November 2018
Hospitality and Outreach

Mission-Based Budgeting: A Loving, Liberating, Life-Giving Process

Hidden within your budgeting process is a golden opportunity to reach the members of your faith community in ways not possible by any other means. You have an opportunity to connect them, no matter how God has gifted them and set free all the collaborative, creative power they embody. Most importantly, you have the power to lift up the ultimate “Why” behind your hospitality, your outreach and everything you do and to help even your most pragmatic, business-minded folks connect more deeply with it.

Few documents get more consistent attention than a budget. And in every instance where that document is reviewed, we have an opportunity to articulate our understanding of God’s call to us, to tell stories about our response and to reflect on how we “put our money where our mouth is.” Or not.

Changing the Conversation

Conventional budgets focus on expenses. Expenses are costs to acquire materials or services that get used up. They are perceived as a drain on resources. Over and over, our analysis of expenses limits us. Do we have enough resources? How fast are we draining them? Where are we over or under budget? These conversations focus on scarcity and are generally accompanied by anxiety. They apply to fiduciary responsibility in our culture, but there is no life in them.

Mission-based budgeting, on the other hand, starts from the understanding that costs are investments in God’s mission of reconciliation in the world, however we recognize, express and join in with that. It reminds us that we already have a powerful working partner who invested Jesus’s life in that mission. One who stands ready to multiply the return on our investment in that mission far beyond any capacity we ourselves have.

Consider the parable of the talents and ask: Are we burying what God entrusted to us in expenses that merely perpetuate an institution? Or are we looking first to see where God is at work around us, then investing God’s gifts in ways that expand and strengthen the Kingdom in our communities? Have we multiplied the talents we’ve been given? What fruit did our investments bear? How do we measure that? How do we re-invest?

These are loving, liberating, life-giving questions that can change the conversation completely. The mission-based budgeting process is designed to help us address these kinds of questions. And the type of budget document that results will be a direct reflection of how deeply we choose to engage that conversation.

Types of Mission-Based Budgets

I often hear “Narrative budget” used almost interchangeably with mission-based budget. Either term conjures up a document that falls somewhere on a continuum from a conventional budget with a simple narrative explanation to a comprehensive presentation that rigorously allocates ministries and related costs into a specific missional framework.

Within the wide range of documents that result, four general groupings emerge:

  1. Conventional Budget with Narrative Support: This approach takes a conventional budget and adds a separate descriptive listing of ministries arranged to tell a historical, current and perhaps aspirational story. It may or may not include some quantitative information, but that quantitative information is not comprehensively connected to the budget document. An example of that process is described here.
  2. Narrative Budget with Conventional Support: This approach focuses on a structured narrative presentation developed using a missional framework, with ministries allocated to each framework area and described therein. No attempt is made to allocate costs to ministries or framework areas. The conventional budget is still the primary managerial document, with the narrative budget used as a tool for communication outward. An example of that can be found here.
  3. Narrative Budget with Summary Cost Allocation: This approach takes approach #2 above one step further, allocating costs very broadly to each framework area. The conventional budget remains the primary management tool, with the narrative budget now able to be used in outward communications, but with greater connection to the numbers. Simple examples of that can be found here and here.
  4. Mission-Based Budget: This fully comprehensive approach requires an analytical process that is sufficiently in-depth to:
    a. break down the conventional presentation based on your missional framework, and then
    b. create a matrix to re-allocate and re-assemble the quantitative pieces in a way that clearly links costs to the missional priorities narrative in which they’re invested.

Only then can a mission-based budget like this begin to gain the credibility it needs with the “numbers people” to become your primary management tool and relegate the conventional budget to a supporting role.

Whichever approach you choose, Part 2 of this series (coming in March 2019) will take you fully through the steps to get there. To prepare, you’ll need six basic things:

  1. A clearly articulated sense of mission. Here in the Diocese of NJ, ours is rooted in our commitment to discipleship and God’s mission of reconciliation in the world.
  2. A framework by which you can evaluate how you live into your sense of mission. We chose the Five Marks of Mission to evaluate our impact in forming disciples and joining with God’s mission in our communities.
  3. A listing of the all the ministries in which you engage (worship, hospitality, outreach, formation, etc.), community programs with which you partner and groups and ministries you support.
  4. A list of broad categories, consistent across your framework, into which it’s helpful to group costs.
  5. Your conventional budget.
  6. A committed group of people in leadership positions – including, but not limited to, your main governance team (i.e. diocesan council or vestry) and staff – willing to engage in the process of transforming that dry, conventional budget into one that reaches people’s hearts through the stories it tells. Ideally, at least one of that group will be fluent with spreadsheets.

Costs of hospitality and outreach are not expenses. Rather, they are investments – investments of ourselves and our resources. To make the best decisions, we need to continually discern how we are being called to join in God’s mission of reconciliation in the world. Only then can God take our talents and multiply them beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

Join us for Part 2 of this series (coming in March 2019) to explore a process that takes what we’ve learned here to work for God’s mission in the world.

Canon Phyllis Jones was appointed COO of the Diocese of New Jersey in early 2017 after serving as the diocese’s CFO since 2010. In addition to having oversight of the finances of the diocese, she works closely with Bishop Chip Stokes to support and resource the vestries and people of their congregations in their ministries as they seek to join God in His mission throughout the diocese, Church and world. She and Bishop Stokes were among the early adopters of the Project Resource holistic financial stewardship curriculum developed by ECF, The College for Bishops and the Development Office of The Episcopal Church. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Association of Episcopal Deacons and was recently appointed as Treasurer for Province II. Her passion for resourcing mission and developing young Christian leaders in under-resourced communities finds expression in deep, long-standing Board and development relationships with UrbanPromise Ministries and its affiliate, UrbanPromise International. In 2011, she co-founded UrbanPromise Trenton. She has called St. Matthew’s Church in Pennington, NJ her parish home for 45 years, and lives in Titusville, NJ with her husband of 35 years, Mick Jones.

The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) has received a three-year grant as part of Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to Address the Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. ECF’s grant entitled “From Economic Challenges to Transformational Opportunities” will provide lay and clergy leaders of the Episcopal Church with resources, tools and other support to help address the financial and leadership challenges of congregational ministry in the 21st century. This article was made possible by the Lilly Endowment grant. For more information on ECF’s Lilly Endowment Initiative, click here.


This article is part of the November 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Hospitality and Outreach