There is a statement that is often spoken by church staff members. “If only I had the budget, we could ___ (fill in the blank).” The truth is, a wise board will fund things that reasonably support their goals and vision. How do you plan and propose a ministry to help the leadership allocate what is needed? If a church leadership team says they will start a new service, how will that be executed? Here are five ways to organize the process of planning your budget and other resources for worship.
Worship Ministry Administration 201: How To Convince Your Church Board To Fund Your Ministry Project
Throughout history, worship was funded by the local church. Whether from the stained glass of cathedrals, the pipe organs of chapels, or the 40-foot LED screens installed in a growing number of modern churches, we see dollar signs. Worship is indeed a priority which requires significant funding. Worship leaders today who understand how to be judicious and strategic help their churches tremendously, compared to those who shy away from spreadsheets and line items. Your ministry, whether you are a decision maker or an influencer, is served well by growing in the skill of financial management. You don’t have to be an expert to influence major decisions if you understand a few principles.
We all learn from our rookie mistakes, right? I was part of a new church that met in rented facilities. It is what you call a “zero-budget” deal with a gifted PA system and expiring cables. There was a need to address the sound. They brought me on to help with worship leading, and a band was finally formed that required better support. We were spending significant amounts on advertising and facilities, both normal for a brand new church plant. How could we convince the leadership to also spend money on a new sound system? There was no margin to simply go out and buy a major item.
A couple of people on the worship team decided to use their leverage and generosity to fund a new sound system. To the delight of the worship team, a decision was made to allow a fundraiser for the new gear. I had specked out a board, amps, and speakers—the works! It was a bit overkill, but being young and drooling over replacing a failing PA, I succumbed to the slippery salesman who was happy to show me something a bit more than we needed. We used this “research” to make a target number. For a small, budding church, we were excited to find out that the campaign was fully funded! Now, the rookie mistakes come to light.
While I was good at raising money, the next month’s offering was dismal. People on the worship team gave to the new PA instead of the regular offering. This had a domino effect when payroll and bills landed on the desk at the church office. We did not consider how much this would compete with other activities of the church. Our young pastor could have seen this too, but the pressure from even a couple of power-driven people can wear down even the strongest and wisest leader. I learned that I had a terrific capacity to persuade. I also learned that I had a terrible grasp in that moment of how everything in the church is connected. Resources come from the same place—from God through the people of the local church.
Here are a few things that I learned NOT to do in funding the ministries projects I have led.
Never Decide On The Gear Or Budget Before The Problem Is Clearly Defined.
The lead pastor in a meeting said he needed up-lighting. He saw something on TV and thought that we should use a similar setup. The example: the newly-elected President Obama. Did we have to get the same fixtures or type of fixtures that Obama used to solve something we were not sure about? Could we re-aim current lights to address the lack of quality? Could it be that the example on TV had expensive HD cameras with not only up-lighting fixtures but pro-broadcast lighting from above? Also, our inexpensive camera at $1,800 had limitations from its resolution to the optics of the lens. On an online view of a sermon or service the lighting may have been great in the room, but indeed did not look as good on the projected screens or a computer. We tried aiming a couple of light fixtures, as a test. The projection screens were shadowed, and the look was even worse.
The insistence on a particular gear or tech is something we can be easily seduced into buying. In one ministry, I was having an issue directing the band at the piano and leading worship. My back would get a bit twisted from turning to lead the band and then back to sing and play the piano. My sound engineers were not happy with me when I would turn; they lost my signal in the microphone. I was convinced that a head-worn microphone would be the solution. When I tried it out with no one else in the room, it did great. But, the small stage area with horns, guitars, and other acoustic sounds made it feedback, and while it solved the issue with the tone, it created even greater problems. Just like the up-lighting fixtures, there can be many ways to solve an issue. In this case, it meant thinking about how I led the band and placed the instruments. And, compression on the vocal did help, with a bit of the microphone. They could limit the very loud notes without diving on the board to reach the fader!
