Church Budgets: Top 10 List (part 1 of 2)

This week I am posting #1-#5 of the Top 10 considerations regarding church budgets. Stay tuned for the remainder of the list next week.


1. Why do you need a budget?

A budget is a tool – nothing more.

  • It is a yardstick to measure your progress toward planned goals.
  • The planned goals are the most important aspect of the budget, not the financial numbers.
  • The financial numbers are ONE indicator of how well the church is doing toward achieving these goals, but it is not the ONLY measurement.

Budgets must be developed holistically

What do we want to accomplish in our youth ministry, worship area, building maintenance, staffing needs, etc.?

How are we going to reach these goals using our resources?

  • People: staff, volunteers, and paid vendors
  • Money: from all sources, not just budget
  • Time: when do we plan to achieve these goals

Ideally, budgets look forward over several years, not just the next few months. The Budget Committee should always be looking at how the church’s finances need to be structured over the next several years.


2. What is the timeline for developing a church budget?

There are several elements to the process and each one has its own timeline. Some churches use all these elements and some use only a few. Determine what works best in your specific church’s culture.

Theme development

  • Churches that use a theme typically have a team working on this 7-8 months before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
  • Some churches have themes centered on the core aspects of church (worship, fellowship, missions, member care, and education) and promote each one every five years. This helps guide theme development.
  • The committee usually selects a verse, logo, tag line, and music which will help focus the church during the budget emphasis. Churches with a fiscal calendar year often use October as the budget emphasis time, and theme development is in April and May.

Committee budget work

  • Committees need 2-3 months to find times to meet and come up with goals (numeric and intangible) for their ministry areas for the few years.
  • Committees should have a leader (staff or lay member) who can make a presentation, if necessary, to the Budget Team.
  • Committee work is done 4-6 months before the new fiscal year.

Budget Committee coordination

  • It is up to the Budget Committee (sometimes a subset of the Finance Committee) to gather the info from the various working committees and compile it into a comprehensive budget.
  • Some Budget Committees want representatives from the various teams to make presentations to the Budget Committee so that they’ll more fully understand the why behind each of the numbers. These presentations can help this Budget Committee to be the most fully informed group of lay leaders about the wide variety of work being done by the church.
  • Budget Committee work is done 3-4 months before the new fiscal year.

Church-wide presentations and vote

  • Some churches have a month-long budget or stewardship emphasis to help people understand what makes up all these figures and why each person in the church is important to make all of it happen. Many churches will use every form of communication possible to inform members and get them involved.
  • If the church is on the fiscal calendar year, then these presentations are in October with a vote by mid-November (before Thanksgiving) so as not  to encroach on Advent.
  • Typically, this work is done 2-3 months before the new fiscal year.

Follow up

This is a continuous process during the fiscal year. People need to be reminded of how their money is being used and the good that it is doing. Take advantage of Sunday morning offering times to tell the stories of how lives are being changed due to the generosity of church donors.


3. Who needs to be involved in the process?

Early stages

  • In the early development of a budget, you need the informed leadership working on the budget. This usually means the informed leadership in each budget area meets to plan their goals and determine the resources they need to achieve those plans.
  • The Budget Committee (or designated sub-committee of the Finance Committee) does not have jurisdiction over the goals in the various ministry areas because they are not as fully informed about those areas as the respective committees are.

Middle stages

  • At some point in the development process, the many ministry committees should invite feedback from the people invested in each area.
  • For example, the Missions Committee should tell people interested in missions what the plans are and then ask them for their ideas about what is needed on future endeavors. Committees must never create budgets in a vacuum – seek input first from the leadership and then from the followship. The “wisdom of the crowds” is valid and insightful.

Later stages

Finally, the different components of the budget will become public and that is when as many people as possible should be aware of the budget (at a minimum) and invested in it. The more people that are “buying into” the budget and what it wants to do, the more successful all the areas of the budget will be.


4. Should you use pledge cards?

Some churches have used pledge cards for decades and will continue to use them. Some churches stopped using them; some of those members regret that decision and others do not.

Pledge cards have several purposes:

  • As a tool in setting the budget
  • As a way to challenge people to give more
  • To track how much people have given

Increasingly, younger generations do not want to commit to a figure they’ll give. They will give – and give generously – but they just don’t want to state how much they’ll give. There are so many variables in life (debts for school, home, car, credit card; kids; trips; business and home; etc.) that are hard to plan for.

If you use pledge cards, then have a clear, concise, consistent reason WHY you are using them.

  • Pledge cards should never be used as a tool to bully people into committing or giving – too often that is what pledge cards devolve to.
  • Like ALL aspects of church finances, pledge cards must be used in a positive way, such as encouraging people to be more generous (with their prayers, their time given to church activities, and their finances).


5. How do you estimate your annual income?

This is one of the hardest numbers to determine in financial budgeting.

Fiscal prudence suggests one or a combination of the following. A church should be able to do better in the future than it has in the past.

  • Use the past 12 months’ rolling figure of actual receipts
  • Use 90% of the past 12 months’ rolling figure of actual receipts
  • Use a spreadsheet formula to forecast the next 12 months’ income

These formulas are intentionally conservative. The church can use any “excess” for capital needs, additional staffing or programming needs, and/or to establish and replenish reserves.
Be financially conservative in your projections. You won’t regret it.