Let your budget speak your vision

October 1, 2019 by Robyn Davis Sekula

Your church’s budget is a spiritual document, says Rob Hagan, Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation.

“The budget needs to be the most theological document you have next to the Bible and the Book of Confessions,” Hagan says.

Hagan, who serves the Northwest Region, spoke on the topic of “Let Your Budget Be Your Vision” at Stewardship Kaleidoscope on Tuesday, Oct. 1. Stewardship Kaleidoscope is an annual stewardship conference designed for pastors and church leaders to study and discuss stewardship, giving and generosity in depth. Presbyterian and Lutheran organizations sponsored this year’s conference.

But how do you marry numbers and theology?

You start with vision, Hagan says. And your church should start by answering three essential questions: Who are you? Where are you going? What do you have to declare?

Those are the same three questions you’re asked when you enter the U.S. They’re a terrific guideline for anyone who needs to discern direction. Answer those questions first – and then you’ll better understand what you’ll need to accomplish that, and how to ask for it, Hagan says.

Clear vision

Rob Hagan during his presentation on vision.

“People give to people, and people give to vision,” Hagan says. To help align the vision with the Church’s mission and core values, Hagan offered questions the session should ask the congregation:

  • What is our church’s vision? What is our mission? What is our most important work?
  • How well do you know the church’s programs? Which ones do you love? How did these programs come to be?
  • Do you have questions about our priorities and mission? How can we answer those for you?
  • Is our congregation’s approach to stewardship always the same – or is it flexible and fresh?

Is your church visionary or stagnant? Hagan says there are four ways to know.

  • A visionary church changes lives. A stagnant church meets budget.
  • A visionary church challenges the congregation to meet the needs of the world. A stagnant church pushes people to give out of guilt.
  • In a visionary church, giving changes the giver. In a stagnant church, giving balances the budget.
  • In a visionary church, offering is a high moment. In a stagnant church, offering is a time-out.

Narrative versus line-item budget

The budget should be the execution of the vision, Hagan says. He showed those gathered for his presentation examples of narrative and line-item budgets. A line-item budget is an accounting tool and usually presented in a spreadsheet format, with each item listed. Bills the church pays on a regular basis such as the electric bill would be listed, along with salaries for workers and paper to print the church bulletin. It’s dry and factual, and doesn’t motivate support, Hagan says.

The narrative budget is a visioning tool. The functions of the church, such as worship, mission, youth programs, education, into separate categories. A narrative budget shows the positive impact of the church. It inspires and helps congregations see how their gifts are making a difference.

Hagan cautions the audience not to get caught up in being to-the-penny accurate in creating a narrative budget, but to make educated guesses to explain how the budget is spent. A pastor’s salary, for example, might be divided up into portions depending how they spend their time. About 30 percent might go to worship. Then, you’d need to factor in other ways your pastor spends his or her time, including visiting the sick, participating or leading mission projects, teaching Bible study, and more.

Narrative budgets should include descriptive stories and photos that help the congregation to envision the ways in which the church makes an impact on those who attend, and on the community at large. Hagan also encourages the congregation to calculate how many volunteer hours are put into a Sunday morning worship service. “There is far more that goes into creating the Sunday morning worship experience that are far beyond writing the sermon,” Hagan says. “This can include creating graphics that are shown on screen, if your church uses these tools, or the time that the choir spends preparing music. Also think about those operating the sound system, and even the time someone has to take to clean the sanctuary, and the volunteers who prepare communion. And don’t forget about those who offer children’s time during the service.”

And that’s just one hour of church time. There’s so much more that goes on in your church building all week, and many more ways your staff and volunteer leaderships are involved in your community.

For more information on giving and stewardship for churches, please visit the Presbyterian Foundation website’s Stewardship Resource Center here. To sign up for the Stewardship Navigator, a free resource for Presbyterian churches, that provides stewardship tools, visit here. If you’d like to find your church’s Ministry Relations Officer, you can find that here.