Building a Narrative Budget

Many congregations have discovered the narrative budget as a way of talking about the future needs of the church to carry out its mission and ministry. Rather than simply presenting a spreadsheet style budget that lists columns and columns of numbers under the heading of different departments such as “Property”, “Personnel”, “Evangelism”, and “Education”; the narrative budget (as the name implies) tells a story. The story is the congregation’s story of mission and service and how the varying components of the budget contribute to that specific community of faith being able to live into its God given vision. It connects every aspect of the budget to ministry. It links every dollar to mission and every gift to faithful expression of the joy of giving and generosity of our God. Narrative budgets inspire, interpret, encourage, challenge, and inform donors about why their gift matters.

A few simple examples might include tying the area of the budget we associate with “property” (buildings and grounds) to the way in which our facilities serve as a platform for mission. Link the building to the ministries you provide that utilize that space. If you host an AA group – tell the story of transformation that accompanies such a powerful ministry – healing people and repairing families. If you have a Boy Scout Troop, tie the space they employ to the mission of building character, citizenship, and reverence. Having heat and lights on and a custodian present enable these ministries to take place. Show how a portion of the funds in this budget area are used in this way and why it matters.

When it comes to personnel, especially the minister, we are talking about more than an “office” and one line item, but worship leadership, care for the sick, visiting the bereaved, representing the church in the community, teaching the Gospel, and administrative support for the whole congregation. That salary and benefit package extends across a whole range of ministry and activity from which the church and community benefit. A narrative budget helps to explain and tell that story.

Try the narrative budget as way to help the numbers become ministry that people want to participate in as partners. For more examples, contact the Center for Faith and Giving. For information on compensation planning, contact the Pension Fund at .

Watch a video on building a narrative (mission focused) budget.

Suggestions for Preparing a Narrative Budget

(Adapted from Inspiring Generosity – Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry and Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ, @2002, used with permission.)

Narrative portions of the proposed budget should identify the kinds of expenditures that are included in each of the categories. So, to prepare a narrative budget like the one illustrated, you will need to do the following:

Ask the pastor to estimate the percentage of his or her work that is applicable to each of the budget categories. These individual percentages must total 100%

Total the pastor’s salary, housing, fringe benefits, and all professional expenses, except the reimbursement for automobile travel. Apply the estimated percentages to that total and allocate the resulting amounts to the appropriate categories.

Follow a similar procedure with the church secretary and custodian in order to calculate the portion of the salaries and fringe benefits that should be allocated to various categories.

You may want your budget to reflect actual costs even more adequately. If so, you can spread the costs of “equipping and Maintaining Our Buildings among the other categories. To do this, estimate the percentages of the use of facilities required by the work included in the other categories, apply those percentages to the cost of “equipping and Maintaining Our Buildings,” and allocate the resulting amounts to the appropriate categories.

Click Here for Examples of a Narrative Budget

Narrative Budgeting: Christian Practice, Purpose and Narrative – A Resource from the United Church of Canada

Read More About Narrative Budgets

An article by Dave Ponting

Another Way to Build the Narrative:

Anticipated Income: $200,000

Our income from loose offerings, church-school offerings, savings account, and other resources will amount to about $51,400 next year. This means that we will need financial commitments totaling $148,000 (or an additional $16,320) this year, in order to accomplish the work we discern God is calling us to do.

Estimated Expenditures

1. Supporting the Wider Mission of the Church (Disciple Mission Fund): $35,600

Our congregation’s work extends far beyond our own community but goes “from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.” Through our support of Disciples Mission Fund we provide resources that enable mission within our neighborhoods, Regions, Seminaries and Universities, through our General Ministries and our mission outposts in over 66 countries around the globe. Within this budget we will also be supporting our local food bank, community kitchen, our clothe-a-child ministry and our angel tree program.

2. Reaching Out to Serve our Community: $21,200

We provide a childcare center for preschool children whose parents work, a tutorial program for children and youth who need additional help to master basic educational skills and a recreation center for teenagers that is open on weekends. We make meeting rooms available to a senior-citizens’ group and to Alcoholics Anonymous. Our pastor visits non-members, provides counseling services to residents of our community and participates as our representative in several community organizations.

3. Preparing For Conducting Worship: $36,200

Worship is central to our congregation’s work. Planning for Sunday morning worship, preparing sermons, conducting weddings, funerals, and other special services require a significant part of our pastor’s time. Our praise band leader consults with the pastor, selects music, plans and conduct rehearsals for three choirs, and practices and researches new music to introduce to the congregation. This category includes costs for music, bulletins, candles, communion supplies, seasonal decorations for the sanctuary and supply ministers when our pastor is on vacation.

4. Educating Our Children, Youth, and Adults: $24,500

Under the leadership of our pastor and the Christian Education Ministry, we have developed over the years an excellent church school and youth program. Curriculum materials and other supplies, expenses for sending teacher training sessions, cost of the annual appreciation dinner for church-school leaders, and expenses of our vacation bible school are included here. Also included are the costs associated with our Pastor’s class, Wednesday Night Connection classes, and our sharing in the costs of church camp for our young people.

5. Care for Our Church Family: $25,900

Pastoral care is a vial part of our work, especially for person who are ill, hospitalized, bereaved, preparing for marriage, going through divorce, or facing other crises. Our church secretary provides information and other services to members such as the preparation of reports for the annual meeting of the congregation. Our monthly newsletter, the church website, other publications, family game night, the all church picnic and our weekly “in touch” correspondence with our seniors are within this resource category that a enable us to sustain our common life together.

6. Reducing Our Debt: $20,300

By end of this year the debt incurred as a result of the major renovations we made a few years ago will be down to $28,000. Next year we plan to pay $17,000 on the principal and 3,300 in interest.

7. Equipping and Maintaining Our Platform for Mission: $36,300

Our custodian keeps our facilities clean and in good order so that may perform the work that God is calling us do. Our worship space, rooms for meetings, our offices that provide room for performing the administrative framework that supports our various ministries are cared for in this resource area. Utilities, insurance, taxes and related costs to providing facilities to carry on our work. In addition to minor repairs we plan to resurface the parking area next year at a cost of $6,000.

Total Resources Required to Perform and Carryout our Mission: $200,000

When building a narrative budget, remember the power of language. Choose words that better fit the mission of the church as opposed to the shareholders report of a corporation. Use images that inspire and encourage. At the completion of reading your narrative budget, a person not familiar with your congregation ought to be able to understand your mission and see your clarity of purpose as a living and vital community of faith.

Be creative in telling your story. It is a good idea to invest the time and resources required to present a compelling vision, including pictures that re-enforce the story line, color printing, high quality paper, and a thoughtful design that is easy to read. It is also a good idea to post the completed budget on your church’s website so that it is accessible to all of your members. If your website is divided into public and member (login and password required) viewing segments, the budget could, at your discretion, remain in the member only section.