January 10, 2017

3 Hard Generosity Decisions

Stressed businessman leaning against concrete wallThe desire for a more generous culture is an inspiring one. After all, we all need more resources released into ministry. The discipleship conversation around giving is filled with hope and expectations. Pastors light up, ministry teams engage, and downhill momentum is gained. Then it happens, right in the middle of a robust conversation, reality hits. At first there’s denial, followed by resistance, and then the room goes silent. Teams are dug in. I’ve seen it over and over again. Yet, developing a generous culture is within reach, but not without making some really hard decisions. What are the three hardest calls that can ultimately result in experiencing a generosity surplus?

#1 – REDUCE staff expense.

Having served on church staff for decades, I 100% support a well-compensated team. The job of a pastor is both rewarding and grueling. Being on call 24/7, giving up your holidays, living in a glass house, all while trying to advance the Kingdom is a noble life effort. However, most church budgets will invest somewhere around 50% of their expenses toward staff – this is a big chunk of your resources.

As a church grows both larger and older it tends to expand staff, often times in advance of the income. Over time, work that was done by volunteers has now become work for hire. Then, once a staff member is well entrenched relationally it becomes difficult to recreate your staff budget allotment. Churches need to make the hard choice to steadily reduce staff expenses from 50% to 45%, then toward 35% and some may even dare to achieve 25%.

I know you are ready to stop reading, but what would you give to have 10-20% surplus over the next few years?

REMEDY: Develop a new staff structure and empower more volunteer leadership. If you are going to reduce your staff expense, you will need to reorganize with a few multi-managers at the top of the organization. Then move from an activity or even ministry-based framework to a process and systems framework. This will enable you to hire a less expensive management level team to implement. You should also be able to hire more within the organization reducing the risk of outside hires that end up as misfires. Finally, you will need a solid leadership development pipeline and training process. Volunteers can and will do more. Most high capacity volunteers sit on the sideline unengaged.

#2 – FOCUS on the one thing that matters most.

Most pastors are uber confident in their vision crafting and casting prowess. It is really hard to get most pastors to evaluate their vision. Nevertheless, I find most churches exist on a vision that is some version of “we want to do church bigger and better next year than we did last year.” I so appreciate the drive for improvement and expansion. I also understand the fear of saying something that may feel less than the maximum best.

However, if vision is not clear, accountable, and actionable by every staff member, then it is not clear enough. Vision should clearly determine how a staff member goes about his/her work. It should be an obvious filter of what we do and do not do when the pastor is not around to help. It should direct all resources toward the main objective. Finally, it should be powerfully obvious to all when we succeed as a team.

When a vision is not crystal clear, pastors struggle with rogue staff and a disunited team. Team members struggle with clear direction and proper support. All levels of an organization are drained by sideways energy and less forward momentum than originally hoped.

REMEDY: Create one clear unifying goal each year and lead all ministries to rally around it. I know it can feel very limiting to have only one goal and terribly unspiritual to measure what God may do. Please hear me, when you create one strikingly clear goal like, “Provide people with a clear path of personal discipleship seeing a 50% increase in small groups participation,” you have not limited what God can do. However, you have made a choice to do one great thing together instead of five isolated, unconnected wins in different ministry silos. You have to believe me when I tell you that I have seen staff members release their budgets for the greater cause of a clear vision.

#3 – STREAMLINE ministries and supportive programming.

You know you are doing too much because you are tired. Your staff is tired. However, another Sunday is coming and expectations have been created. There was a day in your past when you “surrendered to the call of ministry,” only to now be living the life of a highly effective event manager. Unfortunately, I have seen it time and time again. Ministry success is measured by great events in amazing environments that cause large groups of people to leave feeling happy. I am all for high quality events, full rooms, and inspiring moments. No one wants their ministries to stink! However, successful activity is not the same as accomplishing the vision of kingdom expansion.

Remedy: Spend time measuring every ministry activity to determine its ROI (Return On Investment) toward your clearly articulated and measurable vision.

I would suggest you put your leadership in a room and do an objective analysis of the resources invested in all calendar events versus the return on the investment in terms of mission advancement. Measure the following using a simple green, yellow, red grading system, green = good to go, yellow=hey, wait a minute, and red=police flashing lights in your rear view mirror if you keep your foot on the gas.

  • Does this ministry activity align 100% with our clearly articulated and measurable vision?
  • Are we investing the proper amount of trained staff and volunteer time?
  • Are we investing the right amount of financial resources?
  • Does this ministry activity happen in the right room, at the right time, and at the right time of year?
  • Are we providing this ministry activity the proper marketing support?
  • Does this ministry activity provide a proper anchor for our strategy or bridge to the appropriate next step?
  • Does this ministry activity accomplish its desired and clearly stated goal?

