I loathe budgets. Wouldn't it be fabulous if money just grew on trees?! Alas, that is not reality, and therefore the majority of us have to account for each dollar we spend. The same is true in our ministries.
Every year in February my congregation receives an annual report of all the things we were able to do together because people gave some of their time, talent, and money.
Then, nine months later is stewardship season, and for two weeks we analyze and contemplate how we can continue the ministries of the church through sacrificial giving. And sacrificial it often is. In all our congregations, many families must really stretch to be able to donate even small amounts to the church; therefore, we have a duty to ensure that each dollar given is used faithfully, wisely, and effectively.
As with many other non-profits, what we offer is at the mercy of what is given. If your church is anything like mine, exactly how much of the church's overall budget your ministry area receives is determined by a council or other committees. Often, ministry program budgets are a small portion of the expenditures for the entire church, so this means that ministries are left with tight financial limits but are still expected to produce effective programs. This doesn't mean that what we offer can't be outstanding though; it simply means we get to be more creative and decisive with how we spend our money.
A Mission for Focus
When creating a ministry budget, it is important to be clear about the mission of what you want your ministry to be. This helps determine how best to spend the budget.
As an example, my department has six line-items which outline specific priorities. Below is a rough outline of the items and what percent of the budget we usually designate to each. Though these are the percentages we begin with, it's always necessary to evaluate for year-to-year needs.
In my experience, this is sort-of how things usually shake-out:
- Nursery: 2% - For snacks and supplies such as non-toxic wipes for tables and toys. Staffing expenses are usually taken from a separate line item.
- Sunday morning learning: 30% - For Sunday morning programming and general incidentals of the overall ministry not included elsewhere. Accounts for all consumable costs: curriculum, supplies such as paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, etc. Note: Your budget should fund consumable things, not permanent things. Permanent items, such as chairs and tables, should come from another source. Check with your treasurer or congregation Council about memorial monies, trust fund distributions, or other fund-raising efforts for these kinds of needs.
- Milestones: 15% - For supplies for Milestone classes and baptism baskets such as books, prayer cubes, music CD, etc.
- VBS: 35% - For all that VBS programming requires. My congregation believes that VBS should not be funded by participants but fully-funded by the ministry budget. Instead of registration fees, we ought to be asking for donations... to another organization. Think of VBS like outreach. VBS should be one of those fantastic opportunities, not influenced by ability to pay, to give children a fun week, with cool leaders, where they learn that God loves them.
- Family Ministry: 15% - For items required for events that help families connect with each other beyond Sunday morning
- Children's Advent Program: 2% - For supplies and the purchase of children’s Advent programs.
Obviously, the biggest priorities get the biggest portions of the budget. Sunday morning learning, Milestones, and VBS tend to be the main focus, but of course, all ministries will be different. For example, I write my ministry's Advent Program (find some for free here), so our cost and allotment for this item is relatively low. As you determine how you'll distribute your budget, you'll want to allot the biggest percentages to your signature ministries. It helps to obtain a year or two worth of expenditures to identify where most of your dollars are going.
Budget planning isn't always fun, but planning is the best way to ensure that every dollar you spend is used to its maximum potential. Money may not grow on trees, but being creative costs nothing, so don’t be afraid to try new tactics when it comes to making your budget!
For more information concerning finances in the church, see these other blog posts: "3 tips for using your ministry budget wisely", "Fundraising for children and family ministries.", and Negotiating salary and benefits".