By Foster Banks Sr.
Your Strategic Plan is the Faucet
Everything flows from the strategic plan; your budget is no exception. If you’ve done your job in developing your strategic plan you will have a keen sense of your top 3-5 goals. You’ve assigned numerical measures (metrics) to each goal along with timelines for completion. Now you must spend the money necessary to transform your plan into action.
The Usual Way
Many churches are tempted to disperse funds in an egalitarian or emotional way. They assume if they give basically even amounts to all ministries then no one will complain. The result of this approach is that some ministries likely receive more money than they need while other ministries starve.
Slightly more enlightened churches use historical data to create a new budget. They look at each line item, add or subtract an extra 5-10%, and call it a day. This too is a horrible way to set budgets. It assumes that your realities and/or the realities of your market shift in nice, predictable ways, never changing more than 5-10% from year to year. The reality is that the world can change enormously in just a few months and year-over-year budgeting is antithetical to 21st Century life. We can’t naively expect the world to follow our budgets; instead, we must make our budgets responsive to a changing world.
Made from Scratch
The best budgets start from scratch every year (or sooner if changes warrant). Your budget should take nothing for granted. There should be no pet programs or ministries. Just because the auxiliary has received funding for 50 years does not mean it should be funded this year. If it doesn’t fit the strategic plan, cut it.
A Better Way: Top Down
Okay, you’re dealing with limited dollars and you have lots of priorities.” What do you do?”
First, place the goals identified in your strategic plan in rank order. What must you absolutely accomplish to fulfill God’s calling for your church?
Second, fully fund all the objectives required to achieve your top priority.
Next, fund to the fullest extent possible goal 2. Lather, rinse, repeat for all ancillary goals.
If you run out of money part way through a goal, either find a way to increase revenue or don’t fund that goal at all. If you don’t have enough money to FULLY fund all activities required to complete a goal, you’d only be wasteful to spend ANY money on it. Better to bolster your efforts on higher priority goals, than to spend money to achieve “part” of a lower priority goal. Successful organizations realize there is no such thing as a partially fulfilled goal, you either succeed or you don’t. In partially funding a goal, you lose all synergies created by having the various objectives combining to create a critical mass. Better to do 1 or 2 things exceptionally well, than to do 4 things adequately.
Many churches live like much of America: month to month. Since good ideas don’t always come along when your bank account is smiling, you should set aside at least 3% of your budget for great ideas. This innovation fund can be used to funnel cash to high impact opportunities that have the potential to produce huge dividends (however God has led you to define “dividends”). I suggest approaching this fund in an entrepreneurial way. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come along because it probably never will. Rather, when a great person/team has a good idea, empower them to take action on it. Give your best people the opportunity to make something happen.
The article “Church Budgets: The Numerical Expression of Priorities” written by Foster Banks Sr. was excerpted from Leadership Magazine, April 2008.
This article may be copywritten and may be used for study and research purposes only.