March 30, 2016

Large Church Money Facts

Facts imageRecently we partnered with a leading church research firm to conduct a national survey of hundreds of churches exceeding 1,000 people in worship attendance. Below are some interesting financial learnings I want to pass on to you:

1. 100% of large churches are engaging capital campaigns as a funding strategy.

2. 57% of large churches desire training and will lead their capital campaigns internally rather than hire a traditional capital campaign firm.

3. The #1 named financial challenge was current church debt load.

4. The #2 named financial challenge was aging donor base and not engaging younger donors.

5. The #3 named financial challenge was no strategy in place to encourage generosity.

6. Churches founded prior to 1900 launched the highest percentage of capital campaigns in the last year.

7. Churches over 2,000 in worship attendance showed a higher concern for debt load and aging donor base.

8. Churches between 1,000-1,999 in worship attendance showed the highest concern for lack of a strategy to encourage generosity.

9. The longer the church had been in existence, the more concerned it was with an aging donor base.

10. Churches in existence since 1980 showed the highest concern for debt load.

Facts should lead to clarity. Here is some advice: 

1. Generous churches are led by generous pastors and leaders. Pursue staff wide training as a part of your ongoing culture.

2. Debt is consistently the most limiting fixed expense. Create a culture of generosity to prepare for your future instead of leveraging your future with a burdensome debt load.

3. Don’t exchange a capital campaign for possessing a strategy to grow a generous culture. A commitment card is not the same as a generous life.

4. Go digital to reach the younger generation. Strive for 50% of your receipts to be received outside of the plate or box at the door.

5. A clear vision that creates an unstoppable culture is a powerful tool every pastor needs to possess. Generosity follows opportunity, relationship, and passion.

January 28, 2016

Our Team Is Growing

Kent - Web HeadshotBelow is a guest post by our newest team member, Kent Vincent. Kent can be reached at kent@auxano.com.

After 21 years of local church ministry, I’m excited to join the Resourcing Team of Auxano as a Lead Navigator. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on executive teams of great churches ranging in size from 300 on one campus, to 10,000+ on five campuses. One of the greatest challenges of the local church, big or small, is resourcing. Like you, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy raising money. In fact, I’ve been involved in campaign mode for all but six months of my ministry. Looking back on my campaign experiences, here are five insights that I bring with me into this new role:

1.   Vision vs. Project

Titles like “Time To Build” and “Possess The Land” communicate that the focus is the project, potentially void of a clear and compelling vision that would necessitate the project. Unfortunately, in my experience, the project WAS the vision far too often.

2.   “For” vs. “From”

To “Possess The Land” we need people to give money…a lot of money! We inadvertently focus on getting something “from” them, instead of developing a culture that desires something greater “for” them.

3.   Transformational vs. Transactional

When the campaign ends and the project is completed, we can lack legacy of what God has done in us collectively. We end up possessing a building or land, while missing the opportunity to create a significant movement of spiritual transformation in the process.

4.   Generosity vs. Money

We need money…God desires for us to grow in generosity. A church culture of generosity can only be accomplished through strategic discipleship and the movement of God. Chasing money creates a terrible culture for generosity.

5.   All vs. Select

The goal of any campaign should be 100% participation. A typical campaign can focus a lot of leadership energy courting potential big givers, communicating a powerful message to the rest of the congregation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a family remain seated or skip church during commitment weekend. They felt like they couldn’t participate, because their “widows mite” wouldn’t significantly impact the “hallelujah goal.”

I’ve joined the Resourcing Team of Auxano, because I saw them boldly challenging what I believe has become an outdated and overpriced approach. By elevating the role of vision, leadership, and discipleship, Auxano navigates toward:

1.   Clarity First – campaign goals are contextualized within a well-developed sense of organizational identity and direction.

