Addressing church budgets starts with understanding the broader context of a church’s mission and purpose. If a budget represents the financial blueprint for carrying out a church’s ministry plan for a particular period of time, then logic would dictate that such a blueprint and its related ministry plan should be a function—a derivative—of the church’s mission and purpose. Many times, however, churches engage in elaborate budget development processes without first evaluating whether their activities are directly in furtherance of their mission and purpose. In some cases, churches operate without a well-defined expression of their mission and purpose. Ensuring that the church’s budget is a function of its mission and purpose will help church leaders avoid putting the cart before the horse, or for that matter, having the cart detached from the horse.
Not all churches have the same mission and purpose
It may be tempting to assume that all churches have a similar mission and purpose and, accordingly, that there is little value for a church to take the time to clearly express its mission and purpose. Such an assumption would be misguided, however, since each church is as unique as the individuals who comprise it.
For example, some churches place a high priority on activities that support foreign missions, while others may focus more on serving their local communities. Some churches heavily use volunteers to conduct many of their activities, while other churches hire paid staff to conduct many activities. Some churches heavily emphasize Christian education in the form of grade schools or Sunday school classes, while other churches conduct relatively few educational activities outside the scope of their regular worship services. Some churches emphasize small groups to facilitate fellowship and engagement, while other churches rely on other activities to accomplish such purposes. Some churches place a high priority on recreational and social activities, while other churches focus on endeavors that are more overtly religious.
In addressing and expressing its own mission and purpose, a church must evaluate its own identity—its own calling. Church leaders should ask the following questions:
For what specific purposes does our church exist?
What are the specific objectives our church is called to accomplish or carry out?
Are we on mission?
Once a church has identified and clearly articulated its mission and purpose, it must identify the specific programs, activities, and initiatives that it intends to employ in order to accomplish its mission and purpose. In performing this step, the church should evaluate all of its existing programs, activities, and initiatives to determine whether they significantly assist the church in effectively accomplishing its mission and purpose. This step of the introspection process presents a great opportunity for churches to critically evaluate the effectiveness of each of their programs, activities, and initiatives. The church is also able to make wise stewardship decisions by eliminating programs, activities, and initiatives that are not on mission or do not significantly carry out the church’s mission and purpose.
Each church plays a unique role, serving as an expression of the body of Christ. Taking time to explore your church’s calling will help you to effectively steward your mission, both now and in the long-term.
Michael E. Batts is the president and managing partner of Batts Morrison Wales and Lee (nonprofitcpa.com), a national CPA firm dedicated exclusively to serving churches, ministries, and other nonprofit organizations across the United States.This article is excerpted from his book, Church Finance: The Church Leader’s Guide to Financial Operations.