The other big mistake is to decide on a dollar amount before the problem is defined. It is one thing to say, “Our budget only has this amount,” versus claiming any random amount can solve the problem. Part of leadership is presenting reality. If you don’t yet know the issue, it’s silly to define a dollar amount. You can spend too much as well as too little. Solve a presented problem rather than sell a solution out of context. This is why there should be a consensus on what needs to be solved before there’s a decision on what gear or budget might solve it. This discussion, if done well, will cover the possible domino effect of making the change and installing new equipment. Tools can be very expensive. They are surely more so if they do not address what needs to be solved. We all have favorite brands and can be excited about new technologies. People are always a better option than technology.
Your leadership is more likely to sign off on solving a problem that is defined.
Never Research From Only One Source And Don’t Do It Alone. Collaborate A Solution!
If a team member says, “I know a guy,” they could turn out to be a great connection! However, always get multiple bids for a project and source each one. What are the advantages of the guy someone knows versus brand “X” found on Google? What training is available for the gear. Is there a written guarantee confirming the cost and timeline of the project? If you are buying a microphone for a special service, this might simply mean looking at the terms of the sale from the vendor. If you are installing equipment, there are a lot of variables that must be discussed and put in writing. And, to do this properly the decision maker is best served by advisors and collaborators weighing in. When you are looking to fund a project that will serve the entire church, working in a bubble is disastrous.
Get three vendor bids. It’s relatively easy. If you’re printing t-shirts, this can be done online or with a couple of emails and phone calls. Document this research, and delegate the work. Empower those around you. You may find a member who prints t-shirts! Even if you use this person only as a consultant, he or she can tell you how good a deal looks. In other cases such as a video upgrade, the work of finding the right contractor might be more involved. Don’t be afraid to shop outside your network. Shopping around will only prove to you the market prices. If one vendor is way higher or lower, that can be a red flag.
Who do you include in choosing a solution? If you’re wondering, collaborating doesn’t mean democracy. You should include the stakeholders, like those who will rely on the gear. If you’re choosing light fixtures, not consulting with the lead volunteer of your lighting crew would be foolish. You should also find out who wants this issue solved the most and allow them to give input. Of course, judicially use your leadership.
Are you overwhelmed yet? This is where you need a project manager, especially if this is not your gifting. Here is how that might look: three weeks of research, two months of waiting until new budget cycle, the report comes in, now what, etc. The main issue here is employing people to assist not only in the input but the structure of the actual decision process. Your board will be happy to see that a process was undertaken and should be aware of the intent to solve an issue. The idea here is to show your homework like you would for a math quiz. They may see you have a solution in place, but without a summary of how you got there, you may be sent back to the drawing table even if you have done all the work.
To convince a board, it helps them to see that you have done some homework in selecting a source or vendor.
Avoid Putting Other Goals And Ministries At Risk By Not Grasping The Bigger Picture.
Remember the story about the PA system? If we knew that the sound system campaign would hurt the general budget, would we have gone through with it? What will your needs cost other ministry priorities? Is this cost acceptable to all the stakeholders in funding this project? Defining and mitigating any risks in your proposal will greatly increase confidence in your proposal from the decision makers. A transparent discussion with, not only those benefiting from it, but who might be challenged by it, is necessary. Had the treasurer of the fledgling church been a part of the conversation, it might have altered the plan to fund an ambitious purchase.
Whenever you push in one area, it will tug another. If you expand your service times to make worship service 75 minutes instead of 60 minutes, do the children’s ministry leaders and helpers have consideration? In the same way, if you spend money to address one ministry, it may mean some sacrifice to another. Growth requires pain. Be savvy about reaching out to all those who might feel the pain. And, if staff members can’t work together and share in the success and sacrifice, then there are bigger issues than a tech or gear upgrade!
One thing must be said. There will be unintended consequences no matter how much planning and collaboration. The idea is to create a culture where you minimize how many of these you end up surprising the church leadership team. Obviously, when in that introductory story we had an unfortunate result, the intentions were good! However, with wisdom, we can achieve what our heart desires more often than if we shoot from the hip. The power of loving each other in ministry will not be forgotten. And, if things begin to unwind, at least there’s a defined and deliberate effort to mitigate as much fallout as possible.
The bigger picture is always about being aware of our relationships and partnerships in ministry.
