How to Make Any Idea Work for Your Church

How to Make Any Idea Work for Your Church

One of the most common questions we get from pastors as they consider whether or not to join the program is, “Will this work in ________?”  The question comes in a variety of flavors.

  • Is this helpful to a church with a solo pastor?
  • Will this work in Hawaii?
  • Will this help churches in the UK?
  • Do you have any multi-site churches on the platform?
  • Is this applicable in the African American church?
  • Will this work for ME?

And here’s the real answer: I have no idea but probably yes because it depends on you.

I’m not in Hawaii or the UK, so there’s really no way I can authentically answer those questions.  I wasn’t a solo pastor so I don’t have personal experience in that area. I can point you to people who are using the platform in those contexts, but there’s no way I can guarantee it will work for YOU.

Because how something works depends more on how you use it than what it is. It’s not only about the content, it’s about the application. It’s not all about the program; it’s about your commitment to it.

And this isn’t a Church Fuel thing, it’s true of just about anything.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear pastors questioning whether something born in the mega-church world will help their normal-sized church. It’s frustrating to read comments of leaders dissing ideas because they aren’t specifically created for their unique situation. It’s a form of lazy leadership.

Maybe you’re wondering if a curriculum specifically created for a denomination different from yours will work. Maybe you’re wondering if that tech solution will work in your older congregation. Maybe you’re wondering if a ministry idea really will help you accomplish your mission.

The answer is: I have no idea but probably yes because it depends on you.

When missionaries go into a new culture, they take the timeless truths of the Gospel and explain it in a way that makes sense in that language and culture. 

That’s what great leaders do. They see what’s working and what people are doing, and they process it through the lens of their own context. They don’t just copy. They learn the principles and get ideas.

They take something created for one purpose and adapt it to fit their own needs.

They don’t make someone do it for them—they do it themselves. They don’t expect everything to fit right out of the box. They put it in context.

Contextualization is how you learn without copying.

You don’t have to be the naysayer, pointing out how every little thing isn’t perfectly pre-adapted to your church, passing blame to creators for not tailoring their product or service to your unique ministry situation. 

Instead, you can reap the benefits of just about anything, embracing your role as the steward of your community and filtering ideas, programs, ministries, and technologies through your cultural context.

You don’t expect everything to be perfect; you adapt it.  

Here are three ways to do this and an example of how it could work for your church.

#1 – Approach ideas with a growth mindset.

Healthy churches are usually led by growing leaders.

And a top trait of a growing leader is that they operate from a growth mindset. Leaders who embrace this philosophy say, “I can learn from anyone. Everything can help me.” Contrast this with a fixed mindset or a stuck mindset.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, summarizes the two mentalities.

  • A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed. 
  • A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.  

We see this with pastors and churches all the time.  

Stuck Mindset Growth Mindset
Coaching I don’t see the value of expert opinions. Besides, I don’t have the time or money I can and should learn from anyone.
Change I’d rather keep things the way they are because what’s known is better than what’s unknown. Embrace change and lead through it, because it can lead to growth.
Challenges We avoid challenges. We embrace challenges.
Staff When we get the money to hire someone, things will get better. Let’s develop the people we have.
Criticism I tend to ignore critics completely or else I obsess over what people think. I don’t have to agree with critics to learn from them.
Volunteers Everybody who wants to do something and can do something is already busy. We will cast a big vision and make sure everyone finds the right place to serve.
Leadership Development There aren’t enough high capacity leaders around me so I’m comfortable telling everyone what to do.  If there aren’t leaders around me, it’s my fault.  Since I can’t do this on my own, I’ll be responsible for developing them.
Giving Giving isn’t great because of the economy, our area, or the kind of people we’re reaching. I’m going to be the best steward of what God has given me.


When leaders with a growth mindset encounter a new idea that may not immediately work in their setting, the growth mindset allows them to learn, adapt, and make changes. They refuse to be limited because the work of contextualization is not done for them.  

By the way, we’re doing a breakdown and a ministry insights video on Dweck’s book, Mindset, inside The Pastor’s Book Club.

#2 – Look for the principles behind the product.

Northpoint Community Church runs a program each year called Be Rich. It’s worth checking out.

