What can you do when your church is not meeting its budget?

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It is mid-November, and your church is experiencing a significant shortfall to its budget. How can you make the urgency clear to the congregation, and also point out membership obligations?

Posted in: Deacons; Q&A

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..and how can you make people accountable for their lack of giving?

well, in the church I grew up in, I remember one Sunday the lights were turned off right before the sermon time. The chair of deacons made his way to the pupit and said, "We've been reviewing the budget, and if things to not improve, this is how we will be worshipping every Sunday because we won't be able to pay the electric bill." I think I was 10 years old at the time so I don't remember if things improved, but I'm guessing so because the lights were still on years later when I went off to college, and my parents still worship there today. Not in the dark.

:-)

I think transparency, and regular sermons on stewardship, are a bit more appropriate. Barnabas Foundation has a lot of excellent resources to help churches develop a culture of generosity: http://barnabasfoundation.com/churches/

I'm guessing that at least one of three things went wrong:

1. Your budget was excessive, given the financial resources of your community.  If this is the case (and it rarely is), you may wish to re-evaluate your overhead and your investments (money dedicated to ministries is not a cost; it's an investment).  Perhaps a pledge system (with proper stewardship education ahead of time) can give you a better idea of the revenue that you can budget with.  The question of whether a pledge system works is an entirely different discussion but from what I've heard (as a Christian Stewardship Services representative, I have the privilege of learning from the experience of many congregations in Western Canada) is that the anonymous pledge system works best (names aren't required but participation is.... even if the anonymous pledge comes back with "none of your business").   At the very least, the diaconate can inform the congregation that "based on the promises you've made, here is the budget we're presenting, here are the ministries/projects we can (or cannot) support and now we rely on you to make good on your promises, as best you can". 

2.Your congregants may be great stewards and givers but weren't entirely "sold" on your budget and therefore aren't committed to it.  If this is the case, I suspect you could focus on teaching how proper stewardship definitely involves the work of the local church.   You may have to educate the congregation as to the benefit of the work done at the congregational level.  I'd consider usinga  narrative budget format (as opposed to simple line-item budgets).  Proper narrative budgets tell the stories of the Kingdom Work done via the congregants' contributions to the church budget.  Again, if the congregation is more involved in the creation of the budget, they'll be more committed to the promises they've made when the budget is accepted and more responsive to calls for making up shortfalls. 

3.Your congregants require "continuing education" regarding what the Lord requires of us as to giving to Kingdom work.  If this is the case, I suspect you could focus on stewardship education (i.e. "Stewardship is everything you do after you accept Christ") and how proper stewardship definitely involves supporting and empowering the work of the local church.   Perhaps focus on reinforcing the fact that a tithe is a good place to start and that it's the first ten percent, not the last. Abel gave first fruits; Cain gave left-overs.  If all congregants gave 5% to the local church budget, I suspect we'd be facing the unique problem of how to spend the surplus and wouldn't it be interesting if adherence to the "first fruits"principle meant the budget was met by March? 

I've finally read the "Not Your Parents' Offering Plate" (J. Clif Christopher) and fully agree that the attitude of "givers" has changed (we have to promote Kingdom Work) and that the choices of where the support can flow have multiplied so greatly that church budgets now face far more competition from other Kindgom Work than in the past.  One great quote from the book is "People give to church when we offer them a compelling vision of the good their giving will achieve". 

Wendy Hammond's response to this question refers to Barnabas Foundation and I agree that it's a great site.  For Canadians however, the Christian Stewardship Services site may provide more Canuck-oriented content (www.csservices.ca)

Thank you, Ron, for tackling this question! Can you either describe or point to an example somewhere of a "narrative budget format?" Blessings, Stan

The definition given by Classis Toronto (which requires a "narrative" from each of its ministries) is

"Each committee/ministry submits a "narrative" budget with its request for funds from Classis. A 'narrative budget' is the story of what that ministry hopes to accomplish in the next budget year and thus why it is asking for funds."

