People get nervous when preachers talk about money. These thoughts aren’t about giving, but about the stewardship of how a church uses what is given. A church budget is a vision document. It tells the story, financially, of the dreams, priorities and expectations of a church. Every line item reflects a belief that investing or spending these resources in this way will magnify the gospel, raise disciples, meet needs, and bring to life the unique ministry God has called this local body of believers to accomplish together.

A financial gift to your church will be used in one of three ways:

  • People—To employ the people who oversee, manage, equip, and work alongside others to accomplish the work of the ministry.
  • Stuff—To pay for the campus, resources and materials used by the church to accomplish ministry.
  • Subsidy—To assist people in need and offset the cost of ministry events to participants.

As we consider how to allocate the resources entrusted to the church, we should consider several things.

The church is not a business that produces a product. It’s more like a service industry. It has similarities to a school in that many of its tasks are educational. It’s related to the hospitality industry in that it hosts people and events much like a conference center might host a convention. Because these organizations are people-centered and service-oriented, their budgets are personnel heavy. Even though a church is not a school or a convention center, a church budget will share this similarity. Think of it this way:

Stuff makes ministry nice. People make ministry happen.

Purchasing more books or paying utilities on a larger facility doesn’t accomplish ministry. These are the tools that extend ministry beyond the moment or become the stadium where ministry takes place. They help and are often necessary. Whatever the expense, stuff makes ministry nice. People make ministry happen.

A church budget is also used to subsidize ministry. When someone has a financial need, the church often helps meet that need. Our purpose isn’t to solve the problem of poverty, but we can do for one what we wish we could do for everyone. We can partner people who have things with people who need things while sharing the hope of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, as a church plans events designed to engage people with the gospel, employ volunteers in ministry and deepen the faith of believers, it has the opportunity to ask the question, “How much, if anything, should a participant be asked to pay?”

For the core ministries of the church, like worship services and weekly small group Bible studies, the answer is “nothing.” We want these services to be free to all who attend. But other activities in church life are “value added.” For example, the church will accomplish its mission with or without a summer camp for students or a trip to Branson for senior adults. These activities are value added. For these kinds of activities, the participant may be asked to pay to attend. In order to encourage participation, a church may choose to offset that cost. For example, a church may decide camp is so important that they want to keep the cost to the participant low. They use a portion of their budget to reduce the cost to the participant. When a church does this, it’s important to evaluate the purpose and effect. By creating this kind of subsidy, the church is essentially saying, “This event is so important that everyone who gives to the church should pay a percentage of the cost whether or not that person receives a direct benefit from the event.” In other words, the senior adult who gives regularly is paying a small part of a student’s way to camp, even though that senior adult won’t go to camp himself. When we think of it this way, programming budgets become easier to evaluate. We can ask the question, “Is it appropriate to ask the church to pay for a direct benefit only a small percentage of the church will receive?” The answer to this question is influenced by vision and purpose. It’s why a church might subsidize camp but tell a small group they should pay for their class fellowship.

Many churches also use part of their budget to support other, like-minded ministry organizations or missionaries. This, too, is a people, stuff or subsidy expense. The difference is that these dollars are released from the influence of the church and entrusted into the individuals or organizations they choose to support.

When you give to a church, you empower the vision of that church to employ the people who make ministry happen, purchase the stuff that makes ministry nice and subsidize the ministry that enables others to benefit from your gift.

When you attend without giving, you are the beneficiary of the generosity of others.

A church budget is an expression of vision. May we be good stewards of that vision.