Essentially, they vet tons of local and international charities who are already doing good work in the community. Choosing to cooperate not compete, they raise money for these charities, asking everyone in their church to give $39.95.

Over the last 13 years, they have raised more than $50 million, passing 100% of these funds on to great organizations. 

You can look at that and see big numbers and think “our church doesn’t have that kind of money.”

Or you can look for some principles behind the idea and pull them into your context.

You may not be able to partner with 610 organizations around the globe, but there’s probably one. You may not be able to raise $50 million, but you could encourage congregational participation in a pass-through-style program. 

You don’t have to copy the tactics to learn from the principles.

In fact, whenever you see an idea that sounds good, you should NOT rush to copy the tactics.  You should think about the strategy and you should look for the principles.

The principles are what allows you to contextualize the idea, not the idea itself.

#3 – Leverage your strengths.

Every church is different, with unique cultures, locations, leadership, and mission.

There’s a ton that unites us, and we might actually have more in common than we realize. But these nuanced differences are really important to how we operate.

The leaders in your church have unique strengths. Collectively, your church has strengths, too.

On the Two Page Plan, we call these Distinctives.

These are the things that make your church unique. You’re absolutely not competing with other churches in town, but if you were, these are the things you would call out. When you know your distinctives, you can build around them. You can build on your strengths.

When you execute the idea you’re considering, you do so according to your strengths as a church.  

That may mean the idea itself is different. Or it may mean you do it a different way.  

Putting It Together

Here’s an example of how all of this might work.

On Success with Groups Online, you learn from Brian Beauford that Grace Church is offering monthly webinars to reach new people in their community. 

You’re drawn to this strategy because you’ve been looking for a way to engage people online. A few leaders in your church think this might work for you, but soon, people begin pointing out the technical challenges. They remind you the people in your church have been resistant to technology. And they are worried about running ads on Facebook the way Brian does.  “That sounds expensive,” they say.

Approach the idea with the growth mindset.

You have to fight a little bit, but you convince your leaders to keep pushing. “It may look different for us, but there’s something here we can learn from. Let’s not dismiss an idea…let’s see what we can learn.” 

Look for the principles.

Webinars may not be the ultimate thing for you, but the principle here is that Grace Church is providing helpful content to people in their community. They are meeting people online and building trust with people before they ever walk through the doors.  As you keep discussing, you realize there are at least three transferable principles in this idea and you start talking about those with your leaders.

Play to your strengths.

Since your church and community really aren’t tech-minded, you decide an in-person workshop is a better fit. Webinars might be a phase two thing. Plus, you have people on your team who know how to run events. So, you organize a 60-minute workshop called “Parents and Screen Time” on Thursday night at the community center.

You just approached a new idea with a growth mindset, pulled out the principles, and launched it according to your strengths.

You didn’t dismiss an idea or force the idea-holder to contextualize it for you. That’s a huge win.

Even if you DID NOT execute anything as a result, deciding that this wasn’t something on strategy or in scope, having the growth mindset approach and fighting to pull out the principles helped you get better.

The goal isn’t to implement every idea or tactic or strategy. It’s to keep learning.

Take the Next Step

Looking for ways to reach more people in your community and invite them to church? For most people, the Sunday morning service is the front door to church engagement.

In The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People, you'll find practical and actionable tools that you can use to reach more people in your church.

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The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People

Pastor, How Well Do You Know Your Community?

Pastor, How Well Do You Know Your Community?

Here’s one of the most important communications lessons I’ve ever learned…

Know your audience.

Whether you’re writing a novel, composing an email, answering a question, or delivering a speech, it’s of utmost importance to answer your question.

A novel written for military history buffs will be dramatically different from a romance novel intended for young adults.

You can truthfully answer the question, “Where do babies come from?” in a variety of ways, but your approach will largely be dictated by the age of your audience.

It’s great to be an expert in your field, but it might be just as important to be an expert in understanding your audience.

It’s not just your content; it’s about understanding the hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs, and style of the people hearing your content. The better you know them, the better you can connect.

This is true for pastors and church leaders, too.

For those of us in the Church with life-changing messages, programs that should reach people, and ministries intended to meet people where they are, we need to make sure we have “good stuff.”

