Thursday, October 05, 2006

Quick, Somewhat Panicky Stewardship Philosophy Question

I'm doing stewarship season in a new church this year--and on a bigger scale than I've done before. Here's my question: There are two main philosophies out there regarding balanced budgets:

Philosophy One: Always present the congregation with a balanced budget. This shows responsible oversight, prudence, and thrift. Members will respond gladly when they see that their leaders are careful and trustworthy in financial matters.

Philosophy Two: Never present the congregation with a balanced budget. Growing, vital churches always envision more ministry and mission than can possibly be supported by current resources. A balanced buget encourages a congregation to "think small". A deficit/challenge budget encourages a congregation to "think big" and trust God to provide the people and finacialy resources to make their vision a reality.

We've got a Stewardship Committee meeting coming right up. There are folks who adhere to both of these philosophies on our team. I tend to lean toward philosophy #2, but can understand the other side as well.

What has worked best where you are???

(Update: I e-mailed an "elder sister" in ministry who is Pastor of a Really Really Big Church and asked if she had any words of wisdom for me in the midst of my first biggish church stewardship campaign. Her response: "It's a lot like Lamaze. You prepare like hell and then ask for drugs." Sounds resonable to me.)


cheesehead said...

Stewardship Committee??

What's that?

Sorry, I got nuthin'.

Songbird said...

I think it depends on your environment and the church's history around money. If they have a history of being responsible, Philosophy Two sounds like an appropriate challenge. If they live in fantasy land around money, Philosophy One might actually be the more prophetic.

Gord said...

WE have tended to use neither. On paper we give a balance budget but most of my tmie here the revenue numbers are simply waht we need to meet expenses--they are not built from past year's actuals.

But it works. One year we had a $9000 deficit (on a $72 000 budget) and the next our expenses increased and we were still just in the black.

In the end it depends as much on how the information is communicated as how it is designed.

(ANd I'm wiht cheesehead -- where does one get one of the Stewardship Committees?)

Gannet Girl said...

I think I would pass out if a deficit budget were presented. And then be likely to give nothing -- I would be really concerned about the whole issue of responsibility if the stewardship committee couldn't come up with a balanced budget.

`tim said...

Budget? What Budget?

Our church (worships just over 100 on Sunday mornings) does not make or use a budget. They have a long standing belief (long predating me) that holds something similar to "ask and ye shall receive."

There are plusses and minuses to that. On one hand, I think it shows a particular trust in the congregation and requires the congregation be adequately informed. On the other, there is no such thing as setting a "hopeful" budget to suggest growth.

Not helpful in terms of "what kind of budget" but perhaps an important addition to the discussion :-)

Grace and Peace,

Preacher Mom said...

What Cheesehead said.

Sorry - not much help. I like reading what others are saying, though.

Presbyterian Gal said...

As a recovering accountant who worked on motion pictures I will share the best advice I received for continued employment:

When the producer asks "How much is this gonna cost me?", you answer: "How much do you want it to cost you?".

Budgets and money......some of the most creative work there ever was.

Quotidian Grace said...

Here's my experience for what it's worth.

When we changed from approach #2 to approach #1, the result was several years of balancing budgets by cutting mission, worship and program budgets. Result: declining worship attendance and membership decline which brings more budget cuts to balance the budget and on and on.

In the past when we challenged the congregation and told them how the mission of the church could be increased with additional giving, the congregation always responded.

I say go with #2.

One thing about budgets is always true--they are always wrong.

Anonymous said...

I am a United Methodist pastor. FWIW, I don't believe in connecting the budget and discussions of pledge/estimate/covenant....

Mary Ann

Songbird said...

Mary Ann, could you say more about that?

Anonymous said...

songbird asked me to say something about my principle against connecting pledging/covenant/estimate discussions with the budget.

Well, theologically speaking, giving just isn't about the budget. It's not even about giving to the church as opposed to giving to beggars on the street, to other charities, or to friends in genuine need.

Practically speaking, (1) confining discussions of giving to giving to one's own church looks venal, (2) connecting the two leads to "giving to budget" rather than giving as a spiritual discipline-- and also to lower giving, and (3) given that many churches budget without having giving estimates, giving estimates clearly are not necessary for budgeting.

Mind you, I do't know anything about the polity of Pastor Rebel's denomination, which might conceivably not permit separating the two concerns.

Mary Ann

Purechristianithink said...

Actually, I did serve as an associate in one church where we did the stewardship drive w/o reference to any budget. I'd say this is a variation of Philosophy #2. It worked more or less okay for that church, though there was a small, vocal group that always protested. My thought right now is that my current church has a LOOOONNNNGGG tradition of connecting stewardship and budget and it effecting a turn-around on that would mean lots of white-water rafting for the pastor. I'd have to believe it was really vital and important to make the switch and I'm not sure I'm convinced yet.

The Vicar of Hogsmeade said...

I tend toward #2 because its harder to use the budget to say "no" to new things. Not that there's anything that will completely silence someone determined to say "no."

Anonymous said...

The churches I have served have been very traditional in using a balanced budget, but this year -- the 2nd stewardship season, although every season should be stewardship, our Session and the Finance committee is willing to "dream."

Each committee was asked to present a budget that encompasses what how they think (discern? OMG) God is calling our ministry into the future and what we need to get there. Nothing is off limits.

As pastor I started looking at where God was leading our Worship -- I believe, in a more contemporary direction, which by the way although I have done I am less enthralled with -- but hey, it ain't about me. So I ask "what do we need to get there?" Projection screen, projector.
What does our choir need? Our director -- who is great, needs to be encouraged by her peers so she needs to join PAM and attend their conferences.

What does she think we need? Keybroard, new choir robes, new sound system.

As each committee looks at their responsibilities they are asked to try to catch God's vision for this part of Christ's Church -- to live into the Biblical promise that nothing is impossible for God.

That's my two cents . . . well, maybe worth a quarter!

Good luck and remember it is always an evolving process.



Anonymous said...

Our budget committee started preparing a balanced budget (as opposed to a visioning budget) a few years ago, and it was a major liability in encouraging giving. IF a budget that indicates "measly" participation in mission and support of the larger church is presented, that sends a really clear message to the congregation about the importance of giving! So, if the budget shows that most of the income supports the physical facility and staff budgets 1)don't use it as part of the Stewardship campaign and 2) stop and think about where you're headed. (Is this possibly what happend in Quotidian Grace's congregation?) And, by the way, Quotidian Grace is absolutely right - a budget is only a budget and almost never an accurate prediction of the coming year's expenditures!

Quotidian Grace said...

Anonymous--you are a prophet, indeed. This is exactly what happened.

Anonymous said...

In my first call church, the chair of our church's finance committee clearly held to philosophy #1. He stood up at our annual meeting and said, "We need 5 more 'giving units' to join the church in order to have a balanced budget." I nearly choked on my jello salad- giving units?!?! Talk about a warped view of stewardship- not to mention evangelism. I felt like I was part of the Borg church (Star Trek for you non sci-fi types.) "You will be assimilated into giving untis. Resistance is futile."