Your Church’s Budget–And Why It May Grieve the Lord

Jesus or Money?I was thinking about how churches spend their money. Given all the verses in the Bible on finances and the sheer number of Christians who ascribe to Dave Ramsay’s philosophies, one would think we Christians in America would have this money thing down pat.

One would think.

But what would happen if we were to scrap the way we think about church budgets and adopt something more aligned to what the Bible says?

I could list a thousand verses on money in this post, but you already know them, right? We all know them. We just don’t adhere to them very well.

Here is what I’m thinking:

First, let’s take church staff salaries off the table for now. This is a baby-step process I’m advocating, and it’s no use angering anyone by suggesting we reevaluate staff costs now. Maybe when we’re more mature in the Lord. ;-)

Take the church budget and set salaries aside. Now take all the money leftover and split it into two equal piles: Inreach and Outreach.

The Bible states that we must take care of the needs of the brethren. That’s our Inreach. In truth, staff salaries should be part of Inreach, but we’ve got them excluded for now. Inreach covers the church physical plant, programs, and benevolences given to church members who need financial assistance.

The Bible states that we then take care of those outside the church. That’s our Outreach. Missions, connecting with lost people, and benevolences for the needy outside the church community comprise Outreach.

And that’s your basic church budget. I think that’s a Kingdom-minded approach, don’t you?

Now how many churches out there work that way?

I would suggest that Inreach and staff salaries dominate most church budgets. But there is a HUGE “however”: Inreach as allocated in too many churches leaves almost no money for benevolences given to church members. In fact, benevolences monies, whether for Inreach or Outreach, are often the smallest pool of cash in the church budget.

So much for “Give and it shall be given to you.”

As much as we talk about being others-centric in the American Church, our church budgets don’t reflect this. We really are too self-centered. For many churches, the Great Commission is thwarted by building and physical plant maintenance costs. When a church allocates little money for outsiders, it grows into itself and withers.

If you are a church leader, consider a different way of budgeting that better reflects the Kingdom of God. If it means not erecting a $10 million building so you can use those funds to finance the education of single moms in your community instead, then cancel the groundbreaking ceremony. If it means a Sunday School teacher who has been out of work gets to keep his house because you set aside monies for this kind of help, then go for it.

We live in disconcerting times. If we don’t adjust the way the Church spends money, we won’t be the first choice when lost people come looking for answers. The Church will look like any other worldly, tightfisted corporate entity, and no one is running to Megabiz Inc. for salvation.

by Dan Edelen

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16 Comments

  1. David
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    It must be budget time. Our church just had a meeting where we went over the budget. No mortgage. 25% goes to missions, 25% pays the one elder working full time and the church secretary (we don’t have a traditional pastor), 10% pays for maintenance and utilities. 15% goes for “inreach” – benevolence, classes, and the like. The elders would like more for maintenance, because the building is old and needs work, but that’s secondary to the missions budget. It’s easy to second guess a congregation and question whether people could give more. But who knows where people are giving other than the church? But yeah, I’d agree with the whole church building thing…One of the reasons the government had to step in a take care of people during the great depression is that the church during the ‘roaring 20’s’ had gone on a building spree, and by 1929 was in debt to it’s collective eyeballs. During the “years of plenty” they had not prepared for the “years of drought”. I think the same is true today.

    • Posted August 25, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      David,

      I wonder if people would give more if they saw their money going to more worthwhile purposes within the church. I know I probably would.

      Why do you think it is so hard for American Christians to prepare for times of drought?

      • David
        Posted August 25, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        I don’t think it’s limited to American Christians…It’s somehow human to party when there’s plenty instead of sock it away for a rainy day. It’s the oddity that prepares, as evidenced by the huge numbers of people who are depending on Social Security for retirement. I wonder if Christians need to be reminded that the bible repeatedly presents the concept of preparing for the future as a part of the godly life, while dissipation is the emblem of the ungodly.

  2. Posted August 25, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    It is not a stretch to say that a huge percentage of church budgeting is primarily aimed at maintaining the institution: buildings, staff, programs, i.e. things focused on people who are already Christians and their kids. The Southern Baptist Convention alone owns real estate valued at north of $40 billion that sits empty most of the week.

    • Posted August 25, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      The Southern Baptist Convention alone owns real estate valued at north of $40 billion that sits empty most of the week.

      !!!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy
        Posted November 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        After hearing that, I don’t want to hear any Baptists preaching on the Vast Mammon of the Catholic Church…

      • Doug
        Posted September 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        I suspect that your $40 billion includes properties belonging to individual churches. SBC does not own properties of member churches; they are owned by the indiviual churches.

  3. Posted August 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi – I sure appreciated your post. Personally, though, I would not have taken the pastoral salaries off the table. Maybe it’s just me, but I know from personal experience that many pastors make quite a bit more money than their parishioners – and we’re talking tens of thousands more. My question is this – whatever happened to “sell all thou has, give to the poor, and come follow me?” I believe that the pastoral staff should have enough to live on, but couldn’t they set a better example financially?