But we also need to make sure that our messages, ministries, and programs truly connect with the needs of our community. We don’t just need to know our mission—we need to know our mission field. We don’t just need to run our programs—we need to understand the people who need them.

Too many churches forge ahead with programs and ministries, sermons and messages, without taking the time to really study the makeup of the people they are trying to reach.

That’s not good stewardship. Plowing ahead with programs and ministries without knowing whether or not we’re working in sandy, rocky, or good soil isn’t great faith or great leadership. It’s a missed opportunity.

The Importance of Knowing and Matching

When missionaries enter the mission field, they should devote significant time to learning customs, language, and culture. Most realize that they need more than passion and vision to thrive. They must connect with the culture and community.

Anna Wishart writes this about missionaries:

“People in different places think and see the world differently than we do. We are going to another culture, another language, another people group. They are human beings, real people with intelligence, history, feelings, thoughts, customs, and minds; and like the uneducated surgeon, our good intentions alone will not be able to enter into their world to help them.”

Stefani Varner adds this:

“Crossing cultures can help us learn valuable lessons in principles such as honor, respect, relationships, love, discipline, work ethic, and more. We have an opportunity for personal and corporate growth as we learn from each other. As we cross cultures for the purpose of bringing the life-giving message of the gospel to the nations, we must do so with humility. Having the mindset of a learner and gaining trust is critical so we can focus on building relationships and pointing them to the truth of the gospel.”

Learning culture is an important topic for missionaries, but it is just as important for pastors and church leaders. You’re a missionary in your own community. There might not be a language barrier, but there’s still an opportunity.

Many pastors know their mission statement backward and forward but have not put in the time and energy to get to know the mission field.

That’s a huge risk.

But where there is great risk, there is great opportunity.

The better you know your community (and congregation), the better you can match your programs, ministries, and communication.

Knowing more can help you be more effective.

  • If you know your community or congregation consists of people likely to have a marriage in need, then you could offer ministries and programs to reach this group of people.
  • If you know your community has an aversion to technology, you can stop asking them to download the app and take the survey and just hand out paper and pens to get their feedback.
  • If you know your community has a higher percentage of millennials or single-parent households or those struggling with addiction, you can match relevant programs.

How Can You Know?

You think you know your community, but what do you really know?

Do you just have stories or observations? Or is there some hard data?

There’s value in both, but if you can get data and insights, you’ll be able to make better ministry decisions.

Here are two places you can get the kind of data, statistics, and insights we’re talking about.

First, take a look at the Know Your Community report courtesy of Gloo Insights.

Once you create a free account and put in your church address, you can download a report containing a wealth of information about the people living in your area.

This information is anonymized, meaning you can’t see individuals. But an aggregate look at your community is well worth your time.

When you run your own report, you can dive into:

  • Demographic data about your community, including the generational mix, length of residence, and ethnicity
  • Family makeup including relationship status, children present, and the possibility of a marriage at risk
  • Financial situations included the estimated household income, discretionary income, and debt levels
  • Spiritual style and religious affiliation
  • Behavioral, physical, and emotional health patterns

This type of “third-party data” is a valuable snapshot of your community. It can provide some fresh insight into your mission field. It may confirm some suspicions or shed light on why your people respond the way they do.

When you run your report, talk about it with some other leaders in your church. Did you see anything that surprised you? What do you make of the spiritual style section? Do your current programs and ministries match who lives in your community?

Second, gather information through surveys and assessments.

You can learn a lot from your congregation by asking them questions. This “first-party” information comes directly from your people.

Like a shepherd knowing the condition of the flock, pastors can use surveys and assessments to better understand the condition of the congregation. By asking questions, you can know rather than guess.

In recent months, we’ve seen churches make great ministry decisions after listening to the congregation. Here are just some of the options.

  • You could run a congregational check-in like Barna’s Church Pulse.
  • You could survey your people before you head into a sermon series planning retreat.
  • You could run a leadership assessment to identify potential leaders who are not yet serving in the church.
  • You could run a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey with small group leaders or volunteers.
  • You could run a parent check-in to see how parents and families are doing during COVID.
  • You could set up a guest follow-up survey to get valuable feedback from first-time guests.
  • You could offer a couples check-in before a married small group or couple’s retreat.