2.   Process vs. Product – campaign design is emphasized through collaboration not prescription.

3.   Leadership Development – a holistic look at leadership development occurs before, during, and after the campaign.

4.   Discipleship Measurables –there is no such thing as a church vision that is not first a discipleship vision.

The economic crash of 2008 brought about significant change, not only financially, but culturally as well. People have become far more discerning about the dollars they’re investing, requiring a clear return of impact on that investment. Smart leaders are doing the hard work of identifying their Church Unique, clarifying and communicating their compelling vision, creating margin by simplifying programming, and growing generous disciples that are taking the Church to their own neighborhoods. I believe that we’re once again getting back to what God intended His local church to be. Join the movement!

 

January 19, 2016

6 Givers Jesus Knew

jar of coinsSharing stories of people doing both good and great things inspires others. When it comes to giving, people can often feel shame and inadequacy. However, the Bible reveals great nuggets from people who lived attainable generous lives on an every day basis. I was recently reading through the Gospel of Luke and was captured by these stories of generosity. Jesus introduces us to men and women, both mature and immature in their faith. He describes both real and fictional characters engaged in very normal activities; still they manage to live abundantly generous lives. Some of these characters are expected while others are rather unexpected. Here are some giving people that Jesus knew and wants us to know.

Unsuspecting Giver– Luke 8:1-3 tells us about some of the early actions of the 12 disciples and several ladies. These early recruits were newbie’s in the faith, straight out of the marketplace. On top of that, the women are described as formerly having evil spirits, diseases, and demons. This is probably not the list that most would make heroes of or at least not just yet. Still these early adopters who are taking their first steps of faith are said to be supporting Jesus “out of their own means” and Jesus wants to make sure you know them. There are no high and lofty requirements to generosity, just give.

Called Giver– Luke 9:3 and 10:4 introduces us to an extreme giving request of Jesus. He called His early disciples, over 80 of them, to give up everything for the sake of a short-term mission trip. He sent them all out into the harvest, to share the good news and help people with their needs. Jesus called them to go, take nothing, not a dime or a change of clothes, not even a snack. We are called to support Jesus both out of our means and at times by giving up all that we have. Don’t worry, you won’t be the first or last person Jesus asks or sends out – just one of many who have learned to enjoy the adventure.

Compassionate Giver– Luke 10:35 introduces us to a fictional character, but the story is powerfully real. Today we call him The Good Samaritan, a man who allowed his day to be interrupted. He didn’t permit the inconvenience or expense to stop him. Whatever others may say about his investment in a troubled person did not matter. He gave compassionately and comprehensively. No trite pat on the back here. Rather he gave time, energy, and resources over an extended period for a man he may never see again. Giving people are both simple and alert. This story could look a little heroic, but it’s really just common courtesy. If you can’t be stopped in your tracks, you will never be able to give compassionately.

Investing Giver– Luke 10:15ff is another fictional character in a very real situation. It’s a successful businessman tempted by greed. His thriving business has put him in a quandary. His barns are too small, so he builds bigger barns to store his wealth and coast into the future. Only life changes and his money can’t solve his spiritual problem. Focusing on an earthly investment did not pay off as he anticipated. Jesus instructions are to live by faith and don’t trust in worldly wealth. Instead, sell your possessions and give to the poor. This will reap an unstoppable reward and grow a heart toward God. Seeing the future clearly helps us hold loosely to the things of today.

Fake Giver– Luke 18:22 shares about a man who lived on the dark side of generosity. We commonly call him the Rich Young Ruler. He appears to desire a relationship with Jesus; however, as the story unfolds we learn where his heart really is. He is so proud of his religious life, and then Jesus exposes that it is paper-thin. No hero here. This is only a stark reminder that the Rich Young Ruler can be a stealthy resident in the life of very religious people. He chooses to fail at generosity and he had all the resources to accomplish it. How sad.

Transformed Giver– Luke 19:8 provides us with an immediate and rather bold response of faith. It comes from Zacchaeus. He is a brand new follower of Jesus – less than one day. He is really wealthy just like the Investing Giver and the Fake Giver. Jesus doesn’t ask him to show his faith through generosity at all. This still this doesn’t stop Zaccheus from thinking about it on his own. He confesses his financial sins having been a cheat and thief. Then he demonstrates a changed life by giving half of his possessions to the poor and paying back anyone he wronged four times what he owed them. Jesus said we would be known by things like love and fruit. Generosity is a great demonstration of both.

