Teaching about budget can be a challenge, especially when church finances are behind budget. Read on for field-tested advice on what to teach your congregation about budget, including tips for when finances are behind budget, and when you are considering an emergency appeal.
This article is adapted from pastor Jamie Dunlop’s new book Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry.
1. What to Teach Whenever You Talk About Budget
My church has six members’ meetings each year; here are the topics I try to address in four to five minutes when I give a budget update.
- January: The budget as a spiritual mutual fund. Church leaders look for the very best spiritual investment opportunities and bring them to you in the form of our budget.
- March: Why we give. We give because it’s good for us. Our “cheer” as givers (2 Cor. 9:7) shows that we value God and his plans more than we value the things of this world.
- May: Why we have a budget. For the Christian, giving should be thoughtful and deliberate, not a spontaneous response to an appeal. The same is true for our church; the budget helps us to be deliberate about where we invest.
- July: Investing for faithfulness. God doesn’t need the money in our budget; he’s doing just fine. But by being faithful with the money he’s given us, we show off how good and trustworthy he is. Relatively speaking, we care very little whether or not we meet budget; what we’re aiming for is to be counted as faithful.
- September: Outreach spending. Our goal for outreach spending is to help healthy churches start and grow both locally and around the world. Our goal for “in-reach” spending is to fuel the engine of ministry here in our own church.
- November: Love people more than the budget. We take steps to make it clear that we love our people more than we love our budget (our reserve fund, deferring some building-related projects until a budget year has finished, etc.).
2. What to Teach When Finances Are behind Budget
As challenging as it is to fall short of expectations, it’s times like these that often prove most useful for teaching your congregation. Here’s what to talk about when your church is behind budget.
Behind Doesn’t Equal Failure
The budget wasn’t revealed from heaven; it was merely your church’s best guess as to what God would entrust you with this year. If you guessed wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been faithless—but it’s an important opportunity to examine how your church members are stewarding God’s money. What matters most is faithfulness, not
performance against the church budget.
God Will Provide What We Really Need
Giving that’s 10 percent below budget simply means that our plan was 10 percent overextended. All that God does is right, and never once in the history of the world has he given anyone an unfunded mandate. As Augustine prayed, “grant what you command, and command what you will.” God always gives what he commands.
3. Emergency Appeals for Money: Dangerous but Sometimes Prudent
One question we all face when the budget is behind is how we should explain the situation to the congregation. Do we simply provide the facts of the situation? Make emotionally-charged appeals for help? Somewhere in between?
This is a delicate matter. If you make a special appeal every year (or even every third or fourth year), you become the proverbial “boy who cried wolf.” Beyond that, those most likely to respond are probably your most faithful members. And you run the risk of doing real spiritual damage by plaguing the congregation with false guilt for falling behind the budget. Perhaps fault lies not with them but with you, for drafting an unrealistic budget.
So how do you go about making such an appeal?
- Rarely. Take reasonable measures to avoid making such an appeal. For my own (relatively stable) congregation, I would like to avoid doing this any more frequently than once a decade.
- Because of temporary cash flow problems. Before you make an appeal, you must be confident that the shortage is temporary, not permanent. If a budget problem is likely to persist, the solution must begin with significant cuts to the budget. Be prepared to explain to your congregation the factors that make this shortfall temporary. Otherwise, they’ll have little confidence you won’t simply be making the same appeal next year.
- For financial, not pastoral reasons. Special appeals are very limited in their pastoral utility. If your members are not giving faithfully, a special appeal is not the answer; teaching and prayer for faithfulness is the answer. A special appeal for help should be made simply because you want to avoid making long-lasting budget cuts to address what you believe to be a temporary problem. For example, perhaps you are in danger of having to lay off staff because of an economic slowdown in your area. If you have every reason to believe that income will pick up again in a year or two, it would be unfortunate to lose long-term staff because of short-term constraints.
- Assume your members are giving faithfully. Special appeals for money are often worded as to assume that most people aren’t giving faithfully. For example: “If each of you would skip one latte each week for the next year, we could close our budget gap!” But embedded in that language is the assumption that Christians in your church will normally use their finances in selfish ways and that faithfulness is abnormal. Even if you have doubts about your flock’s faithfulness, do not normalize faithlessness. An appropriate appeal is not, “I know you’re all spending money on stuff you don’t need; please give it to the church instead” but “this is the year to give in ways that you won’t likely be able to repeat year after year.” Communicate an expectation that healthy Christians will be faithful with their money.
—Jamie Dunlop, adapted from his new book Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry.
How To Use This Book
Get this book before you plan your next budget, because you will get equipped for budgeting that accelerates your congregation’s movement toward health. Along the way you will examine how each part of your church budget can align with biblical principles, discover how a prudent budget works, and grow in understanding of how your allocation decisions have direct implications for ministry.
Pick up copies today for the members in your church involved in budgeting.