Budgeting with Disciples

Giving financially as a spiritual act of discipleship is part of our growth as disciples–not an optional, extra add on for those who are “rich” or do “financial planning” to make major gifts to charities and the like. If you’ve decided that percentage giving (sometimes called tithing, though historically this would specifically refer to 10%) is the form of giving most likely to go hand-in-hand with discipleship, implementation can be a tough road.

A first question (especially this time of year, as Fiscal Years for churches come to an end) is how do we set the budget?

If percentage giving is about disciples discerning a call to sacrifice and participate in God’s work financially, how can a parish staff (or finance council, parish council, etc.) tell them what the total of their giving should be?

Two main techniques for setting the “revenue” part of a budget:

  • Incremental Increases — Using this technique, a parish or ministry takes giving from the previous year and simply increases it. How to do this realistically? Look at other indicators in your area, i.e. Cost of Living Adjustments calculated by government agencies, inflation, wage growth, etc. While these can’t tell you how the Holy Spirit will lead the disciples in your parish 🙂 these indicators can help keep you in the “ballpark” of the economic realities your givers likely reside in. Beware, it’s easy to be too optimistic in incremental increases, i.e. a 3-5% increase is considered (in secular studies) to be “aggressive” and anything more than 8-10% really requires additional staff, initiatives, etc. to be implemented successfully.
  • Committee/Commission/Department Driven — Here, all of the departments, programs, committees, and/or commissions of a parish are consulted and asked for an expense prediction for the next fiscal year. Then, whatever is above last year’s revenue becomes the new revenue goal for the next Fiscal Year. This can work well in parishes where the needs aren’t changing, or a parish in “maintenance” mode. [But should any parishes be in maintenance mode today? I think not!]

Many parishes also use a combination of these two methods. The most critical piece for discipleship, however, is to not allow the raw $ amounts to drive the reason for giving. We don’t give to the parish because the parish needs it. We give because God has revealed this to us as part of communio, part of living as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Practically, shifting to an emphasis on percentage giving means that parishioners need to have a greater understanding and ownership for the reason the parish exists, for the specific mission and vision of being Church in a concrete time/place–for what makes this community of disciples life-changing and essential. Percentage giving generally means that there’s an annual (or semi-annual) emphasis for disciples to discern and make a commitment. Logistically, this takes additional volunteer leaders/ministers to carry the message, create materials (like cards or websites so that the parish has an idea of what givers are committing to).

While this may seem like a burden, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good that the Pastor can’t do it alone. The Parish Council can’t do it alone. By striving for the widest participation, parishes can come to know the parishioners on the margins–those who aren’t experiencing the joy of discipleship, those who are facing financial difficulties, those who’ve never felt “needed” or a part of this local embodiment of the Body of Christ. And, by moving toward progressive giving as a spiritual sacrifice (rather than “extra money” given to “fundraising at the church”) we create the space for believers to experience discerning a tough issue, to experience what feels like a “risk” for God, to pray about something that matters personally to each and every one, to experience what it means to trust.

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