These are just a few of the giving stories in the Bible. Why not pick one of the stories and share it with someone else? Why not make a commitment to learn and live the lessons of one of them this week? You might even consider reading one of the stories to your family and create a family practice of learning to live generously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 1, 2015

In Celebration of #GivingTuesday

2015-Only-Way-to-GiveI am so glad to be living in our current generation where giving and a generous lifestyle are becoming cultural norms. You may or may not know this, but giving is a part of the fabric of our universe. It is actually a path to discover God and become all He desires you to become.

“Now in its fourth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.” www.givingtuesday.org

It is inspiring to watch generosity flourish. To celebrate this day, here are a couple of simple principles that I just can’t escape regarding generosity.

  •  First, God is a very generous God.
  • Second, He created us in His image to be generous people.
  • Third, when we are generous together the world is a better place.
  • Finally, generosity is rewarding to both the giver and receiver. Money can really bind us at times and create many life burdens. Generosity is the path of freedom, joy, and impact.

Our Auxano Team wants to celebrate #givingtuesday and a lifestyle of generous living. When our team was asked to complete the sentence “I am moved to give because…” Here is just some of what they said:

“I am moved to give because God FIRST gave to me.” – Bryan Rose

“I am moved to give because it grows and strengthens my heart to be more like God’s, just like exercising a muscle.” – Will Mancini

“I am moved to give because it’s a privilege to give back to God what He has so richly blessed me with.” – Bob Adams

“I am moved to give because God owns everything and He’s entrusted much to us.” – Clint Grider

“I am moved to give because I believe in the model of generosity. (My parents modeled generosity and challenged me to be generous. This may be their greatest legacy and one I hope to model to my own children.)” – Chris Rivers

“I am moved to give because God has blessed me so much and now I get to bless others.” – David Putman

“I am moved to give because sharing with others is God’s example and we live our lives through Him.” – Tessy Rice

“I am moved to give because there is a need.” – Mike Gammill

“I am moved to give because the Holy Spirit prompts me.” – Jim Randall

“I am moved to give because there is so much need.” – Andrea Kandler

“I am moved to give because it keeps my life focused on what is important.” – Todd McMichen

November 16, 2015

The Generosity Prayer

GenerosityPrayer_InstagramI know you’ve heard of “The Serenity Prayer which was said to be authored by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930’s or 1940’s.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs have adopted these powerful 27 words. Over the years it has been prayed by millions of people searching for wisdom, courage, and peace in their time of need.

I would like to introduce you to The Generosity Prayer, which is inspired by 2 Corinthians 9:8-11.

“Thank you, Lord, for blessing me in all ways, at all times, with more than I need. Lead me to live generously, share joyfully, and look expectantly toward my future.

This prayer is a positive confession, a powerful request, and a hopeful promise. It acknowledges the truth that generosity begins with God, and is then followed by a request to grow in a lifestyle of faithful and generous living. Finally, it concludes by reminding us that generosity isn’t something that robs our future, but insures it of provision. I have found it to be easy to remember and really helpful in providing me with a proper life perspective by recalibrating my thoughts, eyes, heart, and hands. I encourage you to pray this prayer repeatedly for 30 days. As we look toward Thanksgiving, now would be a great time to begin!

October 5, 2015

Five Givers You Need to Know

Give PhotoI have been reading through the Bible this year and journaling about all things related to generosity. It has been an amazing journey as I have learned about the generous nature of God and how faithful He is. I have also watched business leaders rise up with extreme generosity, as well as seeing how life can easily distract us from a giving lifestyle. However, the variety of ways God leads people to be generous has been especially inspiring. Here are just a few:

The Spontaneous Giver can be seen in the young boy with his fishes and loaves (John 6:9).I do not think this young man woke up that day committed to giving away all he had. However, when the surprise opportunity arose he held loosely to his stuff. Jesus then took his meager stuff and blessed thousands. Live with an open hand seeking much fruit.

