Budgets can bring out the best and worst of a congregation.
Budget meetings can be a place for conflict especially when money is tight or when one ministry is pegged against another for money. Some ministries take a government approach – If you had $1,000 last year, you automatically need another $1,000 even if you didn’t spend the $1,000. There is fear and a scarcity mindset. Many churches struggle as they have to keep cutting, while others do not even bother with a budget. Just pay as you go is the motto.
However, a budget can be a great statement of faith. A budget puts forth a plan created through faith and prayer for what the ministry will need in the upcoming year. A budget is also a guide that measures our investment in outreach and discipleship. Budgets can be exciting and help give focus and unity to the church’s mission.
Whether you like them or not, budgets are a necessary and important part of the ministry and need our attention. The top concern for a budget is not the numbers but the spirit and the process. I said budgets bring out the best and the worst. The process reveals strongholds, idols, faith, one’s own stewardship, etc. This is why I say the process is more important than numbers. The budget process gives insight into where our people are spiritually, as well as opportunities for us to equip them. I have found that many people do not budget in their personal lives. They are not equipped to budget. Therefore, they tend to have a scarcity mindset and want to control or decrease spending. They generally have not experienced how God provides beyond what they expect. My point is that you need a process to equip the people and not assume everyone knows how to budget.
You also need to prioritize your ministry plan before you budget. A budget should reflect priorities, not be the place that sets priorities. It is easier to discuss priorities when money is not involved. When a price tag comes, it is easy to shift away from the priority. Some shifting may happen, but that is often a refinement rather than a major change.
The budget process needs to be led by Jesus and the mission He has given to the congregation – not led by the dollars. When we put dollars first, we put Jesus in the back seat. We need Jesus especially in times like now. Some churches have adopted a three-budget approach. They have a plan for if God brings an increase and a plan if God brings a decrease. Planning now will take the stress and high emotions away as you follow Jesus and navigate these times.
If you need help putting together a ministry plan or budgeting, please reach out.
by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District
4 Replies to “Do You Like or Hate Budget Season?”
I love the budgeting process! It’s a time of excitement and of hope, even when dollars are tight because it allows us to have conversations centered on what is important and what God is requiring of us as his Church.
I like to call them “Ministry Plans.” As in, “This is the ministry we plan to accomplish together, according to our mission statement and God’s instructions for us in scripture, for which he will provide.” Budgets assume scarcity and the assumption that next year will be like this past year. Ministry Plans express hope and optimism in God’s promise to lead, guide, and provide. Moreover, budgets assume people will give at roughly the same amount as last year, assuming they are already giving as much as they can and not allowing any room for growth brought about by the Holy Spirit working through good teaching of the scriptures where God has spoken about generosity (which is a lot!)
As we present the Ministry Plan to the congregation we pray over whether or not this is, indeed, what God is calling us to do and, whether or not he will accomplish it through us. It forces each member to acknowledge their calling to participate in the mission of the church through their gifts. It requires each voter to take ownership and ask God to help them be more generous toward achieving His goals for us as a congregation.
And then, if the ministry isn’t accomplished, it isn’t because God failed, it could be that what we thought was God’s will wasn’t, or its because we faltered in our commitment to His ministry through His Church; either by a lack of funding, organization or focus in the ensuing year.
Either way, an unfulfilled Ministry Plan (notice I didn’t say “budget shortfall”) simply reflects that the reality of the past year was not what we had predicted. None of us can see the future, so even budgets are just a “best guess” scenario. Approaching the finances of the church with a Ministry Plan concept allows the members and the ministers to get comfortable with God leading the process, as well as the so-called “results” of the congregations, plan each year.
I love the spirit and heart of your Ministry Plan. I really appreciate the congregation’s flexibility to move as God moves and to trust him with the results. Sounds like a very healthy setting for ministry. Thank you for sharing!
Budgeting for our congregation has been a complete blessing! This is because the Lord has demonstrated to us year after year, that He does not need or respect our budgetary limits, so we’ve stopped adopting a “balanced” budget so-to-speak. There is no scarcity (in terms of needs) as He keeps making the pie bigger – showing us that for Him it’s not a zero-sum situation. And this has happened to us without a corresponding increase in the number of members. You try and figure that out! Thanks be to God for His “fuzzy math” and unreasonableness! We now budget with a bit of a deficit and He still overabundantly provides. The saying is true: you can’t out-give the Giver!
It is so exciting to see God work through his people beyond our expectations! If I understand you right, your congregation passes a deficit budget trusting God to fill the gap?
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
(Ephesians 3:20 NLT)