The yearly budget preparation process is quite possibly one of the most dreaded seasons of the year for a pastor. He is immersed in a world of numbers, financial terms, spreadsheets, and hard financial decisions that can feel very foreign to his seminary training. A pastor’s sweet spot is people, words, the Bible, and ministry. So I want to help pastors navigate a budget process that is life giving and fuels ministry.
The budget process is not about money or territorial decisions around individual ministries. It is about vision, impact, and kingdom advancement. Here are some steps to reframe the conversation of yearly budget preparation.
Step 1: Define one church-wide unifying ministry goal to rally around. Before budget requests begin to populate financial leader inboxes let’s provide a ministry target to measure expenses. All resources need to be focused toward achieving this one goal. For instance, “next year we will see a 20% increase in small group participation with a focus on creating a clear and measurable discipleship pathway for all ages.” It is easy to resist focus because we fear limitation or failure. However, when you see a goal stated like this the opportunity of ministry expansion is clear. This one goal impacts all ages. It will create clarity around a pathway which will channel all resources of time, facility, people, and dollars. We will be called to prioritize content and leadership development as well as increasing guest engagement. Finally, staying on track with a positive end result that we can depend upon for the future creates a clear win for all.
Step 2: Create a list of ministry priorities that must be accomplished to support the goal. Be sure to secure dates and measurable achievements for each item to help you stay on track towards your goal. For instance, with the previously stated goal a few big objectives will need to be prioritized for action. Items like defining a clear discipleship pathway and making it age appropriate, locating or creating content, expanding and training leadership, promotion, and public launch. These objectives will populate the calendar, call the team to a unified action, and channel the resources. Along the way you will know very clearly if you are on target or not. For instance, the number of new leaders and total leaders involved in the training are strong indicators toward the 20% growth goal.
Step 3: Establish target dollar amounts for the total church budget and individual departments in advance. Once a ministry goal is created the big picture items that were established in Step 2 will need to be funded . You will also be able to project a total budget number that does not produce financial stress on the organization. (Free Tip: Establish a total budget spending number that is less than previous year’s undesignated receipts. This will build in life giving margin not year long pressure.) Once you have established the total budget number, provided resource figures for key elements of the plan, and built in margin, you can assign target budget numbers to each ministry department. Thus eliminating the many hours of stressful deliberation trying to get the total budget number to a comfortable level because we did not provide clear mileposts at the beginning of the process.
Step 4: Require each department leader to stay within their budget figure target and present a ministry action plan to support their spending that will help the church accomplish the clearly stated unifying goal. We as staff serve the greater vision of the church body. When a lack of clarity exists at the top of the organization it can unknowingly create space for smaller competing visions. These typically allow for many conflicts during the year related to people, time, facility, and financial resources. This is where untold hours of energy are burned toward less productive outcomes. When we create a goal followed by a plan with measured integrity it puts us all on the same team.Your resources will now be going toward their highest good. More unity, more fruit, more fun.
Pastor, I hope this is helpful to you. Budget preparation season is an amazing opportunity to clarify vision, train leadership, focus resources, and celebrate success. Unity is inspiring for all. It fills our tanks and directs our passions. Getting a little off track year after year is a natural pathway when we do not create regular points of focus. Let’s turn the yearly budget process into a life giving experience for all. Unleash giving today.
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