Narrative Budget

Budgets are tools that help financial leaders do their work in the church. They provide vital information for planning in the church. Budgets can enable congregational leaders to be faithful in their stewardship of the church's resources. What budgets cannot do, however, is motivate the majority of people to give. A surprisingly small percentage of the American population can read and understand a line-item budget. Too many churches distribute copies of the annual budget, believing that they have communicated important information. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that very little communication has occurred. People do not give to budgets. They give less from the head than from the heart. People give to other people, to needs, to causes — to things that make them feel good and happy. Budgets miss these key targets.

Most of what is contained in a line-item budget is of little interest to the majority of people who attend our churches. Most people who are going to give to the church will give a certain amount to support the facilities. People realize that there are costs to maintain the building, pay the insurance and utilities, and to support the pastor. However, they primarily will give to the mission and ministry of the church. Moreover, many church leaders find line-item budgets confusing to interpret and to understand.

The narrative budget is one way to give people — especially those in leadership positions — an opportunity to experience the mission and ministry that are achieved through the various line items. It focuses less on the financial numbers and more on what the income accomplishes. It is a one- to two-page presentation that explains: (1) what the church hopes to accomplish and (2) why the funding is needed to reach and exceed its goals. The following is an example of a narrative budget.

The ministry group on missions has done an excellent job providing leadership for our congregation. Our mission involvement has increased greatly in the past three years. We support H.E.L.P., a local community-based ministry offering emergency food and clothing assistance to needy families. We are beginning a second year with our thrift shop and soup kitchen. The Growing Needs Mission Center receives monthly offerings from our church. Through our Church World Service, Africa University, and Black College Fund apportionments, we give $7,500 in support; and we contribute approximately $3,200 to the six designated United Methodist Special Sunday offerings annually. We can continue this work next year with $12,000 in support. Our hope is that we can exceed that goal by another $2,000 in order to send a representative from our church on the mission trip in July. Future plans include reaching out to our community through literacy programs for children and adults and participation in the Women's Shelter Project. For an additional $2,000, we will be able to train crisis counselors to work with the shelter and to build a library to teach men, women, and children how to read. Your faithful support of these ministries through your financial contributions helps our church grow strong in missions and outreach.

The church council has reviewed our program ministries for the past year and hopes to continue providing high quality opportunities for spiritual growth, learning, and worship in the year to come. In education, we fund our curriculum and resources with $1,500 each year. The additional $1,500 we received this year allowed us to purchase new Bibles and learning center materials. We hope to do the same in the coming year, funding the church school needs and adding to our resource library. We need a television and DVD player for the church school, and we hope to purchase the Disciple Bible Study materials for a new group. We can accomplish these two things for an additional $2,500. We plan to purchase new whiteboards and bulletin boards for each classroom. We have received two donations toward our whiteboards, totaling $550. With an additional $1,000, we will be able to purchase these and the bulletin boards.

The worship ministry group would like to continue to count on $500 for the coming year for worship supplies. The $900 memorial gift allowed us to purchase new paraments for Lent, Easter, Christmas, and Advent. We hope to purchase Pentecost and Kingdomtide paraments this year for an additional $450. We also plan to replace 50 hymnals. We have $200 designated for hymnals, but we need another $400.

The membership ministry group is still working on developing the Stephen's Ministries program, and we are thankful for the training we received this year. We hope that we can use $900 for training and resources in the church. For twenty-five percent more, the membership ministry group will purchase devotional booklets for distribution to homebound and hospitalized members and friends. We are still developing visitor packets and would like to purchase commemorative mugs to give to visitors to our church. These will cost about $350, and we will get them if the funding is available.

Pastoral Support
We have been very faithfully served and are grateful for the fine leadership of our pastor. The staff-parish relations committee has recommended a three percent increase in salary for the coming year that we joyously support. With increases in hospitalization coverage, pension, continuing education, and travel expenses, the pastoral support for the coming year will be $76,975.

Other Staff and Salary

Youth pastor $32,500
Secretary $28,000
Music Ministries Director/Organist $31,500
Custodian $25,350

Building and Grounds
We estimate needs of $126,750 for the coming year. Insurance on the church and on the parsonage will be $11,175.


This is just a sample of what a narrative budget might contain and the way it might be presented. Dollar figures are round and easy to comprehend. No totals, and no bottom-line figures are provided. Instead, there are estimates of costs and dreams for what more might be done if money is available. Narrative budgets do a better job of speaking a language that the majority of people can understand.

Notice three things about the narrative budget. First, it lists the programs and missions of the church first. Often, pastoral support, building maintenance, insurance, apportioned funds, and salaries are listed first in a line-item budget. Apportionments have been incorporated into the mission and ministry of the church, since they are an extension of the local church'’s ministry throughout the world. Mission and program budgets fund the work of the church. It is important to highlight these needs first. These programs and ministries are what most people care about deeply. We do ourselves a great favor when we list these things first.

Second, a variety of dollar amounts are listed in some areas: a low, a medium, and a high goal. The low figure is the minimum needed to do the work that must be done. The middle figure is a dream figure that would allow us to do more than the minimum. The high figure is also a dream figure that allows us to provide a vision for what we could do if actual income was greater than the projected income. Many people who read a narrative budget are so inspired by the medium and high goals that they will "go the second mile" to make the dreams a reality.

Third, certain budget amounts receive no description. These are fixed costs, such as insurance, utilities, and maintenance that do little to motivate increased giving. Few people plan to give more than is needed to cover the fixed costs of running the facilities.

These three things increase the appeal and effectiveness of the narrative budget over the traditional line-item budget.


Adapted by David S. Bell from Revolutionizing Christian Stewardship for the 21st Centuryby Dan Dick. © 1997 Discipleship Resources. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Copyright © 2004, 2006Discipleship Ministries.

Categories: Building Budgets