November 10, 2015

Make Your Money talk. Or at Least, Your Budget.

Vestries are working on their budgets for the next year. It can be a daunting task, whether or not resources are limited. Money—and talk of it—is uncomfortable for a lot of people.

But giving voice to the line items of a church budget is a vital practice for healthy congregations. While most congregations share the nuts-and-bolts budget (the spreadsheet one with numbers and a bottom line), few expand the budget into a document for ministry. A full-fledged narrative budget can seem overwhelming, but I encourage vestries (and finance committees) to consider creating a document that puts flesh on the budget.

Take the staff line item. This is often a large percentage of a church’s budget and can sometimes be a place of contention. I recommend crafting a paragraph that frames that line item by mission and ministry. In other words, when the church elects to fund the salary line item, what does that mean?

A sample paragraph might read something like this: The staff of our church, including our priest, a parish administrator, a youth minister (plus or minus staff) carry out the mission of St. Switham’s by leading worship, visiting the sick, welcoming newcomers, baptizing, marrying, and burying friends, family, and sometimes strangers, being involved in community organizations, counseling those in and beyond the congregation, answering the phone and door, overseeing the building usage and maintenance, teaching Christian education, working with young people, pushing for social change, and participating with you in outreach activities.

For the area of the budget that covers building and grounds expenses, another descriptive paragraph could be helpful. Perhaps something like: The building(s) and grounds of our church provide a beautiful, inspiring place for our shared worship. In addition, they are a resource for our community, with various groups holding meetings and classes here. These include (for example) AA, Girl Scouts, the dance troupe, a yoga session, the ministerial association, and the garden club. Being a gracious and hospitable host for events of the church and of the community is part of our mission at St. Switham’s.

For each key area of your budget, you have an opportunity to expand and reiterate that the church is not a business but a ministry, that each line item, each expenditure is in support of a broader mission, of God’s call to bring the good news of the gospel to the world.

Being a good steward is more than making sure the numbers add up. 
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