In my experience I fear that we may be giving people the wrong message. If, for instance, two strangers arrived at our churches for the Annual Meeting would they come away with a clear sense of what our mission is? If they read recent bulletins, looked at the congregational newsletter, and examined the correspondence that went out to parishioners, would they come to understand that we are about changing lives? I am not so sure. I am suspicious that they might come away thinking that this organization is about survival and meeting a budget.
Let me be clear, I do think we are still in the business of changing lives; I am just not sure we are doing well at communicating that, particularly to those who are not regular attendees. If this is true, we may be hurting our ministries, and ironically, hurting our budgets!
Let me focus today on our Annual Financial Report. This document usually goes to every church family. It is, in many churches, one of the few pieces of correspondence that is sent out to everyone. And yet, what does that report communicate? Does it share our passion, our commitment, and how we are making a difference? Some argue that the document, usually presented as a “line budget” with a list of income and a list of expenditures, is not easy to understand. Others argue that while it is great report for accountability, it is not what members want or need to understand what we are about. Finally, there is the argument that instead of motivating others to give, and increase giving, line budgets focus on the bottom line and encourage us to give to meet the budget of an institution rather than to give to mission and ministry. That may be fine for many long-time members, but less so for all others. I would maintain that Instead, what members need, is a report of what we have done in the past year, how we are making a difference, and what plans we have for the coming year, and how we all can be a part of increasing that mission. In other words, I would maintain that what we need is a Narrative Budget, not a line budget! **
What is a Narrative Budget? Simply put, it is a way to present the pastoral charge's yearly budget in a descriptive format. It attempts to tell the "story" of why our church needs money, and how the offering gets spent on the mission and ministry of the pastoral charge. Narrative Budgets motivate people to give to ministry, rather than to the budget, or to "pay the minister." Narrative Budgets do not replace the Financial Statement; it builds upon it, and reinterprets the information into a story.
A Narrative budget is a wonderful tool of communication. It not only shares the budget, it tells our congregation’s story, and it encourages us to become involved, or to become more involved, in our congregation’s efforts to change lives. Research indicates that one of the primary reasons people give of themselves, and offer their financial resources, is compassion. Narrative budgets not only evoke our compassion and our desire to make a difference; this tool, I believe, better explains what it is we are about as a church. Isn’t it worth a try?
For more information on Narrative Budgets, what it is, and how to create one, check out this page on my website: http://programleadershipdevelopment.weebly.com/congregational-stewardship.html
On April 20th there will be a webinar on Narrative Budgeting. For more information on this event, how to register, and how to participate see here: https://www.united-in-learning.com/index.php/narrative-budgets
If you have questions, or need help to get started, contact me.
*Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship, by J. Clif Christopher, Abingdon Press, 2008
** I would expect that Line Budgets would still be produced, reviewed by the Governing Board, and available to individuals who request it. But the official document shared with the church would be the Narrative Budget.