These three conversations consistently receive the most resistance in my generosity coaching with pastors. If you finished this blog CONGRATS TO YOU! I know you probably wanted to challenge my thoughts many times. However, what would it be like to lead a church in 3-5 years which was led by a smaller more nimble staff, that were clearly unified and rallying together around one clear goal that produced obvious results over and over again. Not to mention you have created more margin spiritually, relationally, physically, mentally, and financially. Being a church with surplus goes way beyond preaching on money, leading a Financial Peace class, and capital fund raising. You must have the hard conversations. You can actually accomplish more, do less, and enjoy a surplus to reinvest in ministry and your team.

December 1, 2016

Year End Giving & Thanking Tips

Give Concept Clipped Cards and LightsIt’s the time of year when church leaders are preparing for their year end giving needs. It is something most churches do even on a minimal level. The major driving force emanating from the church office is a high priority on making sure we are available to receive as many gifts as possible right up until Dec. 31. This year Christmas is on a Sunday, which is creating its own set of questions. Among the impacts will definitely be giving.

Below are some tips and be sure to check out the attachment at the bottom from Kimbia.

1. Celebrate each weekend (prior to the offering time) how well the ministry of giving has gone throughout the year at your church.

You can celebrate how great your financial picture is, tell a story of how giving has impacted a life, or highlight a great external cause your church is participating in this holiday season. You may even share a word of encouragement about how your staff and church leadership have managed the resources if it has been a tough financial year in your setting.

2. Be specific.

Be clear if your church has a specific need it is trying to meet, especially if you are requesting above and beyond gifts to go to holiday benevolence, missions, or a capital need. Most people are ready, willing, and able to give above and beyond gifts during the holiday season. They expect non-profits to ask and are waiting for the opportunity.

3. Be visionary.

People want to enjoy giving. They want to feel like their life is making a contribution beyond themselves. We really do not get a great thrill out of helping a non-profit dig out of a whole. We especially do not like cleaning up a financial mess made by leaders. Make the opportunity about impact and the giver, not the dire need of the organization.

4. Communicate regularly and repeatedly.

People generally attend worship services 1-2 times a weekend. Then they forget what was said on Sunday as soon as they get to Monday. Take your words from Sunday and craft them into an email or letter. You will probably need to send 2-3 points of communication into their lives during the month beyond what you say on a weekend. Do not say something different, but keep the message clear, simple, and repeated.

5. Be digital.

God will speak to people as He does and they will want to make a difference with their resources. Be sure your church is ready to receive a gift from a digital device on a random weekday night at 10 p.m. This is not a magical time to give, but I give over 90% of my gifts to non-profits during the weekday when the non-profit has no idea it is coming.

6. Be appreciative.

Giving is not about the church, the pastor, or its need. Giving is about what God desires to do in and through the one giving. Applaud the giver, cheer them on, assure them God sees and rewards. When we participate in God’s work, God’s way, we discover so many new things about ourselves and Him. Giving tends to do more for the giver than the one receiving, so be positive, appreciative, and affirming to all.

I hope these help or inspire you to new ideas. Make giving thankful, joyful, and purposeful this holiday season.


Click here to check out a helpful roadmap for your year end from Kimbia.



November 29, 2016

#GivingTuesday is Today!

giving-tuesday-logo-stackedToday is #GivingTuesday, a huge movement that promotes generosity toward organizations through social media. Join the Auxano team by giving to your church or the organization of your choice.

November 16, 2016

Generosity for Everyone

Busy crosswalk at Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, JapanIt has been an exciting year. I have had the privilege of watching my college daughter volunteer at the local children’s hospital as a patient pal. My wife took time out of her busy realty business to serve a family that has been through a pretty big crisis. My son, who graduated college and started his career this year, is dreaming of how he can impact the future lives of others and benefit his local church. I’ve texted our family giving to our local church, helped another family meet a need, and touched a few buttons on an APP donating to a local charity. It is just pretty normal stuff, nothing exceptional, just moments of generosity from everyone.

No matter how old we are or how much we earn, everyone can live generously. Let’s look at a few examples in the Bible for inspiration. I am first drawn to the boy with the fishes and loaves. While I am not sure how old he is, he appears to be old enough to travel to town and take care of a chore for his family. He probably knows the value of money and certainly of food. Then Jesus and His disciples come along asking if they can use his resources to help others. I don’t think the boy was wrestled to the ground and had his groceries taken. I think he gave them willingly, but had no clue what was about to happen. I wonder if it turned out to be the best day of his life. He probably got home late, couldn’t wait to tell mom, and bragged to all his friends. I bet it left him pretty eager to go to town again looking forward to his next giving adventure.

Then I want to jump to the other end of the spectrum. It’s the poor widow who gave all she had. I would imagine in the modern church if a poor widow showed up at her pastor’s office wanting to give all she had, her gift may very well be declined. Her pastor wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings, but she needs her resources more than the church does. Actually, the church has a Benevolence Fund she could benefit from. I love that neither Jesus nor the poor widow were concerned about what the future holds regarding her financial needs. Jesus was more than willing to accept her gift and she was more than willing to give it.