The Devoted Giver can be seen in Cornelius (Acts 10:2). The Bible says that he was devout, prayerful, and generous. He lived this way both privately and publicly. It was how he led his family and also how he led his career (see Acts 10:7). In this passage we learn that his consistent devotion was recognized by God and he was honored with a greater assignment.

The Faith-Filled Giver can be seen in the widow and her offering (Luke 21:2). This passage really interested me because of its level of description. This poor widow gave two small copper coins. Her gift just keeps getting smaller and smaller the more words the author uses. However, her result, as stated by Jesus, was she gave more than everyone else because she gave all she had to live on. Evidently Jesus does measure the faith amount. He makes small things big.

The Creative Giver can be seen in Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37). Barnabas had something valuable. A piece of property he owned. However, his eternal perspective and the needs around him caused a generous response. The property he owned was actually a gift from God to meet the needs of another. He sold the property and brought 100% of the proceeds to the apostles so they could meet the needs of the community. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to do the same in Acts 5. I love how these two stories are found back to back in the Bible.

The Crazy Giver can be seen in the lady with her alabaster jar of perfume (Mark 14:3). This extremely generous gift was given directly to and benefitting Jesus. The Bible tells us that this perfume was worth more than an entire year’s wage! It was such a crazy-big gift it shocked those who were present. They actually rebuked her for being wasteful – instead Jesus applauded her. He says it is a clear reminder of how generous the gospel really is.

While each of these stories stands powerfully on its own, they are even more challenging when you consider the variety of ages, cultural backgrounds, religious upbringing, and financial capacities of the individuals. We have no excuses to avoid a generous life. I also love that the word “tithe” is never used. Instead we are challenged to give far beyond 10%. Why not pick out one of these givers and practice this week? If you are a church leader, make sure you are teaching and leading by example. Generosity shouldn’t be a sermon preached when we have a need, but a daily practice of a transformed life.

September 22, 2015

Why is Fund Raising Not Fun?

PiggyBankMost pastors do not realize that the professional fund raising industry for churches began to strongly establish itself in the 1970’s with the founding of a few key firms. Today, the foundation of the largest and most successful firms, along with several smaller and individually operated groups, still derive strategies from these initial firms. Even still the most popular approaches today in modern church fund raising can trace their practices back to the strategies developed in the early 1900’s by famed YMCA fund raiser, Charles Sumner Ward. It was Ward who developed initiatives like, a short run campaign, celebrity endorsements, use of professional marketing, and the “campaign clock” or aka, thermometer.

Many of the largest church capital fund raising firms have had a challenging journey the last decade as a result of the 2008 recession. Today, the business is thriving again for most firms, but the call of the pastor is different. There is less interest today in short-run, expensive campaigns that yield a high immediate return at the cost of a healthy culture. Over the past year our firm has watched a number of churches call with a fund raising need, but with a greater desire for a more substantial experience. Pastors tend to resist fund raising seasons though they know they are nearly unavoidable. This gap of needing funds and the resistance to raise funds must be bridged. God has blessed pastors with vision, gifted His people with resources, and is calling His church toward an impactful future.

Here are some responses intended to answer the question, “Why is fund raising not fun?”

1. Because fund raising is money focused. (Disciple chasing is obedience focused.)

There simply is no way to get around it. Pure fund raising is often need based and driven to achieve a financial transaction. The very clear stated objective at the outset of any major campaign is the need for money, usually large sums of money that a church does not have readily available. The stress and pressure is definitely felt. However, as the church we have the confidence that God-initiated dreams are His responsibility to fund. Man should not feel the pressure to produce. God has all the resources needed and more. As a matter of fact, He already has a plan in place to fund His vision. What He desires is to lead His people on a journey so they are ready for what He plans to do through them in the future.

2. Because fund raising can be a lucrative business. (Disciple chasing is wise stewardship.)

For several years I served on church staff and experienced multiple campaigns. With each campaign we hired a different fund raising firm and cringed at the cost and approach. Eventually I would leave staff and start my own generosity firm. I am so glad today to be a salaried employee in a non-profit that seeks to provide professional generosity coaching at a price that is good stewardship for the local church. The truth is that local church staff and leadership will do the vast majority of the work. A professional is hired for experience and expertise. It is so empowering to reframe fund raising in a discipleship context for staff teams. It creates such collaboration, builds confidence, and releases resources.

