With anguish in his voice, Bill said, “It’s budget time again at our church. I get so tired of working through these numbers. The pile of papers seems endless. How do I get off of the budget group?” Joe gave him a hard time, “Bill, I thought you liked budgets. You’re a driven CEO. What’s so hard about a few numbers?” 

Not content to be prodded and poked, Bill replied, “At work, we have a simple purpose, a bottom line, which we measure everything against. But at church, we’re doing spiritual things. I want to help people at church, not build a business. I hate mixing my business skills with my spiritual life.”

Around the country, people have variants of this conversation. Many become spiritually dry in the process of creating a budget. Some feel like convicted criminals, serving out prison time on budget groups. The root problem is that vision has been left out of the budget process.

Establishing Vision

From the New Testament, every local church receives the vision of the universal church. The local church is your congregation, while the universal church is the combination of all local churches in the world. There are many ways that this broad vision is described in the New Testament: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10) or “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39).

Now, here is where things get complicated. Many people get befuddled with church vision statements because of this local and universal confusion. Shouldn’t everybody be making disciples? The bottom line is that all churches receive the universal church vision statement from the New Testament—and some churches create a specialized local church vision statement.

The church’s governing board needs to create, or supervise the creation, of the vision statement. Whether the board chooses a long or short statement, one based in the universal church or local church, it needs the full support of the leadership.

What will happen if your church does not, or will not, produce a vision statement? There may be one or several informal vision statements that are in force de facto. The children’s ministry may have one vision, the adult ministry another, and the budget group may have a third. This creates confusion, with pastors and congregants alike.

One final word about vision: The pastor has to teach it to the congregation and regularly integrate the statement and concepts into church life. The vision statement must be more than words on a sheet of paper.

Most churches have vision statements. The largest church in the United States, Lakewood Church of Houston, says:

Our vision is to make a positive impact upon the city of Houston by creating a city-wide family center in which all are welcome—a place where all individuals and families can grow and flourish in faith and discover God’s plan for their lives.1

The Pastor, Joel Osteen says:

I believe we can change the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am committed to the global mission of Lakewood Church. In order to accomplish this vision, however, we must recognize that it begins right here in Houston. For it is the investment in our own families and in our own neighborhoods that strengthen our local church, the very foundation upon which we launch our worldwide outreach.2

The Christian Post writes about living out the vision:

One of the largest megachurches, the Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, claims over 30,000 weekly attendants. The church, led by mega-pastor Joel Olsteen (sic), just recently opened its new sanctuary in the old Compaq Convention Center in Houston. It invested nearly $100 million to renovate the basketball court into a chapel that features cascading seats, special effects lighting, and waterfall displays.3

Lakewood is a good example of the vision statement being a guiding light for budget creation.

Measuring Vision

It is one thing to have a vision statement and another thing to ask the question: “Are we fulfilling our vision?” Some businesses have a simple vision statement. Consider this: “The vision of Tic Tock Sprocket is to make and sell high quality bicycle sprockets.” This is relatively simple to measure.

  • Were the bicycle sprockets made?
  • Did they meet their sales objectives for the fiscal year?
  • Did they meet or exceed industry standards for their product?

If the answer is “yes” to these three questions, then the vision statement has been met for the fiscal year.

Consider a more complicated vision statement. It is simple in its brevity but complex in its extent. Can you guess the company or non-profit organization?

Innovation. Technology. Leadership. We’re a global team who share a passion for finding new ways to improve people’s lives.

Is this a mission organization? A church? It is worldwide, desiring to be a global team. They are passionate about what they do—many Christian organizations use that word “passionate.” They want to improve people’s lives, just as many Christian organizations. Perhaps they are a disaster relief organization?

So, is it a Christian organization? No, it is Kimberly Clark. You might say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of them. Well, maybe I have.” Believe it or not, one billion people a day are touched by Kimberly-Clark:

Kimberly-Clark is a leading global health and hygiene company with operations in 37 countries and product sales in more than 150. Employing more than 57,000 people worldwide, Kimberly-Clark posted sales of nearly $16 billion in 2005.