Surveys and assessments are more valuable than overreliance on the most recent story you’ve heard or the loudest voice in the room. They allow you to move from “people are saying” to more concrete evidence of perceptions and beliefs.

Taken together, insights on your community and answers from your congregation can give you a deeper understanding of the people you are trying to reach and the people you are serving.

New Insight for New Times

Even if you feel like you have a decent pulse on this, the actual information can inform your ministry decision making.

Now more than ever, it’s important to know and match.

It’s likely your community has changed over the last ten years. In fact, things probably look radically different today than just one year ago. That’s why you should search out this type of information, even if you feel like you have a baseline understanding of your community.

Don’t let familiarity with your environment lead you to miss out on important changes or trends.

Things change.

People change.

Communities change.

And because the mission of the church is permanent, pastors and church leaders are often resistant to cultural changes. We’re comfortable doing what worked in the past and are sometimes conditioned to ignore the changes around us.

Many churches are designed to meet the needs of a community that existed 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

Let’s be clear: Your purpose should not change.

The calling to “go and make disciples” should be the foundation for everything you do. The changing needs of culture do not alter the purpose of the church.

But your strategies and tactics should be informed by the audience you’re trying to reach.

When you take time to understand your community and get to know your congregation at a deeper level, you can be more effective in ministry.

Take the Next Step

Do you want to dive a little deeper into this topic? Our newest course, Data Fueled Church, is a free resource that will help you process many of the ideas in this article. We’ll guide you through how to get things set up and help you take action with some of the information available to you.

This premium course is 100% free and includes videos and resources for you and your team.

The New Volunteer Roles Churches Need for the New Reality

The New Volunteer Roles Churches Need for the New Reality

COVID-19 presented huge problems for churches all around the world.

These challenges led to difficult decisions, like stopping in-person services, downsizing the budget, laying off staff members, and more.

Pastors had to make difficult decisions.

We tried our best to help churches navigate these changes, offering live workshops to help pastors trim from their budget. We released communication guides and reopening email templates to help pastors make wise decisions in difficult times. Our coaches hopped on Zoom calls to help pastors through.

But mostly, we tried to just listen and encourage pastors who were trying to maintain hope through difficult circumstances.

Through it all, there were glimpses of hope.

Without the ability to meet face-to-face, churches scrambled to beef up their online presence, creating new ways for church members to engage with each other and new opportunities to serve the community.

Instead of inviting the community to come to the building, churches found new ways to go to the community. Churches connected with local partners, helping meet needs.

Embracing the opportunity, churches looked for new ways to reach people, serve people, pray with people, encourage people, and pastor people.

Businesses did this, too.

  • When COVID essentially shut down movie theaters, Wal-Mart announced socially distant drive-in theaters in their parking lots.
  • Orange Theory, Planet Fitness, and 24-Hour Fitness began live-streaming workout classes and offering on-demand sessions.
  • You probably know a restaurant that survived by shifting to curbside delivery, take-out, or home meal-prep kits.

This is more than making a pivot to survive in a new reality. This is an intentional decision to push forward no matter what. You see, new problems create new opportunities.

The onset of COVID was certainly a huge challenge for churches.

But it was also a gigantic opportunity.

We got the opportunity to reset, reimagine, and refocus on our mission. It wasn’t something we asked for, but perhaps it was something God could use for good.

This really is the heart of the growth mindset, something we talk about in our Church Fuel community all of the time.

The stuck mindset focuses on the challenges. It’s something that is happening TO you, something that is out of your control. Pastors with the stuck mindset focus on the limiting factors around them.

The growth mindset focuses on the opportunity. You recognize the challenges, but realize God wants to do something THROUGH you. It’s where you embrace the current reality and decide to be the best steward of the times. Pastors with a growth mindset view every challenge as an opportunity.

The growth mindset is how you navigate a way forward, no matter what is going on in the world, in your community, or in your church.

It’s a mental model mixed with a strong resolve reinforced by a divine calling.

The Opportunity to Engage People

As your church navigates ministry in a post-COVID world, engaging people and volunteers will be one of your biggest challenges.

