The late Flip Wilson was a comedian who had a popular TV show in the early 70's. One of the regular characters he portrayed was the Reverend Leroy of the Church of What's Happening Now. In one solo skit, he's addressing his congregation: "The first thing this church has to do is learn to crawl!" The congregation responds jubilantly, "Make it crawl, Rev, make it crawl!" Then he says, "After it learns to crawl, it needs to get up and walk!" They respond with "Make it walk, Rev. Make it walk!" As the congregation is getting more spirited, he then says, "After it learns to walk, it's going to run!" The excited group responds "Make it run, Rev. Make it run!" Finally, he says, "But in order for it to run, it's going to need money!" The congregation responds, "Let it crawl, Rev. Let it crawl!"
Well, as you might expect from the lead-in, it's that time of year again. Time for the subject of money to be brought up; specifically the coming year's church budget, and of course, the associated canvass. Our fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. Therefore, the financial planning has to be done in the next few months. What does our budget include? For one thing, we have a mortgage that allowed the construction of our building.
In 2016, we added to that by financing several things that could not be avoided or postponed; i.e. HVAC and carpet replacement and parking lot resurfacing. Of course, with any facility you have expenses such as utilities, supplies, cleaning, and grass mowing. Not too many organizations could function without people to perform necessary tasks. We do have a lot of volunteers, but they can't do all the things that a church needs to thrive. Not too long ago, volunteers did the church cleaning, mowed the grass, and handled the religious education and office duties. But that's a lot to ask, and as you can imagine, problems ensued. Now, we have fine people doing a professional job in those areas, and we've added a music director and nursery care workers.
Then there's that position called "minister." We have some great lay led services by members of the congregation as well as outside speakers. However, the majority of the congregation wants a minister, not only to give most of the sermons, but also to provide all the other benefits a minister provides. I think most would agree that having a minister is essential to retaining existing members and attracting new ones.
So, what do we need in a budget and what would we like to have? In my prior life, I became familiar with the budget process in various capacities. During my stint as a city manager I received all these budget requests from department heads who wanted lots of things that cost money. The fire department wanted new, expensive fire trucks and ambulances. The police wanted new patrol cars and crime fighting gear. Public works wanted all kinds of trucks and infrastructure improvements. All of this conflicted with what the citizens wanted: lower taxes.
Churches can't levy taxes or charge fees for basic services. They mostly have to depend on the generosity of their congregation. That's where not only contributing but pledging becomes important. The expense side of a budget is made on the basis of a projection of necessary expenses for the coming year based on past records as well as items we'd like to fund. Income projections can also be based on past experience, but that gets a little complicated when you have a changing set of income sources; i.e. people who pledge. But, without pledges, we are shooting in the dark. Pledging at least gives some degree of confidence that we can fund the facility, staff, and programs that are vital to the spiritual foundation of our church.
Right now, the budget should be presented at a congregational meeting on March 26th. Voting on it will occur at another congregational meeting scheduled for May 14th. The canvass will be conducted between those dates. As we go through this process, please remember our limitations, despite our desires to do so much more. Also remember that despite all the much needed and appreciated volunteer work, there is still a need for financial resources to make our church run and not just crawl.