Future-Forward Budgeting

The church leadership team should review the quarterly and yearly budgets, comparing what is coming in with what they had set aside for needs and expectations. These check-in times enable the leaders to reflect on the organization’s mission and how best to use the church’s finite resources through leadership conversations and data-driven decision-making from the financial and numerical numbers collected throughout the month through services, accounts, and payroll liabilities. These check-ins will help the team pivot when challenges come. 

Let me encourage you to start if you are not leading your team through future-forward budgeting. There are three areas I would encourage you to consider when reviewing the budget framework that fits your local church: 

  1. Reinvest in the church’s infrastructure to prepare for future activities and guests. 
  2. Repair community relationships through connections.
  3. Restore the focus from self to the Savior. 

The uncomfortable truth is that leaders want to stay comfortable, so they keep the status quo even if it will hurt them two or three years down the road. Future-forward budgeting forces the tough conversations not driven by personalities or desires but through data-driven decision-making, which comes directly from the numbers. 

  1. Reinvest in the church’s infrastructure to prepare for future activities and guests. 

As you lean into future-forward budget decision-making, the challenge is to help lead your leadership team to see past, current needs and address the ministry’s future. Take micro-steps to develop a community culture that sees past the four walls of the church building and sees the building as people advancing the kingdom of God. In this way, you face the uncomfortable truths in reviewing each budget line item, position, and program related to that line item. By moving from being comfortable in conformity, you help the church move toward advancing in the God season the church has been called into for the future. 

This stage means cutting away at people’s preferences to advance a future life for the church by allowing data to drive decision-making, which removes preferences and emotions from the equation. There is a saying that ‘numbers do not lie.’ In the case of the church, we often ignore the numbers to the detriment of the overall health of the church because we insert our likes and dislikes into the equation. By using future-forward budgeting, the church leadership enables the church to begin to create space for development that focuses on a culture of community that bridges the pew with connecting to people outside the church’s walls. This process is painful because it forces everyone to face the current realities others may want to ignore, but it is necessary in helping the church progress forward and reach its God potential.

  1. Repair community relationships through connections.

As the church has declined over the years, it has spent increasing resources propping up programs and positions that no longer meet its current needs. With the decline of tithes, the leadership pooled its resources inward, and fewer funds were spent attracting or reaching outside the walls. The church, which used to be well known in the community, has become increasingly unknown, triggering a more profound dependence on its current limited resources. Thus, the leadership does not invest in potential outreach, feeding the cycle of decline. 

Developing lasting partnerships that impact the community might show little success in the pew through numerical growth at Sunday services, but stay with it as the church must ask: why has God placed us here in this neighborhood? To reach ‘us’ or ‘others’? The focus should not be on pew sitters alone but on serving others to win them to the gospel. With an investment in the community, the church invests in a community-center model that implores to impact a more significant swath of the community and revitalizes the church through multiple volunteer opportunities, prayer partnerships, and community connections. For a stagnant and dying church, new life brings new hope and will someday return the investment made to the community with new Christians that will become part of the local church. This process is long, and it must be understood that there is no quick return on investment. Remember how long the church has been uninvested in the community. It might take double that time to return a new investment in the resources that you spend. Be patient and allow God to lead as you serve. Fruit will come only if you keep sowing your time, talent, and treasure into those around you by committing to prayer, fasting, and loving others.

  1. Restore the focus from self to the Savior. 

As you help your team lean into future-forward budgeting, direct your leadership to begin to see past self-wants and return their heart and desires to what God wants for the local church to accomplish. This focus from self to Savior seems easy, but it is a fight between the flesh, which leans into preferences over God’s power, and the Holy Spirit, which is called to guide the local church. Help members to stop focusing on their needs and shift resources to focus on the needs of others. This one act will be painful for those in the pew to process and may cause an exodus of people in the short term until the reality of what is taking place is of God and not driven by man’s desires or personalities. 

As the church declined, the remnant who remained held tightly to those who held the semblance of leadership because it provided safety in the ever-changing landscape of decline. However, that false sense of security creates a win-lose proposition because when changes have to be made, the people will feel betrayed by their safety net. The reality is that change comes to even those who hide from it, and by taking a proactive response to evaluate all current and future needs as part of the budget process, the church brings to light areas that need to be sunset and other areas that need new life. The power of the Savior must become paramount over the will of those in leadership to see where he is guiding and to follow through by walking in his steps.

Use the early part of the church year to evaluate the needs as you seek God’s plan for the future and watch how he restores the crestfallen church into a community-centered church by budgeting with a future-forward leadership posture.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.