    Also, I do agree that most of the money ends up being allocated “inside.” What I have found over the years is that some churches then take on a “country club” mentality. They seem to exist for the spiritual comfort of their members, not to reflect Christ to the world.

    Just a few of my thoughts. Thanks so much for your post – you made some excellent points.

    • Posted August 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Lisa, I would agree that we can’t take pastoral salaries off the table but I understand why Dan would for purposes of this post. Suggesting that we maybe don’t need to pay clergy gets people all sorts of wound up!

  4. Jay
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

    I don’t understand how money preachers still use the verse to talk about money, when it is clearly in the context of judgement.

    Anyway, Sometimes I do think our priorities are out of whack. The church while looking inward, somehow misses the needs of those that are within the church. Not just financial, we do more to hurt our wounded than the “enemy” could ever do.

    Pastor’s need to return to their call of equipping the saints that they may do the work of the ministry.

    As far as paying our clergy, there is good biblical backing for paying them. I would also say that in a number of cases, they aren’t getting paid. I suppose this may differ from denomination to denomination though. Where I am, they definitely aren’t getting paid way above the average of the congregation.

    There are also the expectations put upon a minister. Usually when added up amount to something like 80+ hours a week of “ministry work”.

    No, I am not currently a paid minister, I am currently seeking licensing. The statistics are something that are put out there within my denomination though as to what is expected of a minister, and I have seen national averages before for what they get paid.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when pastors get overpaid, even if I don’t know about them. Different denominations work differently. There are also some pastors that make quite a bit of money outside of the 4 walls of the church. I can’t judge them if they are making an honest living outside of their pulpit. This to say salaries should be judged on a per case basis. That and the church needs to succeed at taking care of its own, which in my opinion it fails to do, sadly, especially the ones that have become country clubs.

    Sorry, I am long winded at times, and do come off a little stronger or more offensive than I intend, which here I am not trying to be offensive at all.

  5. Posted August 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Good job Dan..I just posted an article on charity and development and how the church needs to consider how to think with wisdom on how to serve to provide development for the deprived of the world as opposed to merely charity.

    • Posted August 28, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Brad,

      Long time, no hear! Thanks for dropping in.

      Your post has that “teach a man to feel” quality. Wise words. That asks more of us time-wise, which is one reason we don’t do it much.

      (BTW, for readers’ enlightenment, Brad’s post is here: http://21stcenturyreformation......arity.html.)

  6. Marsha
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I have been SO burdened by what I see our church doing with funds. We are taught in the Bible and in the pulpit to pay our bills, not to covet, not to be prideful, and to be benevolent. Sadly, we are in debt for buildings, college, new (and unecessary) chairs, music and drama, and other “prideful polish” that make us look good. But we don’t have a food or clothing bank because we don’t want to make people dependent and irresponsible. While I agree that we should not underwrite those who take from the church and waste their personal funds, I see that doing the same thing as a church is setting a hypocritical example.

  7. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I’m on our church’s Board and we wrestle every year. We are burdened not only by a hefty mortgage but on a significant drop in weekly contributions over the last two years. I read a couple of years ago about a metric that I’ve tried to apply since: including staff salaries, that a “tithe of a tithe” i.e. 10% of the budget should be ministry-focused. That doesn’t sound like much, but consider that overhead (mortgage, utiliites, insurance, etc) plus salaries can easily add up to 90% of the budget. Two years ago we were at 24% going towards foreign missions, internal ministries (youth, campus, marriage seminars, etc), and local benevolence. But when our weekly contribution drops by nearly 20% and the mortgage is fixed, what do you drop? It’s hard to drop the pay of the ministry staff so actual ministry gets cut. I’ll get off the soapbox now before I say something to get me in trouble. Needless to say, this is an area of constant prayer for me.

    At the same time, the first chapter of David Platt’s Radical Together hits on this point- that you need to look at everything you’re spending money on and ask honestly, what “programs” are actually advancing the Gospel? If I could force my whole board to read that one chapter… (oh wait, I said I was going to get off that soapbox)

  8. dave
    Posted October 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Pastoral salaries are not entirely Inreach. They are the overseers of benevloence ministries and pantry ministries and they deal with the lost souls who wander in during the week.Further they are the organizers of outreaches to the community, they motivate the body of Christ to reach out, and they are the primary atractant to the church if surveys can be believed. Many spend their own money to help the poor, to benefit others. While administration of the church and internal counseling also are in their portfolio, I believe it is small minded to think that they are largely inreach.

  9. Ivory Oracle
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I found this while searching for pie charts that show how donated $ is spent.

    The reason I am searching for that info is because I want to write about how $ given to churches actually ends up under government control, via 501C3 regulations / control, and through taxes on salaries paid to church employees.

    There is NO separation of church and state, not because the church dares to comment on public concerns (at the risk of losing their 501C3 status, of course), but because churches are controlled by the government through finances.

    As an aside, I find NO OT basis for the sort of tithing that is taught in churches. But I will table that conversation.

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