Support the church’s response to Hurricane Ida — Give now

Day of Learning concludes with guidance for church budgeting

The goal, Presbyterian Foundation officials say, is a ‘relevant and doable budget’

by Gregg Brekke for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Jonah So and Olanda Carr, Jr., discussed church budgeting during last week’s Day of Learning sponsored by the Presbyterian Foundation.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — The final session of the Presbyterian Foundation Day of Learning last week focused its attention on “Practical Tips for Church Budgeting.” Presented by Olanda Carr, Jr., East Region Ministry Relations Officer, and the Rev. Dr. Jonah So, Minister of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the workshop provided tools to help churches and their leadership build and present budgets that tell a compelling story of the ministries in which they engage.

Introducing the last workshop of what is hoped to be an annual event, Maggie Harmon, West Region Ministry Relations Officer, said the Day of Learning was conceived as a way to offer a more “holistic understanding of stewardship in the church.”

Creating an effective budget

Creating a “relevant and doable budget” was the focus of the first section of the presentation. A number of considerations led this discussion and included not spending more than you bring in, getting a handle on recurring annual expenses, looking at long-term income and expense projections, anticipating seasonal fluctuations, building an emergency fund, planning for building maintenance, including stakeholders in the budgeting process, and factoring in “how you’ll do ministry, not if you’ll do ministry” into the financial plan.

Acknowledging special circumstances — such as attendance and giving during COVID or other emergency spending — may present budgeting challenges. Carr recommended factoring in five-year trends to better anticipate ebbs and flows of income and expenses. Adding to the hoped-for predictability of long-term projections, So commented, “When we overestimate our expenses we reduce the chances that we’ll be surprised.”

The right budget for your church

Turning their attention to the four types of budgets mostly commonly used by churches, Carr emphasized that most churches combine these approaches, utilizing the good parts of each. No matter the method used to present the budget, he encouraged full disclosure of financial information to the congregation.

“It’s extremely important to be transparent with the finances and numbers with members,” said Carr. Noting the criticism some have of narrative budgets, he said the goal is not to hide the numbers but to have the ministries of the church tell the story of the budget. Including a detailed financial report as part of the narrative budget is one solution to address this critique.

Starting with the zero-based budget, where ministry areas start with no budget and then justify their expenses on an annual basis, So said the upside of this type of budget is it requires each group within  the church “to look at the mission and see how and what we should do to support it.”

A program budget evaluates the effectiveness of each ministry area, assessing its current needs and past effectiveness. Although situations could change how funds are prioritized each year, the goal is to set an objective for what the church wants to accomplish and build a budget toward those ends.

The line-item budget is most popular among churches and involves carrying over the previous year’s budget and adjusting for the current financial reality that could include the addition or subtraction of staff, giving surpluses or deficits, or diversification of ministry areas. The process often involves “weighing ministry effectiveness combined with other trends,” said Carr.

The narrative budget is “less like a Visa statement and more about how we connect dollars to ministry,” said Carr, noting the complementary nature of using it alongside a line-item budget. Encouraging the use of narrative budgets, Carr and So gave suggestions for the process that leads to creating “an exciting picture of the ministries and mission of the congregation.”

Suggesting the narrative budget builder found at stewardshipnavigator.com gave a process example that included defining ministry areas, allocating staff to each area, allocating other resources proportionally to each area, adding volunteer time into each area, and then writing about the success of the past year and aspirations for the future in each area.

“The narrative budget is something that takes time, especially the first time to tackle it,” said Carr of the process, offering the help of the Presbyterian Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officers in facilitating the process in congregations.

Concluding the workshop, Carr and So outlined the keys to successful budgeting: be prayerful, celebrate the gifts of your church, be visionary, communicate needs and successes, involve many in the process, fund ministries — don’t just raise funds, invite others to participate in ministry rather than threatening scarcity, and challenge your congregation to fulfill the mission God has called it to.

“It’s tempting to get frustrated with the budgeting process,” said Carr, “but as I’m doing it I remember this is good stuff because we are helping our members understand this is how we work together to further the mission of the church.”

Gregg Brekke is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, photographer and videographer. He is the former editor of the Presbyterian News Service. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula at robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?