Of course, there was the rich young ruler who had more than enough. Jesus asked him to do as the poor widow did and give everything, but he refused. Pretty interesting that a young boy gives all he had one day and a poor widow gives all she has on another day. Evidently generosity is for everyone and it has nothing to do with the amount of resources you possess or how old you are.

Now I am thinking of Zaccheus and Barnabas, two very successful men in the prime of their earning careers. While I am not sure how long Barnabas has been a believer, I do know that he is way ahead of Zaccheus. Zaccheus isn’t even a believer when his story begins, but by the end of it he is living extravagant generosity. Barnabas actually surrenders an entire piece of property he owns, and gives it to the church to distribute the resources no strings attached.

Here are some things we can learn from a few ordinary people from the Bible who on random days decided to be giving:

1. Giving is for everyone regardless of your age.

2. Giving is for everyone regardless of your net worth.

3. Giving is for everyone regardless of how strong your faith is.

4. Giving is for everyone regardless of what has been previously planned in your life.

5. Giving is indeed for everyone.

Now, I do know giving can be hard at times. It is not always top of mind. I think everyone would agree that giving is good both personally and for the world at large. Just imagine what life would be like if everyone lived just a little bit more generously everyday?

The Bible also contains real stories of our struggles with being a giving person. You actually do not have to travel very far in the Bible to be captured by the story of Cain and Abel. Both gave. One got it right and the other had some learning to do. We have already mentioned the rich young ruler who just couldn’t do it. Then when I shared about Barnabas, you may have been inclined to think of Annanias and Sapphira. So while giving is for everyone we all struggle with how to be both willing and joyful givers at times. So maybe we should add a few more principles.

6. Giving is for everyone even though we all fail at it at times.

7. Everyone can learn to be better at living generously.

8. The more generous we all are the better our world is.

As you may have already guessed, I am pretty passionate about generosity. If you are interested in learning more then you may want to check out our latest resource. I had the privilege of partnering with the highly skilled curriculum team at LifeWay and we put together Generous Life resources. We took 10 Bible heroes and unpacked five different types of givers helping all ages develop their own growth plan. It contains five sermon outlines, with accompanying small group leader guides for all ages. Yes, all ages are included. There is even a weekly family devotion to do in the home.

The Generous Life is not the stuff of super heroes or mega saints. It is a great way to live for normal people. Generosity is indeed for everyone, so let’s all join the journey of getting a little better at it each day.


Interested in helping your church members identify the type of giver they are and the kind of giver God is making them to be? Visit http://auxa.no/29Uy1Le for more information on Generous Life.

October 27, 2016

Worth the Wait – the Story of FBC Taylor

rise-up-logoThe post below was written by Kent Vincent, Auxano Lead Navigator.

How long has your church been chasing a dream? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? First Baptist Church of Taylor, TX had been chasing the dream of relocation for 20 years. Each season brought them closer to the goal, but left them short in the funds needed to actually occupy the land purchased years before. In 2015 things changed! With ministries full of momentum and space maxed to capacity, it was clear that the time to revisit this dream was now. Desiring a different approach as they headed into this season, leadership began interviewing companies to help coach them through the process. Auxano was one of those companies.

The Auxano process was a completely different approach than anything else presented. When the Auxano team articulated a vision-based process focused on disciple making vs. chasing resources, “Fresh, but would it work?” thought longtime church member Jack Jordan. Kim Bruchner, Church Administrator for FBC, said, “We had been through several campaigns over the last 10 years and felt like Auxano would deliver a more holistic approach.”

With the campaign team assembled, Auxano providing direction and the wind of momentum at their back, FBC Taylor started once again to realize the dream revealed 20 years before. Like pieces of a puzzle, they assembled the corners first:

Corner 1 – Focus

As the team began to gain perspective by focusing on the journey to this point, an amazing truth emerged. The under-performing capital campaigns of the past actually were God’s provision for the future. Because of the faithful generosity of the congregation over the last 15 years, FBC now owned 16 acres of prime property completely debt free AND had amassed $1.5M in designated cash!

Corner 2 – Discipleship

It became clear that the process was going to be completely different this time around when Auxano made the following statements: “If you want to know when you’re going to fail – you’re going to fail when you chase the resources! “That’s not our job, that’s God’s job!”The historically awkward “money” conversation with key donors became a spiritual, disciple-making conversation. That was a change that energized Pastor Matt Hudson and allowed for significant buy-in from the congregation.

Corner 3 – Project

The team worked to clarify the project details, along with what impact those details would have on the congregation and community. What opportunities would this relocation provide for them that their current location would not? How will ministries differ in the new location versus the current location? Ultimately, what can FBC Taylor develop simultaneously alongside the campaign to insure that they will be prepared for any opportunities God opens up as a result of this relocation? That’s a holistic approach.

