at your budget and see if that’s really true. Often churches think they value certain missional elements, but an old and outdated budgeting process betrays them when it comes to “putting their money where their mouth is.”
How can you improve your budgeting process to best reflect your church’s true values and vision? Here are a few ways:
Start with a zero-based budget. In other words, don’t create the new year’s budget amounts based on last year’s amounts. Start each line item at zero and have the responsible person’s, for each of the budget areas, work to determine how much is needed and then make the case for why it is needed. The “Why” question is critical. If they can’t tell you why, it’s not a real need.
Establish/review priorities each year. Prior to beginning the budgeting process each year, sit down with your key staff and leaders and reevaluate your priorities. Your mission critical priorities can, and usually do, change from year to year. Churches often realize this and begin to communicate vision based on the changes. The problem is, they often don’t make the necessary adjustments to their budget. Each year decide what’s most important and ensure your financial resources are allocated accordingly.
Plan on how you will share the completed budget with the church. You should always share a version of the budget with the church. You shouldn’t provide a document that breaks every expense down to its most granular level, but you should provide a 50,000-foot overview of how the church plans to use its resources to accomplish their mission and vision in the coming year. People are much more likely to be engaged and excited by the church’s plan when they see a well-thought out and mission-centric plan of resource distribution (i.e, your budget). If you, or anyone on your team, is hesitant to make the budget public, that is usually a sign that budget and vision are not aligned.
Always be ready for the “Why” question. When it comes to the allocation of the church’s financial resources and changes from previous budgets, always be prepared to explain why. Why are you spending money in a particular area? Why did the amount being spent in a certain ministry go up – or down – from past years? You may not be asked these questions, but chances are good that you will. Either way, if you can’t answer why, keep working on it until you can. Being able to clearly and concisely explain the reasoning behind budget decisions is a huge trust-builder.
So, is your budget in sync with your communicated vision? Or, does your budget tell a very different story?
Would you like some objective help as you prepare for your budgeting process? For the next 60-days, I will review your church budget and your vision at no cost and no obligation to you. I will evaluate your budget based on your stated vision and mission and then unpack my conclusions and recommendations in a 30-minute video call.
For information on how to initiate the budget review process, click the link below and provide me with your name and contact information.
Question: In what area (if any) is your budget most out of alignment with your stated vision?