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Church Budgets Are Theological Statements

Church Budgets Are Theological Statements

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on November 01, 2023

TLDR: Although many churches want welcome ministries, renewal programs, discipleship, pastoral care, community outreach, family initiatives, and fellowship programs, these desires are largely underfunded in their budgets. We are a welcome exception. Please read below to see how.

Church budgets are theological statements, they are numerical representations of a church’s biblical, moral, pastoral, evangelistic, catechetical, missional, and liturgical priorities. Matthew 6:19-21 tells us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A budget shows the church what we consider the treasure, the very center of our life together. It speaks volumes about our underlying values, beliefs, and priorities. How we chose to spend our money tells us where our heart truly is. 

Sadly, although many churches have beautiful vision and mission statements, and far-reaching mission strategies, few church budgets dedicate sufficient resources for these aspirational statements. Now, to be honest and transparent, like most churches, we have expenses related to the “the cost of doing business” that account for a considerable portion of our budget: Insurance, Diocesan assessment, operational expenses like utilities, office supplies, equipment leases, grounds maintenance, etc. I see these non-negotiables as crucial to our mission and values. They support the overall functions of the church and our investments in these expenses are mission-driven and necessary for our overall growth and health. But in churches where operational expenses are the sole and primary investments of the congregation, the message given is that their steeple is more important than their people. Although many churches verbally express their desire for welcome ministries, renewal programs, discipleship, pastoral care, community outreach, children and youth initiatives, and fellowship programs, these desires are largely underfunded in their budgets. A lot of bark with little bite.

The problem in these churches is not necessarily a lack of money, poor planning, not having the right vision (mission, and ministry strategy), insufficiently attractive brand name or signage, or liturgy that is either too high or too low. The real issue is not clergy without the right educational pedigree or an entrepreneurial spirit to grow the budget, members that lack intellectual or financial resources or a boring and uninformative website. The blame is not a judicatory (Diocese, conference…) that funnels resources from them and contributes little to their mission. The location of the church, its size, or their ethnic make-up in not the problem. All of these things may be contributing factors to a dysfunctional budget, but they are not the main problem.

Culture is the problem and the solution to the problem. What I call “Culture” others call “Theology” or “Belief System” or “Modus Operandi” or “Values.” I like culture because it is wider and deeper than having the right theology or having the right set of practices. Every church has an ethos, a guiding value system, or a cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, attitudes, meanings, and hierarchies that have been accumulated over generations. Experts call this “the language” of the institution or an institution’s way of life. This language is both spoken and unspoken, but it affects the church at all levels, including, and perhaps especially, at the financial level. What you tell yourself about yourself becomes the truest manifestation of yourself, especially when making decisions about money.

Back in 2018, a poll of Saint Dunstan’s parishioners answered the question, “How would you describe Saint Dunstans?” the following way. “We are a small family, we truly care for each other, we are a welcoming congregation, we pride ourselves in being a “training congregation”, we have fun together.” If asked to describe the church in one word, most listed, “Home, comfort, liveliness, spiritual, loving, welcoming, diverse, and liturgical.” These were highly positive word-images of the church. In fact, the “Holy Cow” responders agreed. They said, “In important decisions in our church, adequate opportunity for consideration of different approaches is usually provided. The worship services at our church are exceptional in both quality and spiritual content. The whole spirit in our congregation makes people want to get as involved as possible. The music at our church is outstanding in quality and appropriate in style to our congregation. Persons who serve as leaders in our church are representative of the membership.”

The questions for an outsider at the time were, “How will a church who so loves who they are now open the doors for those who are not yet here? What strategies for growth have they implemented or are they willing to try? This seems like a rather inward looking congregation, how is their outreach and their relationship with the surrounding community? Is their existing budget a budget for growth or a maintenance budget? Etc.” Some of these needs were also addressed by “Holy Cow”. Their recommendations were, “Make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church. Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the Church. Provide more opportunities for Christian education and spiritual formation at every age and stage of life. Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships (for example, small groups, nurtured friendships, shared meals, etc.) Strengthen the pastoral response of the church in serving people in need. Finally, adapt the opportunities provided by the church making them more accessible given the pace and schedule of people’s lives. (i.e. online education, early morning classes, lunch discussions.)

Soon after the Parish Study, the congregation developed a new mission to unite all people with the love of God. This new mission was followed by an ambitious set of core values that created an exciting mission strategy. This set of priorities started a very deliberate culture change to answer the Parish Profile identified needs. Saint Dunstans said their priorities were: CHILDREN AND YOUTH MINISTRIES: We seek to nurture the spiritual development of children and youth by encouraging their participation in the life of our congregation and larger community. COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP: We gather often to build friendships and to share the love of God through interests, hobbies, activities, events, speakers, Bible study and outreach. CHRISTIAN FORMATION: We share the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through Biblical teaching and spiritual growth to develop Christian disciples. OUTREACH: We are passionate about providing Christ-centered ministries beyond the walls of St. Dunstan’s by meeting the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the local and global communities. WORSHIP:  We look forward to celebrating the rich traditions of Episcopal worship while offering a variety of preaching styles, musical expressions, and opportunities to participate. PASTORAL CARE:  We work to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of persons in our parish with well trained and responsive lay and ordained pastors. Our practice of pastoral care extends beyond times of crisis to encompass our daily lives.

In early 2020, Saint Dunstans called me to operationalize this ambitious set of core values. I was immediately drawn to the work you had already done because I saw the deep biblical wisdom in how your budget and your priorities aligned. Next week I will talk about this biblical wisdom, how we develop our budgets, what we have accomplished so far, and how you have invested your resources to the growth of the kingdom in our context. Please stay tuned,

Until then, may our Lord continue to bless you,

Fr. Roman+

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