Corner 4 – Vision

Five years ago God began to stir a vision in FBC Taylor to be a congregation of spiritual “bridge builders” in order “to see the broken made whole in Christ.” This vision, now articulated with vivid language, drove the church to design a multi-purpose space in order to facilitate ministry seven days a week. Due to clarity of the vision, the building now became a tool to accomplish God’s dream for FBC. As this vision was communicated, hearts began to resonate with the picture of impact, and momentum already in motion became more intense. The result? There was no stopping this congregation as it began to “Rise Up!”

After months of detailed preparation, fervent prayer, open dialogue, fantastic communication, and the realization of God’s faithfulness historically and presently, the time had come to invest in this new future. While the dollar amount was clearly significant, the testimonies tell the true impact of God’s work. Team member Liz Odel testified that, “Unlike the guilt I felt in previous campaigns, I was overwhelmed with joy on commitment day.” With a desired goal of $1M in cash and pledges over 36 months, God created an unprecedented moment in the history of FBC Taylor by reaching $1.3M.

Now, with dirt being turned on a 20-year dream, Auxano is celebrating with FBC Taylor as they prepare for moving day

October 14, 2016

How to Know if Your Church is Financially Fit

Piggy bank running on a treadmillIs your church financially fit? When asked this question most church leaders usually have a quick gut level response between two extremes. They either respond with a confident “yes” because the church has more money than it spends every year. Or an absolute “no” due to the impression of too few resources to fulfill the dream. Before we venture into an honest discussion of what it means to be financially fit, let’s make sure we understand the land mines of measuring the wrong things.

False Financial Measures

  1. No Debt – Debt can be the number one binder on financial freedom. However, being a church with no debt can also result in a lack of numeric growth, dated and unmaintained facilities, or a hoarding of resources. Don’t make debt free the ultimate measuring stick of financial health.
  2. Increased Budget Growth – Receiving more resources every year is not the end all measurement on financial health. It might be the result of a small percentage of willing donors or can lead to unjustified spending which is sinful. A generous church is not the same as a wealthy congregation.
  3. Lack of Financial Conversations – A church that never talks about money may also be a church that is stuck or even moving backwards. It may be a church without a clear mission that demands a great sacrifice. It may be a church with very little financial discipleship occurring.
  4. High Missions Giving Percentage – I’ve learned that being a “missions-minded church” can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it means we live for the mission, then other times it means we do nothing but study missionaries and give resources away. I have also seen foreign missions giving be trumpeted as better than internal or local investments in ministry.

Financial Values Leading To Fitness

  1. Model The Way – Every church I encounter that is enjoying the fruit of financial freedom is being led by a generous pastor who is not distant from every financial conversation. A pastor who understands both personal stewardship and the generous life will naturally lead the organization by the same principles.
  2. Tell Great Stories – Church leaders would be shocked to know how many times a church attender gives to non-profits, because he or she does not clearly see the impact of the mission of the local church. Most committed church givers do so out of duty, habit, or obligation. Very few see, hear, and experience the stories of impact. NPO’s have clear visions that are big and engaging. The church has a budget and bills.
  3. Invest For A Return – 100% of church resources need to be wisely invested as resources considered holy by God and wholly committed to the mission. Every budget year most churches answer two lingering questions, “What did we do last year?” and ” How much money do we have to spend this year?” The conversation needs to begin with a clear understanding of where God is uniquely at work in your church. Then, church leaders should have a clear and tactical vision moving forward. We should never justify an expense solely because of the person leading the ministry or fear of making a change.
  4. Tame the Monsters – The two biggest expenses in most church budgets are staff and facilities. As a matter of fact, these two spending categories routinely create 75% of yearly expenses. We find that churches who pay their staff well, while creating a stronger volunteer pipeline, can steadily see their staff expense trend below 50% or less. When the figure is closer to 35% we see real future potential. Churches that maintain a debt load of less than 1 time their annual expenses also show few signs of financial bondage. There are certainly seasons in church life cycles where staff expense can trend above 50% and debt can be 2-3 times your annual income, but these are two places you want to avoid as a pattern.
  5. Focused Impact – Decades ago people could revolve their lives around church activities. That is simply not the case today. Church programming is far better off when you do a few things well as opposed to many things. Focusing your resources of people, funds, and space can produce far better results than stretching yourself thin.
  6. Personal Path – Money affects every person. We value and experience money at every stage of life and it is constantly different. Just watch a kid on a toy aisle or a senior adult fretting over a major health expense. Every person and family regardless of age or income level deserves the opportunity to enjoy financial freedom offered by the generous life. For many churches 50-60% of their people give far below the tithe principle taught in Scripture. A financially fit church has a discipleship plan for each giver beyond just a money management class and tithing sermon.
  7. Surplus Plan – This principle always sounds so foreign to church leaders. Unfortunately most churches begin each fiscal year having created a spending plan that consumes all expected margin. This leads to false limitations of ministries, an unnecessary weight for church leaders, and self-induced pressure. When we encounter a church that has the pattern of only spending 90% or less of last year’s undesignated receipts, we encounter freedom and joy. The conversation among church leaders is no longer what they can’t do, but instead, “God, we are ready. Lead the way.”