3. Because fund raising is outside in. (Disciple chasing is inside out.)

Fund raising sees the project first, then the funding gap. Discipleship sees the vision. This vision is fueled by faith in a God who promises to accomplish it through His people. I always want to be a part of projects that inspire biblical faith, require bold prayers, and put us totally dependent upon God. These elements grow a disciple. Generosity is far more a heart issue than a wallet issue. Once a heart is in love, generosity can’t be stopped.

4. Because fund raising is a short run fix. (Disciple chasing is a long-term surplus.)

Whenever we are interviewed by churches, leaders want to talk about campaign follow up. They readily admit that it is important to success as well as a point of previous failure. However, I am still amazed when the future campaign is complete how few churches maintain the stewardship trajectory began during a healthy process. Money is something every human handles every day. God is a generous God and He created us to be generous. Generosity feels great to both the giver and receiver. It is such an easy and common conversation that should never grow old. Overflowing, joy filled generosity can happen every week, not just when there is a critical need.

5. Because fund raising is not pastoral. (Disciple chasing is very pastoral.)

I do not believe God called pastors to be fund raisers. I do believe He called them to be visionary disciple makers. Generosity is in the heart of every human. On the other side of generosity is freedom, reward, and fruit. Every pastor desires these things for the people he leads. Your people need your help. They need to know and experience what the Bible teaches. However, most pastors lack the confidence to tackle this timely issue.

August 18, 2015

How to Lead the Best Money Meeting Ever

Group of happy business people clapping their handsRecently I had the privilege of launching a Generosity Culture session with a pastor who is leading one of the most successful churches in his state. Over the years they have grown from a few hundred to thousands of people generating millions of annual income. You would think that this kind of numeric success would be sufficient to just stay the course. However, 10% of their people are giving over 50% of the revenue and they are praying for an even more significant impact in their city, which requires a flood of resources.

After several hours of meeting, sharing, and dreaming with the team, it was simply one of the most inspiring money meetings I have ever witnessed. Here are some insider tips:

1. We talked about generosity and not money. Money is paper, metal, and plastic which is not very inspiring. Generosity is a heart joy straight from the Creator of our souls. Language creates culture; words create worlds. Learn the language of generosity.

2. We invited everyone to the conversation, not only the finance office. Everyone handles money. However, sometimes the dollars and cents are left to a small few. How different is a generosity conversation when the Children and Worship Pastors are in the room? Their passion and perspective was invaluable.

3. We talked about life impact not expenses or receipts. When budgets are the topic, numbers and line items can rule the game. It was so enlightening to hear stories of how money was being used to transform a life. Money looked much different when seen through the eyes of addiction recovery and cancer treatment care.

4. We talked about the future first, not the present or the past. When you see the future clearly as a team, it produces such freedom when it comes to budget planning and expenses. The future frames the present.

5. We talked about what could be, not what would never be. I have watched God provide far beyond the calculators of men. I have watched gifts come in and doors opened when leaders lead with bold faith and a clear calling. This church had these experiences. Past success spurred future faith.

6. We talked about their city, their people, and the Bible, not a spreadsheet. Every city, life, and family possesses a money story. Once you know the story you can learn your role in growing a generous disciple that enjoys fruit far beyond their means. People want to live big lives and money is a significant story line.

7. We talked about vision, not a capital campaign. Campaigns are necessary when you need a large infusion of resources in a short period of time. However, you can lead your church to live in the land of surplus each and every day. More and more churches are prioritizing a generous culture long before they have a critical need.

8. We talked about discipleship, not debt reduction. Debt reduction programs are only sometimes good ideas. If your church feels as if it is struggling with debt, you are probably struggling more with cash flow. Cash flow can be increased many different ways. Don’t settle for old ideas.

9. We talked about fun and freedom, not bondage and limitation. Most church money conversations are some version of getting more money from people and not getting more blessings for people. When our motive is money and not the freedom that comes from obedient discipleship, we are way off as leaders.

