Trustworthy. Accountable. Responsible. Above reproach. These terms should describe how churches steward (a “churchy” word for manage) their money. Yet, all too often, we read about churches embroiled in financial scandals, embezzlement, and distrust. While churches are not immune to hiring dishonest people, they can help mitigate financial trust issues by making every effort to become transparent and accountable when handling their money. A logical place to start is at the beginning – building the church budget.
Why The Church Budget
The church budget represents the mission, vision, and values of the church. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus informs us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The budget is a plan that lays out the blueprint for how the church plans to allocate the resources entrusted to them. Because a budget sets the course for assigning every donation dollar, putting it together prayerfully, thoughtfully, and carefully is essential. To maximize stewardship and accountability, experts recommend a team approach to create a church budget.
Team Make Up
Any church looking to provide higher levels of financial accountability to its processes should consider assembling a budget team. Some churches find direction in these matters through by-laws, denominational guidance, or policy; here are a few considerations for churches when building a team.
Senior or Lead Pastor: Depending on the size of the church, the Senior or Lead Pastor may be called upon to oversee more than is humanly possible. The role includes defining and shaping the church’s culture, teaching/preaching the Word of God, casting vision, developing leaders, staff oversight, pastoral care, fundraising, etc. Being on the budget team should not be another role; however, the Senior or Lead Pastor should provide the vision and direction to the team.
The CFO, Treasurer, Pastor of Finance, or Pastor of Business: Every non-profit needs officers and a board of directors. The person filling the CFO (Treasurer) role should be on the budget team; their unique insights into the church’s finances are invaluable. However, this must remain a team effort and not a one-person show.
The Elder or Financial Board: It is essential to include the board of directors (or elder board) throughout the budget process. The board of directors holds fiducial responsibility for a church and must act in the congregation’s best interest. Again, board members must be involved in the process, but that does not necessarily mean all board members are on the budget team.
Ministry Leaders: There is no one more in tune with the needs of a ministry than the person leading it. While it would be cumbersome and not recommended that each ministry leader participates on the budget team, they should provide input and be an integral part of the budget process.
Vested, Qualified Layity: Many church congregation members have tremendous budgeting and accounting skills – use them to help build the church (the people, not the building).
Caution: Avoid putting anyone on the budget team related (spouse, sibling, parent, or child) to staff members.
While the team size can and will vary, it’s vital to keep it manageable. Often too many people can make the process inefficient. Keep the team between 3 and 8 members.
The goal of the budget team is to provide accountability through transparency. The budget team carries out this goal by creating a budget that meets the criteria and providing a financial guide for the upcoming fiscal year. Budget goals include projecting accurate revenue and expense estimates reflecting the church’s mission, vision, and values, and expenses that cannot exceed revenue. In addition, the budget team must provide the officers, board, staff, and eventually, the congregation access to the budget.
When complete, the budget team will have created a budget through a collaborative effort to serve the church’s best interest.