Strategic Budgeting

It’s that time of the year – church finances committees racing against the clock and sometimes against the staff and members to present to the church a balanced budget. In most cases, the budget looks similar to last year’s budget with a few changes.

There are many ways to create a budget for the next year

  • Last year plus budget – take last year’s numbers and add or subtract a certain amount or percentage in order to get a figure for this year’s budget. This is simple, quick, and easy. That can be good but you’ve got to realize going into the process that you’re taking the easy way out.
  • Zero base budget – this is more complicated and eventually more satisfying. Start with a clean slate for each ministry area (music, education, administration, missions, etc.). Then, plan and put a price tag on every event and activity you’ll do next year. Don’t leave out anything.
  • Strategic budget – this type requires a lot of financial and leadership backbone. Don’t go here unless you’re ready to lead. Like the zero base budget, start with a clean slate. Then, decide what part of your church’s mission is “that which you cannot live without” – what part of your church’s purpose is so integral to your critical path that should you not do that, your church will cease to exist. After deciding what is number one, then determine number two, and number three, etc.
  • Put everything on the table – remove from the equation all positions and people. Think rationally and not emotionally about what it takes to accomplish your church’s mission and vision. Ask questions such as, “Do you need a senior pastor (or can you show videos from a mega church)?,” and, “How many administrative assistants and ministers do you need to carry out each long-term strategic mission goal.”
  • When you have settled on your number one priority, then determine how much money you need to fund the programs and personnel for that mission. Okay, now set money aside from your anticipated next year’s revenues for that goal. Move on to the second goal, determine what it is and fund it appropriately with personnel and programs. Go to number three, four, etc. Do this until you run out of money (most finance committees can tell you how much money the church will recieve next year).
  • There, you’ve created a strategic budget. The nitty-gritty details of how the budget line items will come about are done through the zero-base budgeting process. That is the second step to creating a strategic budget. Zero-base budgets can be done alone but in the long run it will help the church more if they are done in conjunction with a strategic budget.

Here’s the bad news. The financial leadership teams of most churches and the senior pastors are unwilling to develop a full-blown strategic budget. It requires a lot of time and effort. It may require terminating staff and programs that are loved by members. It can be very painful.
Here’s the good news. A strategic budget of this magnitude only needs to be done every 3-5 years. That is about how often corporate America re-structures its management. Business wants to ensure they are going in the rigth direction for their organization and that they have the right staff to make it all happen. For the in-between years’ budgets, you can rely on a zero-base budgeting process.
After all the behind the scenes work is done, church members will see what are the church’s primary goals, how they are funded, how they are staffed and what programs will be done to make them happen. Members can talk about what their church is doing (and not just “being”) and they can buy into the vision, both as volunteers and as donors.
Oh, how many goals should a church have? Probably no more than a handful (3 or 4) and each goal should have no more than handful of programs. Keep it simple, keep it focused.

Lead On!