Dealing with a SICK Budget

I have heard the word sick used in the context where it meant good or awesome. But in this case, we'll use it by it's true origin. There’s nothing more frustrating than sick budgets. There are different levels of budget sickness. Some budgets have a weak cough; others are running a fever; and some are bleeding to death. I have worked with churches where Sunday offerings determined the weekly attitude of the team. The entire team rides the rollercoaster of emotions. Not a very healthy environment for anyone. 

There are a lot of different reasons budgets get in trouble. Here are three common factors I see that contribute to financial sickness.

Too Little Talk

I have heard pastors and leaders say, “We don’t talk about money in our church.” When I ask why, the reply is usually, “It makes people uncomfortable.” What’s even worse, some tie a theological string to it. The truth is, talking about money makes a lot of pastors uncomfortable because of possible pushback. Here’s my philosophy; if you don’t talk about it on Sunday, don’t cry when you don’t see it on Monday. When pastors refuse to teach generosity, they are cheating people from experiencing God’s blessing. The Bible has over 2,000 verses about money and possessions, including sixteen of the thirty eight parables. The gospels alone talk about money 288 times. Refusing to teach people about generosity is the same as refusing to teach people to pray or serve. They are all Christian disciplines and even more importantly, they are all commandments from Jesus. (Matthew 23:23)

Remedy: Utilize offering time as an opportunity to encourage and teach generosity. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should unload a twenty minute sermonette on giving every weekend (although generosity sermons should be on your preaching calendar); there are other ways. Sharing scripture, life stories and especially vision is the best way to build a culture of generosity. When people can see God’s vision for the church, it becomes about more than money. People are more likely to give to what they see, not what they hear. Paint the picture and teach people that giving is an opportunity (not an obligation) to be a part of God’s BIG plan for the church and His Kingdom. 

Too Much Salary

When staff salaries bleed out resources, ministry is always the first thing that gets defunded. When that happens, lifelessness is just around the corner. Ministry is the life vein of the church and when there’s no investment, there’s no return. This can result from having too many people on staff and/or high salaries. At the Unstuck Group, we recommend one staff person for every hundred people. Salaries should be between 45%- 55% of the total budget.  

Remedy: Cutting budget can be painful, especially when salaries are involved. The first step is to gather all the numbers and determine each percentage. Create four or five categories and plug each percentage into the appropriate place (e.g. salaries, mission, operational, capital, etc). I like using the pie chart. This will show what is eating most of the pie. When a church is salary heavy, the strategy is obvious. Cut the salary slice so you can fatten up the other slices (especially the ministry slice). Doing so will breathe new life back into the church and in the end, the staff will be healthier. 

Too Little Accountability 

Numbers aren’t the most important thing in the world of church (or business); but if you ever stop looking at them, you’ll think they are. When financials aren’t properly monitored (by a team or board, not a person), things can go south quickly. I have seen financial reports that were so vague, determining financial health was impossible. Too often, board meetings leave out conversations about finances and focus solely on ministry. While this may keep the meetings more comfortable, it will eventually bite you in the butt. Mission must be financed and it cost money to reach lost people.

Remedy: Make sure financial review is always a bullet point on the agenda. I recommend a snapshot of the financials on a monthly basis and detailed report each quarter. The snapshot report should show income and expenditures from the previous month (or weeks). The quarterly report should show patterns and trends for giving and income, as well as whether or not the church is on track with the budget. While this may sound elementary, you’d be surprised how many churches never have those conversations until things are already very sick and bleeding. Health prevention is your best friend when it comes to budget. 

For more resources around church health, be sure to get the eBook Vital Signs from the Unstuck Group


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