As a podcast host, I've talked to hundreds of callers over the last few years. I've answered their life and money questions through a biblical lens and offered hope and pastoral guidance whenever I could. But every now and then, a question still surprises me.
Becky called a while back, trying to convince me that her $73,000 salary was not enough to live on. She told me she and her husband were doing everything they possibly could to make more money, and she asked for side-job recommendations so they could earn even more. Becky had tunnel vision, and it was keeping her from seeing the bigger picture.
Becky's problem wasn't her income. It was how she and her husband were spending what they already had. She didn't see it that way, though, so she was taken aback when I asked her to describe her family's budgeting process. Silence.
She had been so laser-focused on revenue that she never really considered expenses. I asked her how much additional income she thought she'd need to relieve some of the pressure. She said $8,000-10,000. Guess what? We worked through her expenses and found out she was spending that much on things she didn't even need or care about! And just like that, Becky and her husband were able to live on what they were already making.
This doesn't just apply to personal finance. I would suggest that churches work through this process with their own budgets. As a former executive pastor, I can attest to how true—and helpful—it is.
It's not uncommon for churches to become stuck in a rut, thinking they need to hold a fundraiser each year. Pastors ask themselves at annual budget meetings, "What can we do differently this year to raise more funds?" They might try to raise $250,000 instead of $200,000, but they blow through $100,000 in unnecessary expenses or ineffective staff, programs, ministries or systems.
And we think our problems would be solved if only we could come up with more cash.
This is my challenge to you: Sit down with your team and go through your expenses with a fine-tooth comb. Eliminate waste, and you'll be surprised that you've freed up some of the money you hoped to raise from the budget you already had.
To help you get started, here are some common areas of the budget where I find churches overspend:
1. Too many staff members. Many churches don't utilize volunteers as much as they should. Remember, we are more blessed to give than receive. You're doing people a favor by inviting them to be the church. Ephesians 4:12 (ESV) tells us to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."
2. Multicolored service bulletins and printed discipleship material. Do fancy, full-color bulletins really add enough value for the cost? Keep them simple if you need them at all. And ditch other printed materials if a digital alternative is available.
3. Buying equipment for occasional use. Whether it's a fog machine for the Christmas production or a church youth van for a summer retreat, if you only use something once or twice a year, rent it instead.
4. Ineffective and poorly attended programs. I love what leadership expert John Maxwell says: "If it's a dead horse, dismount."
5. Ineffective marketing. I've never seen a direct correlation between size and effectiveness of a church with dollars spent on promotion. A ministry either has it or doesn't. People either want to tell their friends or they don't. And it's all wasted money anyway if we can't retain guests once they do give us a chance.
6. Attending too many conferences. There is way too much free content out there to learn from without paying for all the travel costs to attend conferences! When the team has fully leveraged every free resource, re-evaluate.
7. Sticking with overpriced or poor-service vendors out of convenience. Check out the competition every once in a while. That includes fees you pay for services, like online giving or giving kiosks.
Re-examine your own budget line by line and see what God shows you. Going through this process won't just benefit your church's finances and create margin you didn't know you had. Your diligence will earn you more trust with your staff and high-capacity givers—both of whom will likely buy in at a deeper level.
Remember, the Bible tells us that those who have been faithful with little will be trusted with much. Let's be faithful with what we have before asking for more than we can handle!
Chris Brown is a pastor and dynamic speaker carrying the message of intentional living nationwide as a Ramsey Personality. Host of the "Life, Money and Hope" podcast, Brown provides biblical wisdom and practical advice for life's everyday questions. Follow him online at stewardship.com, on Twitter and Instagram (@chrisbrownonair) or on Facebook (chrisbrownonair).
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