Effective Stewardship Is Not Budget Driven

August 20th, 2012

In far too many of our churches the pastor and finance committee are focused on developing the budget, perfecting the budget, and meeting the budget so that bills and payroll can be paid.

A fair amount of energy in August and September is spent reviewing the current budget, tweaking a few line items, adding a new line or two to support new ministries – all designed to have the new year’s budget ready in October or November. This process is often driven by a desire to present to the congregation a budget with only a 2 or 3 percent increase – in the belief that the congregation would accept that as a reasonable increase. The line-item shifting process is also driven by a desire to inform the congregation of fixed increases the finance committee is facing in insurance and utility cost, to move some dollars out of ministry areas that have fallen out of favor, and to reward the pastor and staff with at least a cost of living increase.

As soon as the new year’s budget is perfected, the energy shifts to exploring ways to distribute copies of the line item budget to as many congregational households as possible.

The pastor and congregational leadership are committed to spending a hundred days on this budget perfecting process in the belief that when the average parishioner sees the perfection of the new budget, and the ministries contained within, they will proportionally increase their giving to cover the 3 percent increase needed to pay the church’s bills in the new year.

It’s time for this paradigm to change.

Bill Easum has been calling for this change for some time. In Unfreezing Moves: Following Jesus Into The Mission Field, he writes, “Do your stewardship of money drive first, and then draw up a budget. Encourage people to give because they want to, rather than because the church needs money.”

Herb Miller in his New Consecration Sunday, Revised Edition, also recommends conducting the campaign before building the annual operating budget. He writes, “Setting the budget first, then raising the money, holds giving down. Church members, remembering the ‘fair share’ motto of many secular organizations, make minor increased in their giving when they see that the new budget is only 4 percent higher than last year. Building the budget after the campaign takes the lid off potential increases by eliminating the fair-share, dues-paying syndrome and by eliminating the inevitable negative reaction everyone has to one or two items in the printed budget proposal.”

Church Finance Committees are finding it hard to leave the old methodology behind. There are tremendous forces shouting, “We’ve always prepared our annual budget before the stewardship campaign.” There are three or four people on your Finance Committee who have always relied on first discovering if the proposed budget contains a 2 percent or a 3 percent increase before deciding what percentage to increase their personal annual giving. There are also three or four people on your Finance Committee who believe that the proposed budget itself is a powerful tool for encouraging every parishioner to give. For years the theme of your Finance Committee has been, “Your church needs money to accomplish the ministries described in our budget. Please give generously so that these ministries can be accomplished.”

Imagine a new paradigm where you build your stewardship program, not on the church’s need for money, but rather on each parishioner’s need to give. Imagine the primary theme of your stewardship program, year after year, to be “What percentage of your income do you feel God is calling you to give?” Imagine discovering the amount of financial support the Lord is going to provide through your parishioners, and then deciding the best way to use those resources to serve the Lord. Imagine using the total of these commitment cards, subtracting anticipated shortfall and adding anticipated loose-plate offerings, in preparing your budget for the new year. 

It is indeed time for this new paradigm to become your church’s paradigm.

Last week I shared research that supports the fruitfulness of this “percentage-giving” model. There are their practical reasons to make this shift.

More compelling for me, however, is the fact that faithful stewardship is a vital part of each individual’s journey toward becoming a deeply devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. As a church, we should be inviting our parishioners to stop being luke-warm, to stop ‘sitting on the fence,’ and to reengage in the journey toward faithfully following the Lord in every facet of our lives, hearts, hands, and homes. With equal energy we should be inviting our parishioners to grow in their prayers life, worship life, love of the scriptures, financial giving growing to the biblical minimum standard of the 10 percent tithe, giving our time to serve the Lord by the strength of our hands and the sweat of our brow, and inviting others in a winsome way to join us in this journey to the cross.

Imagine a finance committee that discovers the amount of financial resources the Lord is going to provide in the coming year, and then deciding the best way to use those resources to serve and honor the Lord. It’s time for all of us to focus – not on simply paying the church’s bill – but rather to discover “What percentage of my income do you feel God is calling me to give?”

Learn more about my personal struggle with this new paradigm.


This article is third in a four-week series on stewardship from Bob Crossman. See the first two: Stewardship and Vitality and Common Stewardship Pitfalls

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