That makes it one of your biggest opportunities.

You need people to fill roles that have been vacated. And you need new people to fill new roles to meet these new challenges.

“We just can’t get people to help,” a pastor told me after shifting services online and struggling to get people involved.

So how can we leverage the growth mindset to involve new people in new ways in this new reality?

Three Huge Principles

We’re going to dive into some specific suggestions, but first, let’s talk about the principles that can help you accomplish your mission in the next season of ministry.

#1 – New roles attract new people.

Maybe you’ve tried for months to fill some existing volunteer positions. For example, I bet there are some openings in kids ministry that seem to always be there. You always need people to serve in the children’s ministry, don’t you?

You announce the needs, print them in the bulletin, include them in the emails, and ask around. The vacancy wears on you because you know children’s ministry is important.

It might sound counterintuitive, but if people hear about the same need over and over, they might tune you out. “I’ve heard this before,” they think as they dig in their heels of resistance.

Since they have already made the mental decision that they aren’t a good fit for this role, there’s not enough vision you could throw at them to get them to change their mind.

But new roles, even if in familiar departments or programs, can break the pattern.

Some people want to be first. Some people want to break new ground. So, creating new positions is a way to break the mental pattern and get someone to lean in.

#2 – Specific roles attract specific people.

Not only do new roles get people to lean in, the more specific you can make it, the better.Again, this is a little counterintuitive.

You might think casting the broadest possible net is the way to go. But generic pleas for help are often ignored.

People think, “Surely there are a lot of other people who could do that…they don’t need me.”

But when you share a specific need (and the more specific, the better), someone might think, “Wow…it’s as if they were describing me. I’m perfectly qualified to do that unique thing.”

Instead of saying, “We’re looking for volunteers to help with the elementary ministry” say, “We’re looking for a dad with older kids to help mentor some 4th graders on Sunday mornings at 11am.” The specificity will attract people’s attention.

Share specific needs, not generic pleas for help.

#3 – Digital roles attract different people.

As you think through your volunteer needs in a post-COVID world, make sure you are promoting digital roles.

Almost all serving positions in churches require physical attendance. But as you now realize, ministry can and does happen online. That means you need people to engage digitally.

This opens you up to a world of new people who can serve from their computer around a different schedule.

Digital volunteer roles often attract younger people, which is a challenge we hear over and over again from church leaders.

New Roles for New Times

As you think about creating new, specific, and timely roles for your church in order to engage more people in the mission, here are some ideas to guide you.

This is not a comprehensive list but hopefully, it helps you think through what roles you could use in your context.

  • Cleaning Crew. As you know, some people are very passionate about cleanliness and would be more than happy to help create a safe and sanitized environment for worship.
  • Online Campus Director. With more and more ministry shifting online and with digital strategy becoming more and more important, now could be the time to put someone in charge of an online campus or digital strategy. We’re seeing churches embrace this as a paid position, but you can absolutely start with a volunteer.
  • Digital Hosts. These volunteers can show up in a livestream or online service and intentionally and purposefully interact with participants. We’ve seen churches invite people to be a part of a prayer team, respond to comments, and suggest next steps. This is a great way to get people involved in your digital ministry.
  • Digital Small Group Leader. Leading an online small group is similar to an in-person small group, but it often provides more flexibility for the host. It IS possible to build community online and digital small group leaders (often short-term) are a great place to start.
  • Sermon Splicer. What if someone took your sermon video and created three or four short clips to share on social media? Yes, there are paid services you can use to do this and that’s a great option. But there might be someone who could do this as a ministry to your church and community.
  • Communications Director. The need for a comprehensive communications plan and strategy has never been greater and you might consider making this a staff position. But it’s also something you could raise up a volunteer to do, making sure they have a team of people to lead.

You could find volunteers to help with social media, create a YouTube channel, create or edit digital communications, share helpful resources out in the community, run digital advertising, head up community service ministry opportunities, and so much more.

Take some time to think through things you’re already doing but create or call out fresh ways to serve. Think through the changes that have happened in your church that have created new opportunities. Make your own list and start communicating these new, specific, and digital volunteer needs.

