Stewarding Your Budget Well
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For many pastors, the call to ministry was born from a desire to teach Scripture, point students to Christ, and encourage them to fall in love with Jesus and His Church for a lifetime. Then, you land your first youth ministry gig, and all of a sudden, you’ve got programs to plan, staff meetings, and everyone’s favorite – budget planning!
Not your favorite, huh?
Planning a ministry budget can feel overwhelming, regardless of your context. You may be at a smaller single site or early in the life of your church, and budget dollars are tight or non-existent. Or you might be at a large multi-site church managing money for your local context and for multi-site resourcing purposes.
No matter the context you’re in, there are 2 categories worth thinking through when it comes to stewarding your ministry budget well, and each one revolves around being intentional with the money you have.
Build on Purpose
1. Consider Your Target
Good ol’ Uncle Dave (Ramsey) encourages Financial Peace University participants to “name every dollar.” While some of his principles are harder than others to live out in real life, this one is worth considering in your ministry. When you build your ministry budget, you can take the spaghetti wall approach – just toss some numbers on a spreadsheet and see how it goes, or you can choose to be more targeted in your budget building. Consider building your budget after you’ve determined your ministry goals and planned your calendar for the year ahead. Working in this order means every dollar in your budget is assigned to some initiative, program, or goal rather than free-floating as your ministry year unfolds.
2. Consider Your Accuracy
A budget plan is just that…a plan. Sometimes a plan goes exactly how we hoped, and other times, well…not so much. When you come to the end of one ministry season (or after each event) and evaluate your budget, ask the objective question, “how’d we do at hitting our budget target?” This simple exercise gives space for you to assess your spending. I believe good stewardship includes not spending over your budget but also spending what you have with purpose. So, when you get to the end of a ministry season, having lots of money left over or overspending are both reasons to evaluate your accuracy in planning and spending.
3. Consider Your Whole Ministry
I’m usually pretty good with budget planning for weekly programming or an upcoming event, but those are only two parts of a much broader ministry budget that shouldn’t be neglected. Office supplies, volunteer training and appreciation, facility upkeep, and curriculum materials (even if you write your own) are all areas that should be accounted for. If we miss these less obvious line items and spend all of our dollars on programming, then when a light burns out, a computer breaks, a volunteer goes through a crisis and we want to send them flowers, or we want to feed our volunteers at a summer camp training, we’ve got no money to use. At that point, we’re either overspending our bottom line or pulling from our own paycheck, and neither of those is ideal.
Now that you’ve built your budget, here are 2 quick notes on spending.
Spend on Purpose
1. Consider the Value
I’m thankful to have a boss that encourages our team to spend budget money wisely. While we’re not pinching pennies at our church, good stewardship is still expected (which contributes to not needing to pinch pennies!). We’re often reminded that for every dollar we spend in our ministry, someone in our church had to work hard to earn it and then choose to tithe it. When we think about our money in this way, it invites us to pause and remember the value of our dollars. How we spend them and what we spend them on matters, particularly when we’re spending dollars that we have asked our congregation to trust us to spend wisely.
2. Consider the Return
Another thing to consider when spending your budget is the law of diminishing returns, which says that at a certain point, the returns on something will not increase proportionately to the investment made into it. For example, in terms of time, you could spend 5 hours working on a sermon for your youth group or 10 hours on it. You could probably write a solid sermon in 5 hours, so do you really need to invest an additional 5? Will the increase in investment produce an equitable return? The same logic applies to our budget. We could invest $500 into an event or $5,000, but what’s the return? In the marketplace, this is usually a very objective question to ask and answer, but not so much in the church world. So, think of this in terms of art, not science. There is a level of subjectivity in answering this, and it’s really meant to be asked so that you can increase intentionality when it comes to spending your ministry dollars.
Budget planning and stewardship probably aren’t high on your list of passion areas in ministry. But growing in the intentionality with which we navigate ministry budgets is a necessary investment of our time and will lead to a better overall ministry experience for you, your team, and the families you’re serving.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What resources exist in your context to help you grow in stewarding your ministry budget?
- As you evaluate your budget, what needs attention? Make a plan for addressing those areas this ministry year.
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