Think outside the line item with a narrative budget

We are approaching the season that many congregational leaders dread and congregants find boring: Budget time!

First the Finance Committee has to do its hard-but-necessary work of going through last year’s budget line by line, trying to decide which ones to increase, level-fund, or decrease in light of projected income. And then when they get this good work done, they have to try to persuade a sometimes-reluctant church membership to get behind it.

So then at the congregational budget meeting, reviewing a seven-page line-item spreadsheet that they are clueless on how to understand, congregants’ eyes glaze over as a swarm of numbers buzzes in their heads like so many bees. Awfully hard to get excited about spreadsheets.

There is an alternative: The narrative budget.

A narrative budget explains expenditures in terms of the ministries and mission that are essential to the congregation’s life together. For example, a narrative budget might take a category like “worship” and consider not only the cost of musician, choir director, organ maintenance and sacristy supplies, but also a portion of the building costs and the pastor’s compensation.

A narrative budget helps God’s people see their congregation’s finances in missional focus. Presented together with a line-item budget, it provides a fuller picture of the church. Don’t be surprised if your narrative budget generates lots of excitement about your church’s ministries.

Here are some resources to help you get started:

Giving Thought to a Narrative Budget, from ELCA Stewardship Resources. This 12-page pdf will get you going!

Building a Narrative Budget, from the Center on Faith and Giving (Disciples of Christ). Great resource with lots of links!

Narrative Budgets, from the United Church of Canada. This is an amazing resource, with how-tos, a video, and real examples.

(c) Copyright 2018, the Rev. Robert Blezard. All rights reserved.

Reprint rights granted for congregations for nonprofit, local use. Please reprint with the following copyright notice:
© Copyright 2018, the Rev. Rob Blezard. Reprinted by permission.
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