As you create these new roles, God may even bring certain people to mind. Go ahead and reach out to them. Work with them to clarify the opportunity and begin to leverage their skills. Watch how engaging people on their terms, not just firing out a list of all the stuff the church needs done, causes them to light up.

Context is Key

I want to close this chapter with a challenge.

As you look to fill new roles with new people, make sure your work fits within your overall volunteer system. Make sure the effort you’re putting in will have lasting results.

If you just read this and quickly spin up some new roles with little thought to your big-picture strategy, you may not experience the results you’re looking for.  You’ll be responding to a right-now need rather than solving a long-term problem.

But if you filter all of this through your total volunteer system, the changes you make now and the new people you bring in will have a lasting effect on your ministry.

If the talk of a volunteer system or a volunteer strategy doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a quick overview of what we teach in The Volunteer Course at Church Fuel.

Making sure your church has happy and healthy volunteers depends on getting three things right.

#1 – Recruit

You need to determine how, when, and why you’re recruiting volunteers. In the course, we suggest two primary ways: top-down or bottom-up. Both will work, but the challenge is to master one, not mix both.

#2 – Train

Don’t just bring new volunteers into the mix and then hope they figure out what they need to know to be successful. Instead, give them the tools and resources they need to be successful. This starts with a clear job description and continues with proper onboarding.

#3 – Pastor

This may be the secret sauce of the entire system. Your volunteers need to truly feel connected to the heart of the church and someone should be caring for their soul. This goes way beyond recruiting and training and looks a lot more like shepherding. It’s also how you prevent volunteer burnout.

You can learn much more about all three steps in this system in The Volunteer Course. It’s one of the premium courses we include for all members who join Church Fuel.

How to Rebuild Your Church’s Financial Plan with Two Covid-Proof Documents

How to Rebuild Your Church’s Financial Plan with Two Covid-Proof Documents

When COVID-19 became a reality, it disrupted nearly every plan and strategy that existed in the church world.

The carefully constructed “2020 Vision” plan? Gone.

The capital campaign plan? Derailed.

The new ministry plan? Paused.

But perhaps the plan that was thrust into the most chaos was the finance plan. The budget that existed before March 2020 certainly won’t be the budget that helps us finish 2020.

Overnight, the forecasts and spreadsheets were outdated.

Our plans to spend money were halted as we tried to figure out how long it would all last. We hoped the adjustments we made would be enough to compensate for a drop in tithes and offerings.

As I’m writing this in the middle of 2020, churches are still uncertain about if or when things will return to any type of normal.

Even if we made quick adjustments, it’s time to revisit our financial plan. In light of everything we’ve learned over the last few months, our current circumstances, and where we prayerfully want to go as a church, we need to build a new financial model.

Money and the church is always a tricky subject.

It involves both financial experts and communications professionals. You have to raise, manage, spend, and talk about money the right way.  So even in the best of times, this is a tough topic to navigate.

Covid just made it crazier.

To help cut through the clutter, I want to encourage you to build (or rebuild) a financial plan around two key documents.

While no one can guarantee the future, these two documents are COVID-proof, meaning they will flex toward whatever comes your way.

Let’s take a look at the two documents that should make up your church's financial plan.

Document #1: The Spending Plan

In a normal year, the budget might feel like wishful thinking, a spreadsheet that’s built on the hopes of ministry leaders and pounded into reality by a finance team—neither of whom truly know what to expect.

For most churches, the budget is a written guess of what we think will happen. It’s a quasi-guide on how we plan to spend the money we hope comes in. We look at giving from last year, add or subtract a little bit based on a cursory view of a financial report, and then lock it down for the next fiscal year.

That’s a mistake in any other year. But this year…it’s a recipe for disaster.

More than ever, you need a plan for how you’re going to spend church money. In fact, I prefer the term “spending plan” to the term “budget.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but “spending plan” sounds like it’s rooted in ministry while budget feels like it’s rooted in accounting.

But no matter what you call this document, you need it. And you need to update it.

Before you crack open the spreadsheet, I want you to do two things. These are the difference-makers. This is how you turn a one-time, COVID-related adjustment into a healthy practice that will serve your church well for years to come.

First, clarify your budget philosophy.

