Budgeting in a Time of Uncertainty and COVID-19

Budgeting in a Time of Uncertainty and COVID-19

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Historically, a church’s budget should have served at least three purposes: 1) provide financial guidance for the upcoming year; 2) place a limit on spending; and 3) be a means for moving the church toward financial health by making incremental positive changes in that direction.s
 
Because of the great uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, along with many churches feeling increased pressure regarding the use of their available financial and human resources, there has been a growing interest in mission driven or mission oriented budgeting. I hear congregational leaders asking, “How can we most faithfully and effectively use our available resources?”

Mission driven budgeting involves identifying and clarifying your church’s unique, divinely given mission, and then building the church’s budget around it. It includes five basic steps:
  1. Getting clear on what your church’s particular, unique mission is. What specific ministries are you called to? What is your purpose? Who are you called to be as a faith community in this time, in your specific context, with your people?
  2. Identifying the programs and activities of the church.
  3. Seeing how each program and activity relates to and/or supports the accomplishment of the central mission and purpose to which your church feels called.
  4. Eliminating or scaling back those activities and programs that have the least impact on accomplishing the church’s mission/calling. If a program or activity is not helping to fulfill your mission, or only slightly does so, then don’t devote precious resources to it.
  5. Allocating resources to those programs and activities that do accomplish or fulfill your church’s mission and help it to more effectively be the vehicle for God’s mission that it is called to be.
Mission oriented budgeting is similar to Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB). Traditional budgeting calls for incremental increases over previous budgets, such as a 2% increase in spending, whereas ZBB calls for justifying both old and new expenses.
 
While traditional budgeting analyzes only new expenditures, ZBB starts from zero and calls for a justification of not only new expenditures, but also existing, recurring expenses. With mission driven budgeting every program within the church is analyzed according to how it promotes and fulfills the church’s mission and the resources associated with that program.
 
The process of mission based budgeting can be quite helpful in identifying those programs and activities that the church has engaged in in the past which may have contributed to the church’s mission in an earlier day and context, but which no longer further, or only marginally further, the church’s mission or purpose in the present day and context. Such activities and programs often take resources away from those programs and activities that more fully accomplish the church’s current mission.
 
With its strong mission focus, this type of budgeting can also be very helpful in bringing to light and identifying new programs and activities that could be created and nurtured, new ministries that may be called forth by the new circumstances in which the church now finds itself, or anticipates being in. Importantly, the financial and human resources freed up by the programs and activities that are curtailed or eliminated can very often be transferred and utilized to create and develop these new, emerging ministries, thereby using them in a manner that has a greater impact upon the church’s mission.
 
Mission driven budgeting can be time consuming as it requires good communication, especially proactive widespread communication so that the stakeholders in various activities and programs have a voice in decision making. It also requires discipline. It requires a church understand and accept that it is not called to be all things to all people, but rather that it has a particular mission to which it is called, and that it plays but one part in God’s overall mission to and in the world.
 
Mission oriented budgeting also requires that programs and activities be critically and honestly evaluated to see if they are still relevant and effective in the ever changing world and context the church lives in. Consequently, it requires that the church see and understand itself as a living, changing, dynamic body of Christ rather than as a static, “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ve always had that program” institution immune to external influences and societal changes. 
 
One word of caution about the above is that it could interpreted as presuming or implying that the church’s current and future resources are finite and that it is only about dividing up the church’s existing resource pie. This would be an incorrect presumption and interpretation.
 
I am of the conviction, and it has been my experience, that very often a church’s resource pie can be expanded. This frequently can be done by a more careful and intentional look at the human resources, the gifts and talents, that lie within a congregation that have previously gone untapped or underutilized.
 
The resource pie can also be enlarged by soliciting and drawing upon human and financial resources from organizations and individuals that previously existed outside the church, yet may be familiar with it or have an association with it, that want to support the church’s efforts or collaborate. For example, a church may be able to form covenant partnerships (an SNEC essential value) and/or obtain outside funding.
 
Asset mapping is a tool that churches may find helpful as it looks at the resources a church and/or community has within itself that can be marshalled to achieve its goals, accomplish its mission, or develop the community. It looks at the proverbial glass as half full as opposed to half empty, and from the perspective of abundance as opposed to scarcity. (Sounds pretty biblical, doesn’t it?)
 
I highly recommend Luther K. Snow’s, The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts, (Alban Institute, 2004). It is written specifically with congregations in mind. Have a look at Snow’s handout, The Quick and Simple Congregational Asset-Mapping Experience so you can get a taste of asset mapping.
                                                                                                
A church may find asset mapping one way of developing and utilizing more volunteers and non-paid staff to accomplish its mission and purpose, and at the same time help those same people develop their faith and discipleship by enabling them to put their faith into action.
 
These are certainly challenging, stressful times, and church budgets are coming under increased pressure and scrutiny. Mission based budgeting and asset mapping are ways some churches may be able to respond positively.
 
As always, thank you for all you do to live out the love and justice of Jesus in your community, for your support of the Southern New England Conference, and for the honor and privilege of sharing this ministry with you.

Author

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David Cleaver-Bartholomew

Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Transitional Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development for the SNEUCC.

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