It’s that time of year when we need to start thinking about next year. Budget planning starts six months before the end of the year at Palm Coast Bible Church. With that in mind, I outlined a process our leadership takes at PCBC to create annual budgets.
Too often budgets are put together with very little planning. Congregations take the numbers they had last year and adjust them according to the receipts of that year. If there is a surplus of money, every department gets more. If there is a shortfall of money, every department gets less. There is not a lot of thought that goes into planning.
Instead of just changing the numbers, the budget needs to be an extension of the vision and goals of the congregation. Jesus said, “I know what you value by where you place your money” (my paraphrase of Matthew 6:21). The goal of budget planning is to say to everyone in the congregation, “This is what is most important to us in the coming year.”
Budgeting with a purpose starts with vision. In July, the staff and Leadership Team will join together to discuss where God is taking the congregation in the coming year. They will establish a list of no more than three priorities for next year. In August, the staff, along with a small group of individuals gifted in accounting, will be responsible for presenting how much money it is going to take to accomplish the priorities. The Leadership Team will then wrestle with whether the proposed budget is feasible and suggest changes, if necessary. In September, the Leadership Team approves the budget. In November, the vision for the coming year is shared with the congregation, along with the budget. The congregation votes to accept the budget, and everyone gets to work in order to fulfill the vision God has given.
Think Growth, Not Existence
One of the pitfalls of budgeting is attempting to make the budget fit the previous years receipts, or to project how much income the congregation will receive in the coming year and plan the budget accordingly. This is existence type of budgeting. It assumes that people are only going to give as much as they are currently giving. It also does not take into account any growth in the congregation.
The way to avoid this pitfall is to plan for growth and cast vision. If the congregation is currently fifty giving units, then a growth-based budget assumes at least fifty-five giving units in the coming year. A growth-based budget is born out of vision. Through budgeting with a purpose, the staff and Leadership Team establish a system of accountability for the growth of the congregation. Because of the dollar-figures attached with the vision, there is an obligation to ensure the vision is fulfilled. A congregation that budgets based on vision cannot merely exist, they must move forward.
The Stuff Belongs to Someone Else
When planning the budget, the most important thing to know is that the resources only belong to One Person. Every line item and every dollar-figure belongs to God. Nothing on that sheet is the property of the congregation or an individual, even the numbers that represent a staff member. God is the owner of everything a congregation is entrusted with. The congregation holds the high privilege and responsibility of taking care of the stuff properly. Staff should be paid what they are worth, and they must work diligently as the masterpieces God created them to be. The building must be cared for as the house of God, and it should be a place of grace open to the entire community. Bills and financial obligations must be fulfilled in a timely manner that represent God well to the rest of the world. missio dei is the mission of the church, and the budget is a tangible expression of how the congregation is going to carry out God’s mission.
-  This is called a strategic or ministry action budget.
-  I argue for the staff to do this phase of the budget planning because they are the ones who are directly connected to the finances of the congregation. Most decisions about how to spend money come through the staff. They have the practical experience necessary for this stage of planning.
-  It is important that vision be presented before the budget. People give to vision, not to numbers.
-  Another term for this is line-item budgeting.
-  Some researchers suggest that an annual average growth rate of 2.5% is necessary to consider a congregation to be growing. Another researcher says that 2.5% is biological growth. I am suggesting that in order to see strong, sustainable growth, the congregation should grow by at least 10% each year.
-  Psalm 24:1
-  1 Timothy 5:18; Ephesians 2:10