K-C is home to some of the world’s most trusted and recognized brands—including Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kotex and Depend. We hold the No. 1 or No. 2 position globally in most of the major consumer products categories in which we compete. Every day, 1.3 billion people—nearly a quarter of the world’s population—trust our brands to enhance their health, hygiene and well-being.

We are a large and diverse community of individuals who trust and respect one another as we work to enhance the quality of life for people around the world. We are motivated to continually deliver superior products and exceed the expectations of our shareholders, our customers and ourselves.4

What do we take away from Kimberly-Clark’s vision statement and its explanation? They are so broad that they can easily be compared to the global vision statement of the church—and, therefore, helpful for our discussion.

The Tic Tock Sprocket Company has a tight and easy-to-measure vision statement. That statement can be measured by output questions. Examples of output questions are:

  • Did we make the hundred thousand bicycle sprocket goal this year?
  • Did we meet our sales objectives, selling those hundred thousand sprockets?

Outcome can be measure by questions as well. Examples of outcome questions are:

  • Did our customers report to us a high degree of quality satisfaction with our product?
  • Did our business partners report to us that our product met or exceeded industry quality standards?

For a small company with a tight vision statement, both output and outcome questions can be fairly easily answered.

The question remains though; how does one measure the actualizing of a broad vision statement, such as Kimberly-Clark’s? Correspondingly, how does one measure a church’s vision statement?

If a church’s vision statement is simple, like the Tic Tock Sprocket Company, then it is easy to validate. If the vision statement says “to baptize people,” one would only need to use the question, “How many people were baptized?” It can easily be seen with an output measurement—did we baptize five, ten or a thousand people this year? However, if that church adds “and disciple,” then the quantification becomes much more difficult.

To measure Kimberly-Clark’s vision statement, one would have to measure output. That can be done with production numbers and sales figures. Some output questions are:

  • How many new products were created?
  • What were our sales?
  • Did we create one new product per company, one per division or what?

For Kimberly-Clark, one would also need to measure outcome. Some outcome questions are:

  • How are we improving lives?
  • What kind of improvement is occurring?
  • Is the improvement real, temporary, worth the price, helping our bottom line, helping people?

For the church vision statement, “every believer a minister,” consider the following outcome questions:

  • Are the people involved in significant ministry?
  • Are there new believers entering the “pipeline” of the vision? If every believer is to be a minister, then a corollary is that there should be more new believers by all those “ministers.”

We need to measure both output and outcomes. The output is relatively easy to quantify, but is not an accurate measurement of the vision statement. The outcomes directly reflect the vision statement.

Actualizing Vision and Improving Budgets

Vision is the hardest piece of the church budget puzzle. Good vision makes setting the budget relatively easy.  If your vision is “every believer a minister,” then we will be asking ourselves significant budgetary questions:

  • How are we spending our ministry funds to actualize “every believer a minister?” Where are there specific line items that support our vision? There should be significant alignment of our budget funds with our vision. There should be activities and expenses that train believers to minister.
  • Does our staffing budget actualize our vision statement? There should be alignment of our existing staff with our vision. There should be new staff to grow our vision. Each year the job descriptions and annual reviews of staff should be done with an eye to the vision.

All of these have direct budget consequences!


Without ministry vision, setting a budget is a hassle. Politics can reign supreme. For some churches, it’s not what you do but who you know. Staff are left alone to determine vision for the departments, resulting in a “silo ministry” of many great and independent ministries. The budget group is left to determine its own set of ministry measurements—which often mean numerical analysis. “The Young Adult ministry has 200 couples, so it must be better than the youth ministry and so they get more money.”  While that may be true, there are a host of other possible answers.

With a vision that is consistently taught and applied in the church, the budget process is much simpler. Determining where and how much to invest in various ministries will always be a challenge. Questions about a ministry’s outcome will, however, greatly assist people in aligning the ministry with the vision statement.


  1. “History of Lakewood church.”  Church website: www.lakewood.cc
  2. Ibid.
  3. Pauline J. Chang, “Researchers Launch Extensive Survey on U.S. Mega Churches.” July 27, 2005, The Christian Post, accessed online: www.christianpost.com/article/20050727/3753.htm
  4. “Our Company.”  Kimberly-Clark website: www.kimberly-clark.com