Church Budgeting 101

How to set up and audit your church budget

For many church leaders, the thought of building out a church budget can feel overwhelming. Maybe your church doesn’t currently have a budget. Perhaps you’re preparing to launch a new church plant or build a new building. Or maybe you just aren’t confident that your current church budget is working for you.

The good news is that building a church budget doesn’t have to be complicated. A budget is nothing more than a guide: A roadmap to how the church will allocate the resources they have been entrusted with in the upcoming year. In the next few minutes, I’ll walk you through the basics of building a church budget.

Why your church needs a budget

Once you learn how to create and maintain a budget that works for your church, you’ll discover that it’s an indespensible part of your ministry.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few things a well-defined budget can do for your church:

  • Answer questions about the mission and vision of your church
  • Set clear direction on how money will be spent and where the priorities of the church reside
  • Provide a filter for making spending decisions that may come up throughout the year
  • Offer a measure and benchmark to track the financial health of the organization
  • Set a standard to reflect and review throughout the year to make future ministry decisions

Getting started: Types of budgets

Most churches build a budget in one of two ways: 

  • Zero-based budgeting – What goes in, goes out

With this concept, you plan to spend everything you receive. Developing a budget is as simple as making an income projection, and then making a plan to spend the money that is received. 

  • P&L Budgeting – Plan to lose or plan to gain

Since we’re talking about churches, we can’t really talk in the true business sense of “profit and loss.” However, we can talk about planning for a loss or planning for a gain in a given year. Just because a church balance statement shows an excess (profit) at the end of the year, doesn’t mean the church is no longer a non-profit entity

Note: The danger with P&L budgeting is planning for a loss without a plan to cover. You can lose money on paper and still have cash flow. You might have money in reserves, investments, etc. However, you should always be aware of how much you are spending. Remember, a budget is NOT the same thing as a balance sheet. 

Budgeting basics: Income

The easiest way to start building your budget is to look at projected income. What sources are bringing you money? This includes tithes and offerings, but it could also interest, investments, facility rentals, dues, donations, etc. Once you’ve determined all your income sources, set a projected amount for each source. 

Are you on a growth track? If your organization has been around for a few years, hopefully you have some historical data to look at. Is your income trending up, down or staying stagnant?  

PRO TIP: If you haven’t jumped on board with mobile giving, now is the time. This is by far the easiest way to increase your income. According to Nonprofitssource (2018), “Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32%”

Budgeting basics: Expenses

Now that you’ve projected your income for the year, let’s look at common expenses. As I stated earlier, a budget can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. As your ministry develops and grows, the number of expense categories will also grow. 

Especially if you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to think about things in terms of “buckets.” What is the mission of your church? How can that mission be broken out into broad categories or “expense buckets”?

For this simple exercise, let’s start with three “buckets”:

GROW (Inside Church)

  • Ministries (children, youth, adults, worship, etc.)

GO (Outside Church)

  • Local Outreach (evangelism, events, etc.)
  • Missions 

OPERATIONS 

  • Personnel (salaries, benefits, etc.)
  • Administration (operating expenses)
  • Facilities and Equipment (maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc.)

Once you’ve established your categories, do your best to fill in projected expenses. Again, any historical date you have will help a ton here. 

Now what?

Now compare your projected income with your projected expenses. Do they match? Are there categories that need to be adjusted?

Now ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the budget reflect the church’s priorities?
  • Are there areas where spending needs to be increased? Decreased?
  •  How does this budget align with the church’s growth goals?

Use these questions as a guide to make any necessary adjustments to your budget.

Ask for help when you need it

This is building a church budget in a nutshell. You can absolutely do it. But there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of your budget to help you grow a healthy church. And if budgeting isn’t you’re thing, it’s okay to ask for help. 

Here are a few ways to get the help you need:

  • Download our free 10-step Church Budgeting Checklist. Whether you’re putting together a budget for the first time, or simply looking to improve your budget, this will give you prompts to think through as you create your budget. 
  • If church finances aren’t you’re thing, we’re here to help. Our done-for-you church bookkeeping service will take away the guesswork and overwhelm out of managing your church finances properly. Get accurate monthly reports delivered straight to your inbox and peace of mind that you’re not making a costly financial mistake. Schedule a free demo today

The Procrastinating Pastors Guide to Annual Church Budget Planning

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We published last week the 3 Reasons Your Church Needs an Annual Budget and had some good responses from pastors that agreed, but wondered what were those next steps to getting their annual budget planned.

Today, we’ll give you 6 steps to Annual Church Budget Planning started. From these simple steps, you’ll have most of the framework in place to have an Annual Church Budget you can use for your ministry.

Step 1 – Review Last Year’s Church Budget

One of the best indicators of how you are spending and allocating your spending for your ministry is to look back at the historical patterns. Review this past year as a Profit and Loss statement. It will show you what you took in (income) and what you spent (expenses).

