Your Best Foot Forward

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In this tough economy, don’t
even think about proposing your children’s ministry budget without
first listening to these experts.

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As you plan your 2010 children’s ministry budget, no doubt the
current dour economy weighs on you. Ministries everywhere are
feeling the crunch — whether through budget cuts, salary
reductions, lower giving, or the general sense of worry from the
families in your church. But regardless of the economic situation,
planning and budgeting must go on.

Facing a potentially tough financial year requires that you adjust
your money awareness. Your creativity, flexibility, and ingenuity
must expand in exactly the way the economy has contracted. We asked
three budgeting pros for their advice on how to prepare for — and
pass — the budgeting test.

Stepping Stones to a Workable Budget

By Bob Hahn, children’s pastor and budgeting
writer

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Sadly, many children’s ministries may face the brunt of a tough
economy. But there are multiple ways leaders can develop good
ministry programs, trim costs, and still pass a budget that
provides for the necessities. My advice is to start with creativity
and accountability when it comes to funding-before you ever put
pencil to paper on a budget. Find ways to economize, and then tout
areas where you’re successful. Follow these pointers for getting
your ministry’s money in the best possible fiscal condition before
you petition for a new budget.

• Find ways to self-fund. Many events for kids —
lock-ins, vacation Bible school, and summer camp — can be
self-funding. One fall we hosted a free spaghetti supper as an
outreach. We took a completely optional offering that ended up more
than paying for the meal. Our ministry charges a minimal
registration fee for supplies, and outings and special events are
on a “pay-as-you go” basis. Most families willingly pay these small
fees knowing they make the events and programs possible. Whenever a
child is unable to pay, our ministry assumes the cost.

• Identify predictable costs for families.
Parents will hold your ministry in higher favor if you help them
budget for bigger expenses. Plus, you and your leaders are less
likely to hear grumbling about the cost of special events when you
give people advance notice. You likely know well in advance what
summer camp will cost. So if you let families know on March 1 that
by saving $10 per week through May they’ll save enough money for
their child to attend camp, you’ll have a happier, paid-in-full
group of parents. Our church takes a special offering to help kids
whose families can’t afford those costs.

• Partner with other ministries to co-sponsor
events.
You may have other ministry areas in your church
with bigger budgets. Or you may know of another ministry in your
church that’s struggling far more than yours. Consider partnering
with these ministries to co-sponsor your programming and events.
One ministry can “adopt” another to help subsidize expenses and
assist with responsibilities. In our church, the women’s ministry
departments have co-sponsored our events for girls, and men’s
ministry sponsors have done the same for the boys. Our adult
education budget supplemented the children’s Sunday school expenses
one year. In another church I’m familiar with, the women’s ministry
buys diapers, toys, disposable gloves, and cleaning supplies for
the nursery. Together, you and other ministry leaders can find ways
to help each other and cover costs.

• Go small. If you’re facing a serious budget
crunch, you’re also facing tough decisions. That’s why it’s
important to identify the bare essentials in your ministry prior to
making any decision or asking for any funding. Knowing those
essentials will help you make decisions down the road because you
always know the core of what keeps your ministry going. Fund the
essentials first; when you have sustainable amounts left over, then
build in extras.

Budget Footprints to Follow

by Barbara Price, veteran children’s ministry
director and professor of children’s ministry management

When you begin developing your budget, start by taking a walk
through your ministry while it’s in progress. What do you see
that’s extra and not directly contributing to spiritual education?
Make notes of items that are used once and then discarded and those
that are simply time fillers. Make the motto coined in World War II
your new motto: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do.”

As you create your budget, begin with a simple worksheet penciling
in essential needs such as curriculum, basic supplies, appreciation
gifts, special events, and security and facility needs. Don’t
neglect to factor in the number of children in your ministry and
whether you predict growth in the next year (if you’re unsure
whether your ministry will grow, most experts recommend assuming 10
to 15 percent growth). Once your necessities are covered in the
budget, you’ll still need to justify it to your governing body.
Make no mistake — this is as important as the time you’ve spent
calculating numbers.

As you prepare your presentation don’t forget these three
important points.

• Never present a lump sum. Though this is
obviously the bottom line, the smartest (and more palatable) way to
begin your budget presentation is by demonstrating how much you’re
budgeting per child, per week. So rather than saying, “Our ministry
needs $5,200,” say, “Our ministry needs just $4 per week for each
of the 25 children who’ll attend in the coming year.”

• If your budget has increased from the previous year,
explain why.
Be very prepared if this is your situation.
Your budget may have increased for justifiable reasons, but in this
economic atmosphere, you’ll need to be able to explain — and prove
that the money is necessary.

• Prepare to compromise. There’s always the
possibility that your budget must be cut. Go into your proposal
knowing which items you can eliminate or reduce, and be ready to
talk about the effects of the sacrifice on your ministry (without
sounding like you’re whining).

