Thursday, October 5, 2017

Church Budgeting for God’s Local Mission

As your church moves into the end of the year, be sure to connect mission and ministry assessment with your budgeting processes. There are some big and small questions which may be helpful as we live into this next chapter of church life. While a committee should tackle the separate areas of ministry with this sort of evaluative mindset I’ll share some thoughts specific to mission and outreach.

Some of the big questions include: What percentage of your church funding is spent inside the church or to serve the church insiders? How much goes outside to serve, engage, & relate to others? Why are we funding this project or activity? Answers to these questions may then spur all sorts of additional curiosities. Many congregations are closed system, i.e. completely are almost closed inward focused and cut off from their community, and in addition to other ways of finding this truth the funding picture will also reflect this. Reorient funding toward getting the church out of the building and creating momentum in community relationships and being the church in the community.  

I find many, many congregations are stuck, if not trapped, in the past. The history of what has been strangles the work of mission and ministry, and often leaves little room for new possibilities today and tomorrow. These patterns of “things past” are shown in the calendar and in the budget, and while obvious to the “outsider” may be a comfortable routine for the church and accepted rather than discussed.

As I’ve met with churches they’ve taught me that, more often than not, the way they view mission is a diffused smattering of financial giving and varied “do gooder” activities. Perhaps a denominational leader, or pastor, or laity spark plug in the church encouraged the support at some point. The response was relational, and perhaps not so strategic in terms of congregational mission. When most congregations write all of these “missions” down to show me the giving and participation it typically looks like a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep, except there is little to nothing to show any interconnectedness or strategic decisions making in the scheme. Further, it can be challenging for many in a congregation to show ANY relationship of the mission “plan” to the whole life of the church. Or for anyone in the group to share theologically the importance or prioritization of these activities for the whole congregation as they express what it means to be the Body of Christ.  Some churches even confess that as long as those “lone rangers” in mission don’t cause any trouble it’s best to leave well enough alone.

That’s fine, I guess, if a church has too many people and too much money! But for most congregations that’s not the case anymore. So, it’s more important than ever for congregations to have a laser focus in mission and ministry, to have great alignment of all the ministries pulling in the same direction, and for the church to let go of the past and live into the future that God is creating.

Better budgeting for mission would likely be built on:
  • A strategic plan for the whole congregation engaged as the Body of Christ which aligns mission with worship, discipleship, prayer, evangelism, and the totality of church life.

  • A prioritization of the mission of God with strong local foundation and solidly rooted in the church in community, i.e. not just giving church funds and people as volunteers to a non-profit.

  • A focused plan that engages every age and stage of the congregation in mission throughout the year through education, prayer, and participation and have sufficient funding for such a holistic approach.

  • A strong present and future orientation, which is built on the past but not trapped by it, which helps the congregation respond in active participation to the love of God and love of neighbor (as ourselves). This will have a practical, healthy evangelism and outreach component.   

  • Renewal of the church as a mission outpost with mission of God as a way to help the church be the church “in” and “of” the community. Escape the cloistered building, create the living church in the community, follow Jesus out in the streets, and help the congregation to be a movement that serves the community. 

In my mind such a budget might wisely focus on a few primary areas. Put most of the budget and calendaring emphasis on local community mission. Don’t only define local mission as giving funds and volunteers to outside organizations! Focus on the congregation being primary in God’s mission in the community. This is “home base” and where your congregation has the most access of time and interest. If you fail to develop this, or relegate it to specialized non-profits, you’ll undermine the appropriate, primary church mission field in your own community. This isn’t to say you can stop at only doing local mission, as we are challenged to practice mission and ministry from our local streets to the ends of the earth.

Locally I’d put emphasis on the following:

Partner in BIG ways with the nearest public elementary school. If you have capacity add the middle school and high school. Or partner with the community recreation department. This looks different in various locations, but most schools look for volunteers, for tutors, and for PTA & funding. Get to know the school, support the community efforts, and make the church available in consistent, and ongoing ways. If your congregation doesn’t look like these places the best conversation in church can be “why not” and “what must we do to change that” to become a community church.

Be a disaster ready congregation. Be trained, be prepared, and both partner well, but also serve those partners and your community well. This would engage a variety of skill sets ranging from sheltering/ feeding, counselors and ministers, to organizational and communication workers, to construction, chainsaw, and medical workers, to lots of helpers of all sorts depending on the type of crisis. This also prepares a congregation and makes you most helpful in a time of community need. Partnering well with the local Red Cross and EMA means they bring local assets, resources, and expertise to you, as well as connecting your congregation into the larger framework of disaster response across the state and region. 

Community Partnering- by this I mean for the congregation to be alive and active in the community. If you congregation isn’t the community center, are you either highly involved or a leader in community happenings? This doesn’t need to be something that detracts from being the church, and instead is the church alive in the community, building relationships, and breaking down barriers in order to be effective in ministry. In addition to enjoying what you can learn from the community as you sink deep roots in your local context, consider what the church should offer the community. What do you need to build into the budget as you live out a mission strategy of loving the community as much as you love your church? Be at the primary parade and festival, or help create a celebration.

In similar ways, a congregation can then create an expanded, holistic strategy for state, region, national, and international mission which builds on and interacts with local mission. Think of a flow in between those different arenas for mission so that they all enhance and feed the other geographies. For instance, if we have community neighbors from Mexico, I’d think in the direction of a range of ministries to know and engage those local neighbors, and additional experiences in the different geographies so that we are practicing the love of God, and love of neighbor (as we love ourselves!) both “here” and “there.” This is a much more dynamic, transformational, productive model of mission than most churches experience.

It’s often been said that our calendar and our check book reflect our priorities. Churches would be wise to embrace a new day of ministry which defines local mission in more dynamic ways. That will include reorienting our church budgets to focus greater percentages on outreach, relationship building, and community engagement, and doing well at this locally is an imperative. Change your budget to change your world! 

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