There are three primary budgeting philosophies used by people, businesses, non-profits, and churches. You have to pick one before you do any work.

  • Incremental budgeting starts with what happened last year, then makes minor adjustments. Many churches choose this approach. They look at last year’s budget and say, “We believe we could do 3% better this year, so let’s lock that down and pray that God blesses it.”
  • Program-based budgeting is a variation, but instead of bumping everything up or down, it rewards programs and ministries that are more effective and eliminates line-items that are deemed less successful. It’ still a form of incrementalism but it’s tied to activity and results, not just the economy.
  • Zero-based budgeting effectively starts at zero every year and asks every program, ministry, department, or leader to build a new budget based on priorities and mission. Every expense for the upcoming budget period has to be re-justified.

Which philosophy are you going to choose? There are merits to each, but you should let a guiding philosophy drive your discussions.

Second, clarify your budget process.

Once you know the philosophy behind building your budget, you should clarify your process. I can’t stress this enough. It’s so important.

Before you start changing numbers on an Excel file or running reports, document your process.  Decide HOW you’re going to decide.

This is what takes the pressure off. This is what removes stress.

Your process should answer the following questions:

  • Who is going to be involved? Karl Vaters writes, “One of the biggest mistakes small churches make with budgets is designing them in a back room, then announcing it as a done deal to the people who have to live with it.” Make sure your process involves all of the right people.
  • What timeline are we going to follow? I have a suggested timeline for you below but create this once and you can use it year after year. After a while, it will become second nature.
  • How will we communicate to leaders and/or the congregation? Releasing the budget doesn’t have to be a boring necessity. You can actually use it to cast vision for where you’re going. It requires planning and creativity, but your budget process can actually be laced with exciting vision for the future.

And it might look something like this:

September (Preliminary work)

  • Ministry and program evaluation, including financial reporting
  • Review the previous year and discuss vision for the upcoming year at a pastoral leadership retreat
  • Update the Two-Page Plan (mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.)

October (Financial models)

  • Review reports, trends, and forecasts
  • Distribute budget request packets to church staff and leaders charged with budget responsibilities
  • Collect and analyze all budget requests and schedule any follow-up conversations

November (Draft budget)

  • Develop preliminary budget
  • Communicate approvals and preliminary budget with staff and leaders

December (Finalize budget)

  • Adopt the budget and communicate details with staff and leaders

You don’t have to follow this exact process, but what you should do is clarify your own.

When you have process documents, you can assign real dates each year. You can even include regularly scheduled budget reviews and updates throughout the year so you’ll have planned time for making adjustments.

Adjusting Your Budget When Things Change

COVID-19 might have caused you to take a fresh look at your budget. This has beeen a pretty significant adjustment period for churches.

But chances are, you’ll go through other adjustments.

A large group of donors might leave the church. Maybe the community around the church experiences radical and swift change. Maybe you start a new ministry with new expenses.

When you need to adjust your budget, I want to encourage you to start with these three areas.  These principles actually hold true for every budget season. They are just particularly helpful when needing to trim.

  • Start with your staff. For most churches, your staff is your biggest expense. That makes this the first place to look when you need to trim expenses.You might choose to make an across-the-board cost reduction. You may ask people to make voluntary changes. You may choose to reduce headcount.No matter what you choose to do, remember that clarity is kind. If you’re worried that staff changes are coming, you can communicate clearly about what would trigger an adjustment. You don’t have to have all the facts to start talking about change.
  • Look at your facility. Your building costs are probably the biggest or second-biggest part of your budget. So, when you need to cut costs, look here next. If you have a loan, talk to your lender about deferral options (don’t ask for forbearance; ask for deferrals). If you have unused space, talk through options for generating extra income.  Anytime you have a big expense in the budget, see if you can find ways to turn it into an income-producing line item.
  • Fund your keystone ministries first. If you’ve been through the Building Your Ministry Plan course at Church Fuel, you know how important this is. Honestly, this one exercise is worth the subscription. There are programs and ministries that drive growth in your church. And there are things that exist but don’t really help accomplish your mission. Wise leaders fund keystone ministries and work to simplify or eliminate everything else. This can be tough, which is why going through the course and talking with a coach is helpful.