Watch Your Step

by Bob Wild, director of finance, Christ’s
Church of the Valley

Churches aren’t immune from declining revenues, and our current
economy has caused all of us to re-evaluate budgets and rethink
priorities as we attempt to make the numbers balance. Looking ahead
to 2010, relief may not be in sight. But rather than taking a
pessimistic view, look at the situation as an opportunity to narrow
your focus and draw a line in the sand for absolute priorities to
make ministry happen.

One of the more interesting budget proposals I sat through a few
years ago was when our children’s ministry department invited me to
a budget presentation using puppets — yes, puppets! Even with a
loose script, I must admit that the presentation was interesting
and creative; after all, that’s what they do. Even though I laughed
as I was schmoozed, in the end I sent the team back to the drawing
board. From my money “gatekeeping” perspective, I could see they’d
put more effort into a creative presentation than hard numbers. The
takeaway: You have to be careful around us bean counters; our sense
of humor revolves around noncreative forms, and we aren’t likely to
be won over by a cute presentation if the numbers don’t add
up.

To get your budget approved, take these steps.

• Realistic Steps-A well-thought-out, realistic
budget takes time, hard work, and digging. By this I mean you must
incorporate a three-pronged approach, which means you (1) look at
the past, (2) look around you today, and (3) look at the future.
Start by taking a hard look at the historical data you have
available. This data offers a wealth of information on how this
year’s money was spent. Using this information, look for areas you
can adjust, downsize, or indentify as needing more resources. Ask
yourself what’s working in your ministry and should continue and
what isn’t and should stop. Take the approach that there are no
sacred cows — no matter what. All too often I hear, “We do that
because we’ve always done it.” Presenting hard data, results from
previous years, and an honest, well-thought-out evaluation will
gain traction with finance types. Loose facts and excitement for
unproven methods really won’t get you anywhere.

• Forward Steps-Ask yourself what it’ll take for
your ministry to remain relevant and innovative. It never ceases to
amaze me how our children’s ministry is able to quickly and
effectively try something new to keep things fresh and innovative.
This, of course, takes funding to succeed, along with time and
energy. If your ministry is ready to try something new, spell out
your plan with reason and conviction. I remember one fall getting
the children’s ministry budget and seeing a request for a budget to
increase the size of the summer kids’ camp. The projected
attendance was considerably more then I felt was appropriate given
the economic climate. I stubbornly resisted, claiming reliable data
about job losses and the fact that moms and dads just wouldn’t have
the cash to send their kids to camp. The children’s ministry staff
came back with conviction and purpose and made a strong argument to
counter my resistance. We gave them the amount they requested, and
in the end the camps sold out and parents were actually begging to
get their kids in. What a testament to sticking to your convictions
and listening to what God had planned rather than what the director
of finance saw.

• Integrity Steps-Make a public pledge to live by
your budget, and expect your team to do the same. Don’t whine when
you see other departments spending foolishly. Don’t point fingers;
instead, work as a team to provide solutions to budget blunders and
shortfalls. You created the numbers, so stick to them.

In all you do, be a good steward of the finances God has allowed
you to control. If you weave good stewardship, a conservative
approach, accountability, and of course, prayer for wisdom about
money, there’ll be nothing in the way of getting your budget
approved. cm

HOW NOT TO GET YOUR BUDGET
APPROVED

by Danielle Bell, veteran children’s
minister

I was overwhelmed and desperate. I could no longer keep all my
ministry plates spinning, and without help, my children’s ministry
and I were both about to crash. It was budget time, and I was
convinced my presentation needed to include more than numbers on
paper. I longed for the governing committee to grasp the importance
of our ministry. So, in an attempt to communicate our growing need
for staff and resources…I’ll admit my dramatic side took over in
the budget process.

As I searched for the most impactful way to illustrate my point to
a room full of non-children’s ministry leaders, I labeled paper
plates with ministry responsibilities such as recruitment,
training, and safety. My list went on and on, and soon I had quite
an impressive stack of plates.

The big meeting was scheduled for the end of a long Wednesday
night. I was already tired and stressed, but I tromped into the
meeting armed with my plates and message. Soon I was up.

I began with an impassioned plea — and then I began throwing
plates. One by one, I loudly read each plate and threw it on the
floor at the committee members’ feet to demonstrate how all my
plates were crashing down. Then, standing in a sea of plates, I
attempted to explain how each one symbolized an aspect of ministry
I was trying desperately to keep afloat. Sure, the plates were
paper, but the words written on them represented ministry and
lives.

I was prepared for the different expressions on the committee
members’ faces; after all, mine was a different sort of approach.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotions boiling inside me. I’m
not typically a crier, but in the midst of frustration, passion,
and weariness, the tears flowed. I only made it halfway through my
explanation of the plates that night (for which I’m sure the
committee was grateful), before my emotions took over…and the
committee members and I became increasing uncomfortable.

I’m not even sure how the meeting ended. I do know that my attempt
at the creative budgeting process was a flop. I longed for the
committee to grasp the importance of Jesus working in children’s
lives, but I’m afraid all they really saw was a pile of plates
hurled on the floor.

I missed a key communication point: Understand your audience and
speak their language. Tears and passion weren’t the currency of
communication this finance committee needed. Next time, I’ll have
this new “asset” to draw from as I approach my committee.

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