the shape of leadership

How to Plug Your Leaking Budget

Five ways your church may be losing money

Mike McCrary on January 21, 2020

Many churches are struggling with rising expenses and declining income. According to the 2016 State of the Plate giving report, just 10%–25% of church members tithe.

While this calls for diligence in teaching what the Bible says about giving and generosity, equally vital is wise stewardship in church leadership. Start by considering five ways your church may be losing money:

1. Personnel

Staffing is typically the most significant expense for a healthy church. Personnel costs should range between 33% and 45% of a church’s total budget.

How does your church’s budget compare with this benchmark? If staffing represents less than 33% of the budget, you may have room to grow by adding staff members or increasing salaries. On the other hand, if staffing costs exceed 45%, adjustments may be in order to reduce those expenses. Either way, don’t make staffing changes without praying, involving your leadership, and seeking counsel.

At least once a year, take time to review staff-related costs, including insurance and benefits. Evaluate vacated positions to determine whether these roles are still necessary. Consider hiring contract workers for specific projects or temporary workers when possible, and leverage volunteers to help with the work of your ministry.

Resist the temptation to underpay staff or contract workers when budgets are tight. The Bible reminds us that workers deserve appropriate wages, and we should not take advantage of the people we hire as they pursue God’s call. It is better not to hire than to hire with intent to underpay.

2. Facilities

The second largest line item in your budget is your building and facilities. These expenditures — including utilities, insurance, telephone, internet and repairs — should range between 25% and 35% of your church’s budget.

There are a number of ways to save on facilities costs. Study your building usage and utility bill to identify inefficiencies. Evaluate major systems like HVAC and appliances for potential utility savings. Make energy improvement upgrades, such as adding programmable thermostats or LED lighting.

If you have not evaluated your church’s budget in quite some time, you may be surprised at the savings you find.

Consider scaling back phone services, including mobile, or asking for lower rates. Renegotiate your property insurance premium. Consider refinancing your church’s mortgage, renegotiating rental agreements, or moving to a less expensive location.

If you own your property, you might offset costs by renting out facilities when your church isn’t using them.

3. Office Expenses

As a line item in your budget, office expenses should not exceed 10%. There is a good chance your church literally prints a ton of paper. Think about every document you send to the printer: fliers, brochures, sermon notes and bulletins.

Some leaders feel printed bulletins are important, and many churches use them as guides to their worship services. However, a church app or website might reduce or replace the need for bulletins. If you cannot eliminate printed bulletins, consider whether you can print them in a way that lowers costs. Also evaluate whether you could eliminate other printing or office expenses.

4. Advertising

If your church has been in existence for several years, you may not need a lot of advertising.

Are you reaching people with your promotions? If not, it’s time to take a closer look at marketing expenditures. With Facebook and Google, you can reach people in your community, make new connections, and draw people into your worship services for a fraction of what you might spend on more traditional advertising.

Additionally, websites that feature reviews are growing significantly in their impact. I know several church leaders who encourage the people in their congregations to write reviews of their churches on sites like Google, Facebook and Yelp.

5. Digital Giving

Another significant way your church could be losing money is by not offering digital options for contributions. I spend a lot of time at the Church Multiplication Network helping new and expanding churches adopt digital and mobile giving solutions. Nearly all of them have increased income after adding digital tools to their offering appeals.

While most of us do not love line-by-line budget evaluation, your church can benefit greatly from a careful study of these five budget areas. If you have not evaluated your church’s budget in quite some time, you may be surprised at the savings you find.

In each of these five areas, the use of technology can be a key part of controlling expenses and increasing income and engagement. In the coming years, there will be two kinds of churches: those that embrace technology and those that do not. Churches that use technology well will increase congregational participation and improve efficiencies, and those that do not will not. It is that simple.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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