As you look to measure your church’s financial fitness it is really important to sort out what you should and shouldn’t measure. Scripture is clear that God gives resources to people and He then leads them to be generous. The church is not responsible for those two actions. Here is what church leaders are responsible for and should measure:

  1. Possessing a clear vision of the unique mission
  2. Providing the discipleship opportunity for personal growth in life stewardship
  3. Proving each expense is being invested for the highest kingdom good
  4. Placing faith in God as the wise provider

How much money a church receives or saves is not the end all. Never experiencing a financial pressure is not the ultimate test. A financially fit church rests on the fact that God controls the amount, and we control how we use it.

For more resources you can download the Generosity Dream Tool here or purchase my book Leading A Generous Church at Amazon.com.

September 26, 2016

Funding Your Missional Vision

church-at-the-mall-logo-drk-ltrAbout two years ago we received contact from Church at The Mall in Lakeland, FL. They had just launched an initiative with seven missional components. These action items were big, really big. The intent was to propel an already active church with a miraculous story into a bold new future. Of course, these seven missional objectives needed to be funded. Naturally, a three-year capital campaign would be the solution. HOLD ON! What if vision, alignment, and generosity could be the solution for their new future?

Here are the seven missional objectives, our approach, and some of the results we’ve seen less than two years into the work.

Missional Objectives:

  1. Raise $1million each year for missional causes while reducing church debt
  2. Maximize their outreach and efforts
  3. Advance and expand their media ministry
  4. Needs assessment for staff, space, finances, and times
  5. Launch a multi-site campus approach
  6. Develop a Center for Discipleship and Education
  7. Develop methodical and comprehensive life stage discipleship from cradle to college


  1. Create two one-day offerings immediately to take a huge leap forward with debt reduction and missions giving. Palm Sunday was utilized to catalyze those who were passionate about debt reduction. The entire offering that Sunday was deposited toward their debt. Then on Easter Sunday, Church at the Mall built bridge relationships with multiple non-profits in the community that aligned with the church vision. The entire offering was given away to impact the city. It was a bold step on many fronts. The staff and church leaders needed to decide how committed they were to the missional objectives. What would happen if they gave two complete offerings away at the beginning of the year? How would that impact ministry, even their jobs? Their unified faith would be more than rewarded.
  1. Clarify their Vision, create culture, and discipleship Measures. The Vision Framing process of Auxano was utilized to create the organizational engine and culture needed to accomplish the seven missional objectives. A repeated priority on prayer, fasting, and the anointed life would provide the fuel. This focus led to a clear articulation of a three-pronged Strategy. The Strategy would align ministries to work best together delivering the results of their Vision. This would require big conversations related to aligning programming, staff, calendar, facility, and resources. Good activity would not compete with visionary accomplishment.
  1. Develop a Generous Culture. When Vision is clear, resources are aligned, and results are measurable, it releases people. They knew where the church was headed, how they could grow, where they could live a big life, and confidence that their generosity was making a difference beyond themselves. We identified the different types of givers in their church from those who gave nothing to those living generously beyond a tithe. Each person was able to identify with a giving hero in the Bible that was relatable to their stage of life and financial situation. Curriculum was developed. A year-long growth path was revealed. Every person and family could find their way to grow a generous life for the sake of long term kingdom investment.


  • Total church indebtedness was reduced by 26% or $1,056,799.
  • Total church missions giving increased by 35% or $216,953.
  • Yearly undesignated giving increased 6% and this is not counting the special offerings taken on two consecutive Sundays.
  • General offerings increased by 12% prior to summer months, and this is not including the special offerings received.
  • Average gift per family increased 21% year to date. (Measured the first several months of three consecutive years)
  • Families or individuals giving digitally increased 19%.
  • The church was given a church facility in a neighboring town worth $1,700,000. A new campus was launched with hundreds in attendance.
  • Media is being maximized via new brand development, website, and app.
  • Discipleship Measures were created for all ages along with custom written curriculum.
  • Outreach is on a path to being maximized via new outreach Bible studies, online services, and a new television program.

Not too bad for less than two years of focused activity. Dream big, get focused, pray boldly, and enjoy the clarity.

To visit Church at the Mall online, click here.


September 12, 2016

Leading a Budget Retreat

Startup Stock Photos

The following post was written by David Putman and Todd McMichen.

We all desire to do a better job when it comes to our church’s budget. How many times have we had to move funds from one line item to another creating a lack of clarity, confusion, and frustrations among our board and staff? How many times have we over-funded the wrong program while under-funding the right opportunity? Imagine for a moment a way forward with our budgeting that is clear, concise, catalytic, compelling and most of all on point. Imagine leaving a budgeting meeting as a team energized about the next ministry season instead of weighed down by spreadsheets and numbers.

