Connecting Generosity and Mission
By Linda Yutzy
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 22, No. 1 in 2020. You can access the full issue here.
Journey Mennonite Church worships in multiple locations and offers multiple ministries while maintaining a single identity, purpose, organization, and leadership team. It’s an attempt to impact more people for Christ by taking the church to where the people are. Since there is one organization and leadership team, we share a single budget.
Several years ago, our Resource Team observed that while columns of numbers and detail were important to us as members of the resource group, very few lay persons enjoyed looking at two or three pages of numbers with often confusing account names. When columns of numbers were presented, we could feel the energy and enthusiasm dissipate from the room. Often discussions led away from ministry and focused on single line items, probably because that seemed to be what was expected. While a small percentage of persons in the congregation wanted to know every detail, columns of numbers were not inspiring most donors.
We realized that most contributors do not give to a budget but rather to a vision of building God’s kingdom, supporting the ministries of the congregation, and making a difference for Jesus. No one enjoys paying an electric bill or building insurance. However, these things are necessary if we are going to have a children’s program or worship service.
We decided to try a different approach. We wanted to report what had been accomplished in the prior year, made possible by our generous donors. We wanted to remind people why we exist. We wanted to talk about following Jesus and making a difference in our community: about youth group activities, community service projects, people finding hope in Jesus, vacation Bible school, and fun and inspirational fellowship activities. The narrative budget allows us to focus on what we as a congregation are about. The budget— or spending plan as we like to call it—is simply a means of accomplishing these things.
We started by dividing our spending plan into the four foci of our congregation: Worship fully, Connect with others, Grow in Christ, and Serve with passion. Two additional sections were added: one for children’s ministries and one for youth ministries. A paragraph or two is included with each segment, celebrating what was accomplished in the current year, sometimes along with a photo or two of events, followed by a short description of goals and dreams for what can be achieved in the coming budget year.
The technical side of creating a narrative budget can be challenging. Some line items are fairly direct and easily assigned to one of these areas: for instance the children’s pastor expenses or worship technology. Others take more analysis and a decision about how to allocate, like property insurance, the lead pastor’s compensation, and office personnel. Items such as custodial costs, property insurance, utilities, and maintenance are allocated based on the square footage a ministry uses. Others are allocated based on percentage of staff time spent on ministry. This requires staff—both pastoral and clerical— to assess how and on what they spend their time. The process was a little overwhelming and time-consuming the first year or two, but was easier once staff and our Resource Team were more tuned into this perspective.
A narrative budget puts focus on ministry that can be accomplished and not on individual line items. It allows people to directly associate their contributions with our mission as followers of Jesus. While some criticism was received at first, it was minimal—mostly from people who felt it was significant to see individual line items. It was essential that our congregation knew we were not changing the format to hide anything, but rather to make it easier to connect generosity with our mission. Therefore, we make special efforts to be as transparent in our process as possible, offering a line item budget report to anyone who wants it. Few are requested, but it is essential that they are available.
Additionally, an opportunity to ask questions is offered the week before the budget is approved. Persons are encouraged to ask questions, make recommendations, and share concerns. We appreciate any helpful suggestions and insights that come from these Q&As.
We have used the narrative budget to present the our spending plan for seven years, and while there is always room for improvement, we are pleased with the process and the focus it provides toward ministry and mission.
Linda Yutzy is a member of the leadership team at Journey Mennonite Church, which has campuses in McPherson, South Hutchinson, and Yoder, Kansas.
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at email@example.com.
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