10. We talked together, not being told how it would be. This is big! Try kicking off your annual budgeting process with vision and celebration. Let every ministry leader share their dreams based off the direction provided. Spending and investment choices now become a unifying experience toward a greater goal.

These are only a few of the things that I learned from our conversation. I hope they inspire you to raise the bar on the money conversation at your church.

August 4, 2015

4 Tips to Lead a Church to Financial Break-Thru

Leading a Generous Church coverI’ve had the privilege of founding two non-profit organizations, one for-profit company, and spent time as an employee of several multi-million dollar organizations. I also run the finances for my family. As I ebbed and flowed through these different financial environments I began to recognize patterns about how money grows and is invested, or on the flip side, how it quickly becomes wasted via expenses. While each of these environments may have shared the common goal of year-end profitability, the mindset, perspective, and specific objectives varied greatly.

Here are four key gleanings about financial health that apply specifically to the local church and Senior Pastors in particular.

1. Senior Pastors need the PRIORITY that is often modeled by the President of a Non-Profit Organization

The NPO leader has two very clear objectives every day, keep the vision clear and develop resources. No one can develop large amounts of resources for an NPO like the senior leader. The truth is that most employees would never have it cross their minds to help with this effort. They are too busy executing their department tasks. Whenever I find a Senior Pastor that is both the lead giver and the lead developer of gifts I find a church that is experiencing financial break thru.

2. Senior Pastors Need the FOCUS of a For-Profit Company Founder

The founder and owner of a for-profit company wakes up each week with two objectives in mind, keep the vision laser focused and produce more revenue than expenses. As the owner of a company you measure success by happy clients and positive cash flow. Every single expense is seen as either an investment that the owner is willing to take, perhaps even in exchange for a temporary pay reduction, or it is seen as wasted money. I know the success of the church is not measured by dollars, but discipleship. However, I also know it is sin to mismanage God’s resources. Being a wise steward, which is the call of God, involves both discipling generosity and being tenaciously obedient with the resources. Senior leaders do you know the eternal value of each dollar your organization raises and expends? Whenever I see a church with this kind of laser focused perspective, I find a church that is experiencing financial break thru.

3. Senior Pastors need the PASSION that comes from being the provider in the home

This is where the message can get serious. Most men wake up driven to succeed financially, provide well for their families, and enjoy the fruit of their labors. Great men care greatly for the provision and protection of their families. As a matter of fact it is intuitively engrained in the DNA of men. Unfortunately, it is common for me to find Senior Pastors who feel this way about their church, but do not connect the dots with the personal involvement in the financial management and leadership of the church. Many pastors have a general knowledge of financial matters, but not a passion for the financial success of the organization they lead. We would never allow our families to live in financial weakness without working towards a concrete solution. Example, most families would not raise their annual family budget 5-10% and ask their family to have vision and pray for growth. Yet, the average church practices this kind of principle every year.

4. Senior Pastors need the generosity CONFIDENCE that comes from Scripture

God’s Word is very practical, specific, inspiring, and replete with financial wisdom. I find that break thru financial churches are led by a senior pastor that has a high view and breadth of knowledge regarding the Bible’s principles of stewardship and generosity. Even if they lack the highest level of accounting and financial business practices, knowing and trusting Scripture allows them to experience overflow. This is why I put together a simple guide to help pastors gain confidence, a practical tool to lead their staff, and pathway to develop the spiritual discipline of generosity in the disciples you lead. Leading a generous church is totally possible and it has nothing to do with church size, location, income earning, or style. It has everything to do with priority, focus, passion, and confidence.

For additional reading, here are a couple of real life case studies:

Harvest Church, Billings, Montana
Main Street Church, Toledo,Ohio

For more practical tips and inspiration, check out my book, Leading a Generous Church.

 

June 29, 2015

Rescue Me from My Church Budget

Balancing The Account By HandThe church budgeting process ranks fairly low on the list of the most motivating and inspiring experiences in a minister’s life. Pastors will line up to deliver a message, shepherd the hurting, pray for the wayward, and lead the body forward. However, if a pastor lies awake at night thinking of the church budget, it’s usually for the wrong reasons.