Yesterday I submitted, as Chair of the AB North Safe Church Team, the "narrative" for the SCT request for funds in the AB North Classis budget (and they were encouraging submission of a photo as well... something visual... makes for a better PowerPoint...).  Next year will be the first year that AB North will use a "narrative" style budget.  I have lots of material that I can e-mail to you that gives examples (anywhere from a simple "2 pager" to a 16 page document with graphics).  Let me know!

The main job is to transform what would have been a "line-item" budgets $$ request from each ministry into a story of what happened last year in that ministry(successes, challenges, accomplishments, etc.) along with a plan for next year that supports the next $$ request.  Tell the story.  

A friend of mine relayed a story of charity board meeting where, during the discussion of a particular ministry, the directors looked like they were going to cut the funding in half.  A person involved in that minstry was scheduled to speak about what it had accomplished but the budget discussion started before she arrived... and it didn't look good for that ministry. She arrived, told the "story" of how the ministry had affected lives over the past year (she did not know her budget was at risk) and she left.  The director who was spearheading the budget cut mentioned some thing along the lines of "We can't touch that.... God is working there!" and the budget remained intact.   That verbal "narrative" educated the decision-makers!  A narrative budget (some of the United Churches I researched refer to it as a Mission Plan) educates the givers in our community and makes them more aware of what the local CRC (or Classis) has accomplished and can accomplish.

"A line-item budget is an effective tool for the committee on finance to manage financial resources.  It is not an effective means for interpreting those ministries or their impact...  A well-composed narrative budget will educate and inspire everyone." (from the book "Revolutionizing Christian Stewardship for the 21st Century" by Dan R. Dick)

Before challenging the congregation, it might be helpful for the diaconate to do a giving pattern analysis over the last five years to see what the annual giving patterns might be for the church.  These can fluctuate greatly (but regularly over time) from season to season. Often much more than 1 /12th of the budget comes in in December.

Another thought would be to switch to an annual pledge process in which each member is encouraged to pledge their giving for the year.  Such a practice can help "detox" the conversation with those who are not giving, opening up an opportunity for understanding the reasons why they are not giving.

I have found the works of Kennon Callahan to be very helpful as well as the ones that Ron noted above.  "Effective Church Finances" and "Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church" are two helpful ones.  He makes the note that there are essentially five different motivations for giving....compassion, community, challenge, reasonability and commitment. The important thing is that studies have shown that while "challenge" and "commitment" are usually the main motivators for those in leadership, the motivators that work best in the congregation are "compassion" and "community". It's like Gary Smalley's love languages.  If the leadership tries to speak to the congregation using the "stewardship language" that connects with themselves first, they will run into a motivational disconnect.

Along with giving pattern analysis another area to look at is actual Sunday attendance versus the total members number, etc. submited for the yearbook.

If there is a significant discrepancy, perhaps the number submitted for active professing members over 18 which is used for budget purposes is also inaccurate. What percentage of members are no longer attending church that other members are supporting through the budget and ministry shares? 

Is it possible that the members in the pews are meeting their budgetary obligations? Do we need to start thinking outside the box on this issue?

haha... you can always challenge the congregation to double their giving!!  really!  on 1.1.11 we were so challenged at a non crc worship gathering, and after the first gasp for air, like "Really LORD? cash flow already sucks!".  But we had been praying into God's economy and know that giving is a significant key to His economy, and so my husband and I prayed about it, and the LORD gave us a strategic plan of increasing our giving 1% per month, so it wasn't quite such a shock all at once.  Just a week ago, I was making some year end up adjustments for his business and happened to look at our net income for the year, and it was up SIGNIFICANTLY!  and he's in construction, so we know the economy hasn't changed that much.  and that's just one of the blessings we've experienced!!

I heard someone say not too long ago: the answer to the question "How much should a Christian give?  2% of gross income? 5% of net income?  10% of net income?  Which would you choose? 

 

His answer was 20% of net income.  20% of net income is equivalent to a 10% tithe.   In most cases, there is nearly a 50% tax rebate for donations to charities, over the first $200.  That means that for spending 20% on charities, it is only costing you 10%, since you would have had to pay the rest to the government anyway in income tax.   Something to think about. 

 

And that doesn't include the blessings received from giving, and the blessings given by God because of the cheerful and prayerful giving.

 

Ah, I need to listen to myself.....

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