Being Impatient Means Mistakes Will Be Made! Timing Is Everything.
Volunteer time is the most expensive time you can waste. Remember the project manager role I mentioned? Keeping the project on track is a must. Deadlines are important, but deciding to implement a major video overhaul the week before Easter isn’t wise! Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Volunteer service is the gift of our people and should be treated like gold. One Easter season, without my consent, a commitment was made to complete a video screen install by Easter. I wanted the option of not doing it this way, but I wasn’t in a position to override it. We didn’t manage the project well. A project manager would be the one not to allow things to be done out of order, such as purchasing the gear and putting it up before there was a consideration on when the work would be accomplished. Who would do the work? Did they have time and enough advance to do a good job?
The most valuable thing you can get is a diagram of how to wire and the specs of the equipment. This, if I had done it correctly, would be in place before we went out and ordered gear. Needless to say, because of lack of planning we had volunteers on ladders until 3 a.m. on multiple nights. We got it done. But, the cost was enormous. Because of the lack of documentation, we had to research how we would connect a legacy projector to a new one in a multi-screen upgrade. My partner in ministry decided to leave early one night while these faithful volunteers were still on their ladders. Yes, we got it done, but the mayhem the week previous to Easter created additional stress on all of our teams from worship and tech, to our teaching pastors.
Put in writing the desired timeline and season to implement the project you propose, especially if you are not the one calling the shots on the timing. This way, your input is documented. This will also help leaders discuss with you the timing based on other projects going on in the church. Be patient! Sometimes getting a green light can sink you if you do not clarify the timing to match the real-world. You may have to delay the close of a project, but that might be the best thing you can do. Without a plan, you have no way to track how things vary from your intended process. Each time you see this data, you will grow in planning the next one.
A board is likely to appreciate and fund a project that considers both flexibility and concreteness in timing.
Doing It Yourself Might be Disastrous If You Are Not Experienced Or Skilled In The Project’s Area.
In any project, you might have the best gear installed. However, in your budget, what is available to train the staff and volunteers? Will that require equipment? And, if you take the time of volunteers and staff to accomplish this, is there an understanding that overtime will be an issue? Will other ministry duties suffer? And, if something goes wrong in the installation, who do we call to fix it? There are times when you should surely employ volunteers and do it yourself. Taking longer is not an issue nor saving money. It is a waste to not allow this gift from people who are capable. However, there are certain things only a pro should do. The more technical, the truer this is.
With that screen upgrade that we lacked documentation, we also decided not to use the vendor who designed the system upgrade and perform the installation. The thing we miscalculated was the training time for our team! If we had hired the pro guy to oversee things, we might have had more time than Easter to train for the new screens. But, there is another important consideration. What happens if something goes wrong with the installation and we need a repair? Often, some vendors can warranty their work. If you are going to have to call someone in because most of your team is busy during the week supporting their families, it will be problematic to see them as the only call to make for fixing critical gear. In a larger church, this is truer than in smaller churches. However, if you are in Texas and your AC is out, I don’t think that will go unnoticed.
The point here is to be careful to gauge whether a project, even with your expertise a fit, can impact the flow of your weekly responsibilities. You may have the skill, but do you have the bandwidth? A leadership team is likely to view the missed work for this project as missed work. Worship leadership as a weekly activity can be dampened by multiple projects throughout the year. How are these impacting the weekly worship services?
A board will fund additional help if you document why this is needed.
Don’t Sell The Solution With Fear But With Values.
The easy thing may be to drill down on how scary the presenting problem is the longer it remains unsolved. But, the real winner is to tie the project to a value. Why upgrade your A/V gear? Is it to minimize people running out of the service or is it to communicate the Gospel better? If you, with authenticity, weave the purpose of the ministry and upgrade out of the mission, the leadership team will be inspired rather than annoyed. Fear is the weak way to lead. It is asking your leaders to run from something rather than be progressive.
The goal should be about leading people into worship by providing excelling support. You can measure excellent sound more than you can predict the moods of people. Yes, we have to solve that problem we spent time with others identifying and tackling.
Let’s do it for a purpose greater than ourselves and comfort.