Let’s look at a popular budgeting process. It begins with ministry leaders submitting their annual requests for funds. Some inflate their numbers because they don’t expect to receive their request. Others underestimate their budget needs.

Once the numbers are in, the vetting process begins. Unfortunately, this process is often shaped more by fixed expenses and relational loyalties than most would like to admit. Tough decisions are always present, which result either in hurt feelings or a stressful extension of reasonable financial limits.

By the time the budget is complete the process has gone on too long, and fear or disappointment has set in among the ministry team. Finally, the budget is sent to a financial business meeting for approval, where it’s secretly hoped few show up to participate.

Does a positive, rewarding, and visionary budgeting process exist? If so, what does it look like?

Let me suggest a different approach—one that can increase vision, disciple your people, and set you free from the bondage that sometimes accompanies money.

1. Begin with a season of prayer and fasting. Scripture teaches the tithe is holy to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). This applies both to the one giving and the one spending. God grants you resources to use for His glory and to impact lives.
Your leadership needs to feel deep gratitude and responsibility before the process begins. Releasing ownership will change the language of the conversation from the beginning.

2. Recount how God has been at work over the past year. Where do you see the fruit of His hand or the anointing of His Spirit? Seeing the hand of God can provide a good indication of what He desires to do in the future.

Ultimately, you need to align your resources to support God’s work. Acknowledging God’s work will prevent personal agendas, subjective opinions, and ministry silos from occurring. Released resources and the Spirit’s leading create wonderful meetings.

3. Stand on the foundation of vision clarity and a well-defined discipleship strategy. No church is great at everything. Do you know what your church does better than 10,000 others? God places unique people in unique communities for a specific period of time.

Your church has its own unique calling and it’s not supposed to compete with the congregation across town or mirror the church across the country. You are free to be you. This level of focus will cause your ministry to expand. It helps you say a powerful “yes” as well as a confident “no.”

4. Learn your ROI. Do you know the impact of a dollar spent? Are you investing the proper amount to gain the desired result to accomplish your dream? The longer a church exists, the more its budget grows. It’s rare that a congregation evaluates an expense based on the return.

We tend to continually fund ministries long after they have lost effectiveness. Every ministry line is not mission critical and not all ministries are created to exist forever. The vision to glorify God and make disciples never changes, but strategy does.

5. Allow strength and strategy to lead. This may be a radical concept for most, but give consideration to each budget year starting with a blank slate by not encouraging each department to make its own financial requests. Instead, allow the activity of God, the vision strategy, and a few select financially gifted people to create a solid business plan.

This doesn’t mean collaboration and dialogue are removed. It simply means those with the giftedness should lead under the clear direction of the bigger picture vision.

6. Spend strategically, not simply less. This might be the most shocking piece of advice. Create a spending plan that spends only 90 percent of your previous year’s undesignated giving receipts. (This may take a few years to accomplish.) Most churches increase their budget 3-15 percent annually.

Why do we do this? “It’s faith based and visionary,” the pastor says. However, it tends to create a lot of stress and reduced spending throughout the year. In reality, it’s far from visionary. It can be careless, unfocused, and demotivating. It creates a crisis money culture instead of a generous culture.

7. Plan to be surprised. Every year God will call you to become engaged in something you can’t currently see. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that something will break or wear out. And then there’s the next growth step that will need to be funded, too.

Prepare for what you can’t currently see. Nothing is more financially freeing than cash reserves. It’s a sure way to tell God “yes” before He ever asks you to go. Now, don’t step over the line and hoard cash reserves. God gives you money to invest in His causes.

8. Inspire others with the vision investment plan. This is the opposite of simply getting church budget approval. A well-designed spending plan and presentation should bring glory to God, affirm those who have invested, validate what the leaders have said in the past, and inspire toward the future. It should raise generosity. Loyalty and confidence in the leadership should increase. A faith-filled expectation for the future inspires all.

Everything is a choice. As leaders, we choose the financial culture we create. Every conversation can be both a vision and discipleship conversation. It all depends on how you lead it.