Scream-Free Budgeting – Say Yes, First

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The budget season is one of the most dreaded times of the church year for ministers and elders because it’s often too long, quite ugly, and majors in the trivial. There are several reasons for budget madness. Among them:

  • Some of the wrong people are making budget decisions, yielding poor results year after year.
  • Unhealthy leaders log-jam the process with their own agendas and power games.
  • A lack of faith causes an overemphasis on the preservation of resources, rather than the strategic investment of resources for the purposes of the Kingdom.
  • A lack of vision and clear philosophy of ministry leads to a corresponding lack of clarity as to where money should go.
  • A lack of a comprehensive financial plan leaves potential resources untapped and pitting fiscal conservatives against the “step out in faith” cohort.
  • High control elders and/or finance teams feel as though every line item in the budget should be debated thoroughly. Apparently, they alone know whether it’s “good stewardship” to spend $200 on the youth event or not. Paradoxically, these same individuals often have no limit as to how much should be spent on their favorite ministry.
Sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Budget season can actually become a season of the year when the church does some of it’s best strategic thinking and builds momentum for the new church year. I don’t know that it’s ever super fun. But, it can be more than tolerable. It can be a time of clarifying mission, priorities, and a comprehensive stewardship plan for your church.

The first step is to start early. If your church runs on a January to January cycle. I would encourage you to start in September or the first of October, at the latest. This isn’t so that you’ll have more time to argue. It’s so that you’ll have the time to have honest, forward looking discussions with each ministry leader about their vision and share yours with them.

Each ministry at NVC will have a brief vision guide to fill out. It asks for a description of the ministry and what it aims to accomplish. I’m looking for a few sentences on each, not pages. The reason we ask for this is because it lets us know if the ministry leader knows what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. If we sense haze, it gives us a chance to help clarify those things with them. We then ask them to put down one or two things that, if accomplished, would make them feel as though their ministry had been successful from a Kingdom perspective for the year. Then, there’s a write-in section for anything they want to say, and the amount of money they are requesting for the year. We collect the forms and read through them.

We then sit down with all of the ministry leaders, one by one, and interview them about the current year, and the year ahead. It’s low key, often over lunch or a cup of coffee. We thank them for serving and ask what we can do to help them move the ball down the field. This builds relational fiber that makes the budget process much more smooth. Should we not be able to give them what they asked for, they at least know we care about their ministry and appreciate their service to Christ genuinely.

But, here’s one guiding principle we go by: the answer to their request is, “yes,” if we can possibly say so. We take all the requested amounts, say “yes,” and adjust from there. Rather than set our default answer to, “no,” we set it to, “yes.” This keeps our attitude about the Lord’s money right, and keeps the budget process fundamentally a “yes” event. It’s a far superior attitude to that of a financial goalie who sees it as their mission to prevent spending. People give money for it to be used for ministry. God provides it to be used for ministry. Of course, we will have to adjust down from the sum total of everyone’s vision (at least usually). But, if you start with a “no” mentality, your budget process is about to go negative.

Say yes, first and then adjust.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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