One of the biggest questions we get from churches looking for our help revolves around how to control church spending.

Like any organization, things are easy to control when only one or a few people are involved. Once growth starts to occur and more people get involved, it becomes significantly more complicated to hold the reigns. Add to this a growing, scaling ministry and it’s no wonder why keeping track of church spending quickly becomes overwhelming.

As churches grow, often this issue creeps up on the pastor and church leadership. That first ministry leader hired needs to run to Wal-Mart to get some supplies. Pastor gives them the church debit card and they go. This process gets repeated but now the next leaders are given debit cards for their own ministry area. Before long, too many people have access to spend the money and without proper financial controls, your church’s spending will be out of control.

At first, you may be tempted to just curb all spending and put a lock down on the finances of the church. While that will definitely curb spending, it will also frustrate your leaders, disenfranchise your volunteers and stifle your ministry growth.

The key to managing church spending is to implement a system I can define as Flexible Control.

There is definitely a balance to your system and what you put in place to manage spending, while empowering your volunteers and key ministry leaders to serve.

Here are a few ideas on how to put effective spending systems in place.

1. Have a Budget in Place

I’ve written several postings about the importance of a church budget and how to start a church budget. We’ll be releasing a Church Budget Builder Online Course in September that will help guide you through the budget building process.

Before we can get to building a budget, we must have an understanding about what a budget is and what it can do for your church.

A budget is nothing more than a guide; a roadmap to how the church will allocate the resources they have been entrusted with in the upcoming year. As a plan, the budget needs to be flexible, while at the same time providing enough concrete direction to help manage the resources in place.

But how does a budget help manage spending?

It’s actually quite simple. With a budget in place, with well defined ministry area budgeted amounts, your ministry workers have their “guardrails” when it comes to their ministry. A ministry leader in your children’s ministry can know exactly how much has been allocated for them to use to do ministry for the upcoming month or year.

Now, does that mean they can just go out and spend it all in one place?

Absolutely not, we’ll get into more keys later but this is the first step.

This is also an area where you as a pastor or key ministry leader can show leadership. While you empower your ministry area leaders to be able to make spending decisions, you are also providing a level of control as to how much gets spent.

It’s also important as the leader of the church to share about stewardship. There is so much that can be said here about budgeting that an entire post can (and has) been written but for now we’ll just leave it that for your church to manage spending, you need a budget in place.

FOR YOUR CHURCH TO MANAGE SPENDING, YOU NEED A BUDGET IN PLACE

2. Develop an Atmosphere of Stewardship

Somehow over the years churches have become known as cheap. The word stewardship has become synonymous with cheap. For some reason, there’s a belief that churches shouldn’t spend money for things and opt to ask for free or handouts.

Now I’ll agree that churches should not spend frivolously and there are many things that churches and church leaders spend money on that may cause others to think differently about their decision making abilities but that is all the more reason to develop an atmosphere of stewardship.

What is an atmosphere of stewardship?

As a pastor, you are responsible for the spiritual direction of the church. It is your vision guided by God that is helping people on their journey of discipleship.

An atmosphere of stewardship is a culture where everyone in the church knows that spending decisions are handled wisely. When you are seen making wise spending decisions, your key leaders and volunteers will understand that is a key value and it should trickle down to them.

NOTE: if it doesn’t, then you may need to use that as a reason to find a new ministry leader.

Spending wisely doesn’t mean being cheap. Think of it as an investment. Even if something is expensive, what does that do for the future of your ministry? Is that an investment in people’s lives? Can that purchase or expense better build the Kingdom.

Think parable of the talents.

God has entrusted your ministry with resources to be used, are you burying those resources in the sand or are you investing it to yield dividends for the Master? This is also a great place to speak into your ministry leaders that may have a slant towards being cheap or trying to do things for free. I’ve already written about the ministry cost of free and the true costs of free.

An atmosphere of stewardship encourages everyone to think through spending decisions and be wise stewards of the church’s resources.

3. Put spending guidelines in place

Ok, let’s get real practical here.

One super simple way to control ministry spending is to put spending guidelines in place. This goes back to the key of having Flexible Control over your finances. They goal here is to put in enough controls while maintaining a level of flexibility to let ministry happen.

Depending on your church’s budget the amounts may differ but let’s put it into perspective with some real numbers.

Let’s use a church with 2 Full Time pastors, 1 Part Time Ministry Assistant, and 4 key ministry volunteer leaders. This church has a budget of about $300,000 just for perspective with your ministry. For simple math, let’s break this down and say outside of fixed expenses (payroll, utilities, insurance, rent or mortgage and missions) we have about $90,000 left for ministry.

If you’d like to see how we came up with those figures, consider our Church Budget Builder Course

$90k gives us about $7,500 per month for ministry uses. As we break our budget down further and further, the amounts get pretty tight.

That $7,500 per month is to be used divided up by the ministry areas. To continue the simplicity of our example, let’s say our Children’s ministry has $1,000 per month BUDGETED to spend. (notice the emphasis on the word budgeted!)

As pastor, your job is to empower your Children’s Ministry leader to be a steward of that $1,000/month. What does that look like practically?

Within a strong financial accounting system (see point 4), you give your CM leader the freedom to spend up to $1,000 per month. Now, do they have the authority to spend that all at once? That is a question for you and your leadership. That will also depend on that person’s personal ability to manage the stewardship of that amount.

Here’s what I’d recommend.

Your Children’s Ministry Leader can spend up to $200 without needing further approval (the budget gave approval) on any expenditure. If the expense is going to exceed $200, encourage them to ask you about the purchase.

AND NO, this does not need to go to approval by committee or business meeting!!!

You as the pastor should have the authority to permit spending within the parameters of the budget. If it’s something you’re not comfortable with making the decision alone, email another elder or leader and ask for their second opinion. However, the approval to the Children’s Ministry Leader should not take more than a couple of hours.

Again, I could go on and on here, but with an atmosphere of stewardship and simple spending guidelines in place, this should not be an issue.

4. Have a robust, scalable accounting system

As I began this post, I mentioned that out of control spending is one of the top things pastors ask me about. In many cases, spending is out of control because no one is in control. No one is in charge.

Pastor wants to pawn the financial management off to the treasurer or bookkeeper, treasurer or bookkeeper is already stretched to the max just handling the data input and your elders are wanting to see the key financial reports to know the giving trends for the previous month.

With all that going on, it’s no wonder why many churches feel they are out of control with spending.

Let me suggest something real quick. With our Simplify Church Bookkeeping System, we empower your church and leaders to make decisions with the information, not spend time worrying about how to categorize that last receipt in Quickbooks.

I won’t spend too much time here in a shameless plug but a system like Simplify Church will help you gain control of spending because we’ll come alongside and partner with your church to manage your finances. With your assigned Account Manager, we can stand in your corner to help put spending systems in place.

Conclusion

I’ll admit I could have written for several more hours on this topic and probably will in the future. I could break down each key into its own post but for now we’ll leave this overview here.

Managing the resources God has entrusted to your church is a key step in stewardship and leadership. As you become faithful with the little things, God will continue to increase the amount He sends your way to steward. Managing the spending of your church is as much a spiritual discipline as anything else and should be something you strive to be the best at as a pastor.

I’m curious, what have you put in place with your church to manage church spending?  Comment below and we’ll discuss.