Look for any patterns. Also, look for any areas that have bigger numbers. When you look at yearly spending as a whole, over the entire period of time, you may get some surprises that you didn’t expect once things are put into perspective. Often, we’ll have churches that don’t realize what seemed like a small amount they were spending weekly, when added up over the year actually becomes a bigger percentage of budget than they expected.

Use these findings to decide if there are areas you need to focus or re-think how you’re allocating funds.
“Be honest here. If you’re spending $100 a week on donuts, and throwing out 2-3 dozen every week, it may be time to analyze or help your donut buyer plan better!”

Step 2 – Project your church year end financial

Ok, now we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of planning.

Since we’re not quite complete with the year, we’ll need to do some projecting of how things will end. The good news is if you’re reading this post in late November when it is published, we only have a few weeks left of the year so the projection will not be too hard. However, since you may be reading this at another time, we’ll show you a quick way to project.

Take your YTD Profit and Loss report for your church. This should show you what has been recorded as income and expenses so far this year. If you’re using Quickbooks, or hopefully our Simplify Church Bookkeeping System, this report will be pretty easy to produce.

If you can, export that report to Excel.

Once you have it in Excel, create a formula as follows =SUM (Col # / # of months in report) * 12. It will end up looking something like this: = SUM(B2/11) * 12

On the cell with your formula, grab the little square at the bottom right of the cell. Click and hold as you pull down so that you are highlighting all the way to the last row of the report. This is a quick way to duplicate the Excel formula you just made for all the rows.

What did we just produce?

This new column will be your End of Year projection on how you will finish the year. From this information, you can now start to project your Church Budget for the new year.

Step 3 – Analyze Year End and Plan the New Year

This is where the real planning begins.

Use the information you just produced and begin to think through your next year. I would re-color or highlight any numbers that are going to stay the same in the next year. This may be things like Rent, Subscriptions, Fees and other expenses that you are committed to or are vital to your ministry that you already know you will use in the next year.

PRO TIP : Add numbers into a third column in Excel so you have:
Column 1 – Real numbers produced from your Church Accounting Software
Column 2 – Projection from the equation you created in Step 2
Column 3 – Numbers we’ll enter as we create the next year’s Annual Church Budget

As you review line by line, think about those expenses that made up the numbers. Do they seem high? How does that line contribute to your ministry? Does that expense help you fulfill the Mission and Vision for your church?

Think through the spending of each line with those questions as a filter and use that to analyze what you’ve done so far.

As you complete your review, use Column 3 to put your final numbers for the next year’s church budget.

Step 4 – Get input from your ministry leadership team and key ministry leaders

Once you have a draft of the budget, which should be completed now in Column 3, share it with your ministry leaders. Get their input and thoughts.

If you have a staff, this is a good time to get their input into their ministry area and their plans for the new year. If we had more time, or had started this sooner, we could have had them draft their ministry area and then plan accordingly. Since we’re at crunch time, we can give each leader a primer for their decisions, and let them have input into the process.

Have a discussion with each leader about their area. Ask the same questions you considered in your preparation for the spending in their ministry area. The key here is to accept their input and get “buy in” from them. Let them feel a part of the process and understand why we have a budget, and how important good financial stewardship is to the success of the ministry.

If there are any adjustments that come up here in those discussions, adjust your budget at this point so you have a good, prepared final draft to present for approval.

Step 5 – Begin the preparations necessary to finalize and approve your annual church budget

If your church by-laws or constitution requires it, this is a good time to start scheduling whatever meeting is going to be appropriate for a vote on accepting this as the budget for your ministry.

It may also be required that a draft of the budget is required to have out for review to your membership as well. Get this information out soon as well so that people can be well informed. Having a well-planned and thoughtful budgeting process can help to alleviate some of the unnecessary headaches and drama that so often plagues ministries in this process.

Step 6 – Review the Church Budget Monthly and Quarterly in the New Year

Now that we’ve spent the time to prepare the budget, let’s really put on ministry on fire and use that planning throughout the year.

Each month or at least each quarter, do a review of your income and expenses against your budget.

PRO TIP: Simplify Church Bookkeeping clients get this report each month for a quick and easy review!

As you move throughout the new year, you will now have a financial road map for your church. You will find ministry decisions become easier (from a financial standpoint anyway) as you are able to look at things and plan against you expected annual church budget.

Hopefully you get a chance to start your budgeting process now. I’ve been in your shoes before and know as a pastor you wear many hats. If you’re like most, those hats that seem daunting, or you’re not exactly sure how to complete are the ones that get put on the back burner.

The steps I laid out here can be completed in just an hour or so. The analysis part make take a bit longer but it will only take a short time to get there. If you need some help, advice on your budget or want to get this off your plate completely by using our Simplify Church Bookkeeping System, Schedule a demo today.

Hey! We’re offering a webinar on Wednesday December 7, 2016 where we will go through these steps and I’ll show you exactly the steps I go through to create church budgets. If you’re interested, Register Here!