One way forward is a vision-based budgeting retreat. The following is a simple step-by-step process to consider.


Reconsider your language. Language creates culture. This is especially true when it comes to your church’s budget. Does our language indicate scarcity or provision? A church with a generous culture chooses its language carefully. A budget becomes a spending plan or investment plan that funds our vision. Our budget retreat becomes more about how we “finance the mission” and less about how we divide up the “money pie.” Regardless of what language you use, connect it to your vision.

Turn a “have to” into a “get to.” Long before your budget is due, plan an offsite meeting for the purpose of resourcing next year’s vision. Nothing frustrates a team more when it comes to budget than to be excluded or have budget planning sprung on them at the last minute. Budgeting can be stressful enough without creating unwanted urgency with last minute planning. People are down on, what they are not up on. This includes your staff.

Do some spiritual prep. Before the offsite, consider spending some team time working through a book or some devotions on generosity. Encourage your team to begin a journal noting how God is speaking to them related to their specific area of ministry and better collaboration as a whole. You may consider using a tool like Leading A Generous Church by Todd McMichen.

Work on your vision. The question we need to answer prior to any attempt at budging is, “Where is God leading us?” This is the question that underpins all of our stewardship. Remember, budgeting is about resourcing our vision. An excellent resource for working on vision is God Dreams, a book written by our founder Will Mancini and also Warren Bird. In God Dreams the authors look at vision through four horizons. They are:

  • Beyond the Horizon (10 plus years) – This horizon is actually what it sounds like. If you are looking into the future it is what’s beyond our horizon. It’s that one big idea that compels us as a church. For planning sake, it’s the big idea that drives our sense of mission accomplished. It’s our ultimate destiny.
  • Background Horizon (3-5 years) – Our background horizon represents the strategic objectives we must accomplish over the next few years if we are going to ultimately accomplish our beyond the horizon vision.
  • Midground Horizon (1 year) – In our budgeting process, the midground horizon is critical. This is the one thing that we can do or even must do in the next year if we are to advance our vision. It’s that one thing we as a team must pool our resources toward in order to achieve.
  • Foreground Horizon (90 days) – These are the four initiatives that must be started within the next 90 days and result in our accomplishing our one big thing or our midground vision.

A potential action point is to have a God Dreams Retreat six-months prior to your budget retreat.


Start with your vision. If you worked on vision prior to the retreat spend some time updating the team on the previous vision work. Let the team give you feedback. You can do this around four questions: 1) What’s right? 2) What’s wrong? 3) What’s missing? 4) What’s unclear? Collect the team’s responses on a whiteboard or flipchart. You can refer back to it at another time. Don’t allow the team to get bogged down. Remember this is simply about getting vision in front of the team. If they were part of your earlier vision work, this should move fast and create synergy. If you’ve failed to do any vision work prior to your retreat, you’re not ready to work on your budget. Remind the team that the budget is about funding the vision.

Evaluate last year’s ministry effectiveness. An additional grid for resourcing the vision is evaluating your ministry effectiveness. There are three types of results that we need to evaluate as we consider how we are going to invest next year’s resources – they are input, output, and impact results.

  • Input results – These are those things we commonly measure in our churches. Things like attendance, baptisms, new members, small group attendance, volunteerism, and giving. These are an important matrix that provide a unique snapshot into our effectiveness in ministry. At the same time our evaluation needs to go further.
  • Output results – These are more difficult to measure, but at the same time can be measured. They tend to be more qualitative than quantitative. They describe the qualitative life of the average disciple in our church. Things like: they are experiencing intimacy with God and others, they are living from a place of meaning and purpose, they are engaging in mission, and they are growing in generosity. It’s one thing to attend, and another to experience life change. Output results focus on life change.
  • Impact results – Impact goals are even harder to measure, but an important aspect of our overall ministry effectiveness. Are we ultimately having an impact on our community and world? One of the most effective means of measuring our impact results is collecting the stories in our church and community of changed lives and greater community impact. These stories should ultimately align with our Beyond the Horizon Vision.

Input results by far are the easiest to assess. Numbers don’t lie. Output and impact results can be more difficult to measure. Have your team share stories related to output and impact results. For example, an output result would include a story of life change, while an impact story may include a story of community impact. Make sure you pause long enough to celebrate your effectiveness.

Pay attention to your financial details. Wow! Up until this point this hasn’t felt or been like any other budgeting meeting, but we must drill in and pay attention to the details. This involves paying attention to our finances at the macro and micro levels. There are a number of things to consider at the macro level in order to learn more about how people give and how we might disciple them.

