This post is the first in a two-part series about narrative budgeting for congregations.

How does your congregation faithfully steward the money it receives? In most congregations the answer can be found in a line-item budget, a document that is understood by few, appreciated by even fewer and makes its appearance during congregational meetings.

The ways ELCA congregations choose to steward the dollars that are faithfully given is an important and exciting story to tell. Behind each line item lies stories of how God is moving both inside and outside of the congregation. But too often the details of the numbers get in the way of the real story.

We have to stop thinking about budgeting as just a routine business task. It’s a stewardship education moment that helps people connect their giving with the church’s ministry. Stewardship does not end at the offering plate on Sunday morning. The money given on Sunday (and all throughout the week) is transforming lives both inside and outside of the congregation’s walls.

One of the best ways to tell these stories is through a narrative budget. This type of budget shares the story behind the numbers through images and descriptions. Instead of using traditional budget categories like staff, property and program committees, it highlights ministry areas like worship, learning and service to tell the congregation’s ministry story, not just its money story.

So what is a narrative budget? The Center for Faith and Giving describes narrative budgets this way: “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.” Narrative budgets tell the story of the amazing things God has done in and through the congregation. You can see examples of narrative budgets on the Center for Faith and Giving’s website.

This isn’t to say that you should do away with a line-item budget. Let the two work together. The narrative budget shows members the ways that their giving is making a difference in their congregation, community and around the world. The line-item budget shows the congregational leadership, and other interested members, where the money is going.

If constructed well, a narrative budget is a tool that can be used year-round. Reformation Lutheran Church in Reading, Pa., recently started using a narrative budget to show how financial contributions make possible ministry and outreach that most givers never get to see. They have used their narrative budget in their annual meeting and annual stewardship emphasis, as well as to welcome visitors.

A narrative budget can help people get back to the core of what giving is really about. Peace Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Wash., has been using a narrative budget for the past few years. One of the young women who attends Peace had grown up giving to her congregation “as a rule.” After seeing the narrative budget and learning about all of the ministries in the congregation that were made possible through her generosity, she was filled with joy. She realized that giving is much more than a religious mandate – it is what makes ministry possible.

For more information on how to create a narrative budget, stay tuned for next week’s post. For an introduction to narrative budgeting, check out the Center for Faith and Giving’s video, “Creating a Narrative (Mission-Focused) Budget,” featuring Katie Hays, founding pastor of Galileo Church in Mansfield, Texas.

Grace Duddy
Grace Duddy Pomory is author of Stewards of God’s Love, an ELCA resource for doing year-round stewardship ministry. She also is a financial education specialist at Portico Benefit Services and is executive director of operations at Kairos and Associates Inc.

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