Filling the Tank: Fueling the Congregation’s Budget

Congregations must be as creative and diligent as ever in their stewardship efforts as we navigate the long and winding road to economic recovery.

Our annual funding is the fuel that fills the tank of the vehicle we call the annual operating budget. And despite our efforts at fuel efficiency, it seems like the costs keep on increasing!

Annual operating budgets are one way congregations estimate and track their income and expenditures from one year to the next. At best, budgets are road maps that guide the congregation on its financial journey, aligning its priorities, core values, and mission. Budgets provide a framework for organizing and viewing the congregation’s financial picture. Budgets tell our story and teach us about our shared mission, values, and identity as a faith community. Good budget planning and financial management procedures are essential aspects of effective stewardship and healthy congregations.

However, as many experienced stewardship and congregation consultants tell us, budgets do not create generous people. Often “budget language” includes terms that undermine good stewardship and health: budget crunch, shortages, cuts, shortfalls, decreases, scarce resources, or we can’t afford. People give to those organizations and programs they perceive to be successful and telling a story using generative language: mission, ministry, vision, aspiration, possibilities, we can reach our goal and change lives for the better!\

Who wants to put fuel in a vehicle that is broken down on the side of the road?

We need to be strategic about our budgeting and this means that the congregation must have a crystal-clear vision about what it stands for, where its going, and how it’s going to get there. Leaders should carefully analyze their congregation’s giving history (three-year span) and per capita giving to accurately and realistically project income and expenditures. Consultants recommend that congregations conduct their annual pledge drive before the budget is formulated. This helps to differentiate the practice of giving as a faithful response and spiritual discipline from the numbers in the minds of the congregants. People are more generous in their support of their congregation if they are:

  • Inspired by the mission and ministry,
  • Grateful for their relationships with others in a caring community, and
  • Trust in their leaders to be good stewards of the congregation’s resources.

If our congregations are to flourish, deepen in faith, and grow in maturity and membership, we must fuel our budgets adequately. High octane ministries and programs are not inexpensive. They are well worth the investment of careful planning and resources.

The following are some recommended percentages of income and expenditures for healthy budgeting:

Program Areas

  • 50% Personnel–the people and the professionals (see links for staffing and compensation guidelines below)
  • 20% Programs–Worship, Religious Education, program expenses
  • 20% Facilities–mortgage, dept service, insurance, utilities
  • 10% Mission–outreach, social justice, wider faith community

Income Sources

  • 75% (+/-) Income from pledges
  • 20% or less Rental Income
  • 20% or less Endowment funding


  • 40% – 60% Staff Compensation, including clergy (higher percentage in smaller congregations; compensation guidelines below)
  • 25% or less– Building Mortgage Payments (debt service)
  • 25% or less–Facilities/Building Maintenance
  • 10% or less for Denominational Support and Outreach/Mission/Service


  • Six to Twelve weeks of operating costs

A while back Giving Speaks conducted a poll about Congregation Budgets. You are invited to view the results and participate in the poll at the following link. A summary and interpretation of these results will be shared in a future blog post.

For more information about congregation budgeting by Alban Institute consultant Dan Hotchkiss, go to: and

Congregation budget self-test:

UUA Website and Congregational Stewardship Services:

Congregation Staff & Compensation Information:

“The Budget Really Isn’t That Important” an article by Michael Durall for Alban Institute:

Recommended Books:

Christopher, J. Clif. Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. 2008. Abingdon Press.

Clark, Wayne.  Beyond Fundraising. 2006.  Unitarian Universalist Association.

Durall, Michael. The Almost Church Revitalized. 2009. CommonWealth Consulting Group. (Durall’s other books include: The Almost Church, Creating Congregations of Generous People, and Beyond the Collection Plate.)

Malphurs, Aubrey and Stroope, Steve. Money Matters in the Church. 2007. Baker Books.

1 thought on “Filling the Tank: Fueling the Congregation’s Budget

  1. Reblogged this on Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog and commented:
    Our figures do not quite match the range she provides for expense categories, depending on if she counts “program” as including staff salaries for those programs (e.g., music and religious education). Also, if we were to fully fund our denominational and district dues, it would be 5% of our total budget. We do have our stewardship campaign before the Board finishes the budget proposal for the congregation. Smaller churches often do a budget first, but as you can see she does not recommend this. We are off to a great start in the current stewardship campaign, in terms of increased pledges and good energy. Yet, as usual, we are still waiting on half of our households to turn in a pledge form. The Board meets to work on the budget next week, so I’m getting nervous!


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