They include:

  • Did we meet budget?
  • Are we living under our means or over our means?
  • How many people contributed to our budget this previous year?
  • How does giving grow as an individual’s engagement in ministry grows?
  • What was the average gift?
  • How did giving break down by amounts?
  • How many people use some form of electronic giving? What were they?
  • Did we have unbudgeted expenses?
  • Do we have large capital needs on the horizon?
  • What are our cash surplus levels?
  • How is our debt to budget ratio?

Once we have a handle on the big picture, it is time to dig deeper and pay attention to our budget at the micro level or ministry level.

This includes:

  • Were there areas that were over budgeted?
  • Were there areas that were under budgeted?
  • What ministries are in growth, plateau, or decline?
  • What ministries did we see the highest and lowest return on invested dollars?
  • What ministry line items could be reduced or eliminated?
  • What ministry line items need to be increased or added?
  • What new investments do we need to make to support our one-year horizon and measurable results?

Be willing to give “up in” order to “go up.” Give your team some time to make adjustments based on all that has taken place up to this point in the retreat. Let them work in subgroups. You will be surprised how this collaborative process will open up the willingness for team members to make sacrifices. When you include them in the process, they are more than likely willing to lead the way and the charge. Ask every team to give up something for the common good. Create a spirit of sacrifice by leading the way.

Conclude the retreat with a season of celebration and prayer. Model the way by affirming the contribution of the entire team. Celebrate the specific contribution of team members by highlighting how they have lived out the values of your church. Call the team to a season of fasting and prayer for next year’s vision.


Scrub the results before presenting the final budget. This next step requires time. Let the team know that the executive and finance team will pray and look at everything over the next few weeks before presenting the final budget to the entire team. Make sure you don’t over promise and under deliver. It is better to under promise and over deliver. Have a defined time when you will bring closure to the budgeting process. Informally include the entire team in the scrubbing process by soliciting feedback when needed.

We are recommending a process that is more vision based than most. Why? It keeps the process fresh and every year people know you rally around the vision. This will help diminish silos, personal entitlements, relational fears, and prevent you from just doing the same thing every year. Vision based financial leadership will also create the necessary clarity that when enacted properly will produce generosity, confidence, and surplus.

Ready to plan for your budget retreat? Click here to download a tool to help prepare and execute your retreat.



August 16, 2016

Summer Slump or Surplus Season

Inverness signIt’s summer and the temperature is getting steamy in Birmingham, AL. Schedules are cranking up around the church and vacations are in full swing. For most church leaders the beginning of the “summer slump” is a somewhat regrettable season. It usually begins with a lack of resources from the first five months of the calendar year. This is either created by over-spending, under-giving, or a combination of both. Then summer is met with raised expenses due to mission trips and camps. All this while attendance and giving both decline. It can be the perfect storm every 12 months. What is commonly seen as unavoidable is totally curable.

I recently enjoyed a lunch with the Senior Pastor, Bubba Justice, and Executive Pastor, Steve Cole from Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, AL. Their generosity report was very different. Here is what I heard:

  • Tithes and Offerings are up 8%
  • Total income is up 21% over projected budget
  • Giving is 8% ahead of expenses
  • Digital, weekday, and giving received in the mail is up 25%

Needless to say, this is a great way to head into summer and creates positive expectation beyond in both the staff and congregation as a whole. So how did we get here?

Step 1: Inverness Vineyard possessed a clearly articulated Motive (Value) for their organization in their Vision language. It is not a secret, but was collaboratively developed and is top-shelf on the minds of leaders. It states, “We are faithful with everything God has given us.” This clarity provides both a motivational feel and a filter for decisions. It reminds leaders to not live in another world, but to be faithful with their resources on that given day to fulfill the Vision.

Additionally, they possess a clearly articulated Habit (Measure) of a Christ-follower to help their church members better understand the path of spiritual development they need to walk. It states, “Give a regular offering in a God-honoring way.” Successful Christianity was moving beyond a dress code and event participation on a Sunday morning. This Habit is so clearly stated that a believer knows exactly how they are doing. Both a Motive for the leader and a Habit for the believer are great starting points, but they need a plan of accountable action.

Step 2: The church leadership was willing to name a substantial growth area that was hard. After doing some research, it was learned that 50% of the families or individuals attending Inverness Vineyard made no financial contribution in the course of a year. $0 was being given by 50% of the people. The Habit of “giving a regular offering” was an obvious discipleship need. This was shocking information when it was first realized. Inverness Vineyard is an average size church with hundreds of normal people in attendance, all while sitting in one of the most affluent counties in its state. It is certainly known for serving the poor as well as any church I know, but certainly 50% of the people could give something. Many times church leaders lack the grace needed to help individuals grow in the area of giving. Shame and guilt are unfortunately all too common results from how pastors address a struggle with generosity. Not the case at Inverness Vineyard. Grace abounds and practical steps with supporting help were on the way.

Step 3: Further conversations developed and it was learned that there are actually multiple types of givers noted in both the Scriptures and realized in their church. These needed to be articulated, affirmed, and led. Five types of givers developed from the “Consuming Giver” to “Overflowing Giver.” Each giver would have a Bible hero to learn from and follow. Personal growth steps that were helpful and practical would be provided. All ages would be engaged. What was needed was not a fund raising campaign for a project, but an opportunity to help people discover God’s best for their financial lives. It was about the people learning to honor God with their generosity, not about a financial need or crisis in the life of the church. Finally, this would not be a short team emphasis, but a long-term strategy of consistent spiritual growth.

Step 4: The staff had to learn a new language and practice new disciplines. Money can be seen as an unfortunate conversation that is forced or one to be avoided at all cost. Most staff members are more than glad to have their pastor address it, but will stand far back when it comes to vision and generosity. They needed clarity and confidence. The team needed to see generosity as a spiritual discipline just like prayer or Bible study. This released their creative energy. Confidence increased among the team as collaboration began. They were beginning to see how they could be “faithful” as leaders with all God had entrusted to them. When clarity and confidence joins the party success becomes highly probable.

Step 5: So you know this is just the beginning of their generosity story. Inverness Vineyard has only begun living generously and it doesn’t stop with their finances. People are now storing personal resources awaiting God’s voice of where to direct their giving. They are making adjustments as disciples to live for the Kingdom. Five Cities of Hope have begun. (Think small groups set on turbo to become house churches and church plants.) Their goal this year was to start three. God exceeded their expectations as only He could. One City Of Hope is living generously by taking on the mission of giving clothes to the poor in their community. These life giving new units are spread across the metro Birmingham area overflowing generosity. The reach of Inverness Vineyard has expanded far beyond its current location. The spiritual discipline of generosity actually fuels far more than the offering plate. It produces positive energy toward many relationships and efforts. It is safe to say the money conversation has changed forever.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to realize that both avoiding money as a spiritual conversation and chasing money to meet a need can have disastrous consequences. If you are passionate about God’s plan for generous living, then that is a completely different story. God has a vision for your church and all the resources to accomplish the vision. Learn to avoid the fund raising mindset and pressure with a whole new generosity culture. Your team and people will be glad you did.


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Click here to learn more about our new resource, Generous Life. Generous Life is a 5-session study with sermon outlines and small group guides for adults, youth, and children.

August 4, 2016

Thinking Like a Disciple Chaser

Leading a Generous Church cover

The following is an excerpt from my book, Leading a Generous Church.

Whenever I speak on the topic of creating a generous culture, I almost always begin with the following illustration. I want you to imagine a staircase that has 10 steps toward a second floor level. On the first floor is a first-time guest that is considering attending your church. Up on the second floor is a mature, generous disciple. Now, if you were to create a journey that led this first time guest up the stairs toward becoming a fully mature, generous disciple, what experiences would he or she need to have on each growth step? What would they need to learn, see, or feel? Who would they need to meet? Where would they need to be engaged? What disciplines would they need to acquire? What freedoms and passions would need to be unleashed? How many years might this journey take to move from a first time guest to a generous disciple?

Take the time to think about the information, truths, and stories that a person would need to experience. Then record these, one on each step. Once you have completed your 10-step growth track, take the time to make a list of the different ministries that you would need to engage to carry out your plan. Because once you know the ministry list, you will need to prepare materials, a ministry calendar, and do some training. If your process takes more or less than 10 steps, that is fine too.

Once you have completed these two lists, one of experiences and the other of ministries, what surprises you about your work?

I know your track is probably unique. But every time I do this exercise, invariably the first step has something to do with a positive first visit. This step might involve ministries like the Parking Lot Team, Greeter Team, Preschool Team, plus several others. When was the last time your staff gave consideration to how a generous culture begins in the parking lot? How does this change the way we think about growing generous disciples?

Now I want you to think of a different scenario. Imagine your church has set forth a faith-based budget for the year that resulted in a challenging financial growth number. It is early in the year, so growth has yet to meet expectations and financial pressure is beginning to rise. The pastor calls a staff meeting and gives the floor to the financial administrator. He or she describes the situation in guarded terms because it feels like poor leadership, but no one is brave enough to say it. The remedy is then announced. The pastor is going to send out a letter before summer for a catch up offering so the church does not dig deeper in a hole with camps and mission trips that are planned. Everyone is to watch the thermostats and light switches around the facility. A ministry spending freeze is also enacted. The meeting ends with an awkward silence and the side bar conversations begin.

Which staff meeting would you rather be a part of? The one which creates a generous culture in advance from the parking lot forward, or the one in which your ministry skills are reduced to being a switch flipper?

It is interesting to me that if I was to ask a worship leader how to take a first-time guest and grow them into a powerfully contributing member somewhere in the worship ministry, that growth track would be second nature. However, when it comes to the topic of money we feel uncertain. It is as simple and freeing as training a new greeter or small group leader. You just need to know your path.

Click here to download a free tool, Designing the Generous Disciple Staircase.

To purchase Leading a Generous Church click here.