When it comes to budgeting, embrace your role as the Chief Clarify Officer.

Nothing communicates a church’s priorities and mission more than the budget. It’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Document #2: The Funding Plan

Even if your budget needs tweaking, you probably have a budget.

And even if your process is a little tired, there’s probably a process.

That’s because budgeting is a very normal part of church finances. A lot of work goes into making the budget, the document that shows how money is planned to be spent.

But do you know what’s an afterthought in many churches?

Where the money is going to come from.

Churches are usually okay at creating spending plans, with decent systems in place to make sure the money is spent properly, with proper approvals, and decent reviews. But spending is just one side of the financial plan.

You actually need a plan to get the money.

Think about this as your other budget. It’s the funding plan to go along with the spending plan.

The funding plan is a month-by-month look at the income side of your budget. If you were a business selling widgets, it would be the sales forecast. If you were in real estate, it would be your rent schedule.

As a church, your income comes because people are generous.

But you still need a plan and you still need a strategy.

What would happen if we shifted some of the time spent on the budgeting process into time spend discussing funding options?

What would happen if your financial leaders took a posture of facilitating financial growth in addition to the posture of being guardrails to overspending?

What would happen if you were just as intentional about creating a funding plan as you were about creating a spending plan?

If you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find an Annual Funding Plan template and a coaching video you can watch with your team. We’ll show you exactly how to create it and how to navigate the tension between planning for income and waiting on God’s blessing.

But to get things started, here are some things that can go on your plan.

  • A stewardship or generosity message. February, May, or November are great times for this.
  • Financial education classes or groups. When are you going to strategically help people win with money, get out of debt, and understand total-life stewardship?
  • A digital giving campaign to encourage people to move toward automated, recurring giving. May is the best time of year for this and you guessed it…there are resources to help you, Church Fuel members.
  • A donor appreciation event. This is when you gather all of your donors (you can include volunteers, too) and just say thanks. Let your core leaders know where you’ve been, what they’ve helped accomplish, and where you are going. You can make it fun and keep it relational. Summer is a great time for this.
  • Donor communication. When are you intentionally communicating with your donors? We suggest monthly emails, quarterly mailers, and annual statements. Communication builds trust.
  • Special offerings. Once per year, you can lead your church to participate in a special offering. It could be for something inside the church or community-facing.

These are just a few of the “tactics” you can use to talk about money and be intentional about facilitating generosity in your church. As you can see, they aren’t about spending, reporting, or managing. They’re about increasing, encouraging, and fanning the flames of generosity.

These are funding activities, not spending procedures.

This isn’t the job of most finance committees, but there are probably people in your church who could help you here. Find people with a growth mindset to help you process ideas and make real plans to facilitate generosity in your church.

At a minimum, challenge your existing finance or stewardship team to spend some time on the funding side of the finances.

Working on a funding plan is an important exercise that will help you proactively meet or exceed the budget.

A Complete Financial Plan

The spending plan and the funding plan are the two key parts of your financial plan.

The first document will help you ensure that you spend resources wisely. The second will help you focus on how you’re going to receive the money.

Once you have both sides of your plan, build a regular reporting rhythm, adjust as needed, and manage the income and expenses with purpose.

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The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reopening

Three Reasons Your Church Should NOT Reopen Yet

Three Reasons Your Church Should NOT Reopen Yet

I've seen a lot of talk over the last week about when and how the church will reopen.

There are checklists, webinars, roundtables, and “expert” opinions.

We know it’s going to be different, but we want to meet again. We want to get back to “normal.”

If we're being honest, we've had enough of this isolation thing. It's taking a toll. The economic implications are starting to wear on us. And as believers, we have a desire to be with our people.

We miss gathering on Sunday. We miss that part of church. It’s more than human nature—there’s something theological happening here, too. The church is supposed to gather. Christians are supposed to meet.

But as states lift Executive Orders,  I actually want to encourage you NOT to open up too soon. Even though we want to. Even though our people want to. Even though there’s something inside pushing us to. 

Here are three reasons not to rush back to meeting.

Reason #1: You don’t want to be labeled reckless by the community.


Public perception is a big deal.

I’m seeing way too many churches and pastors in the news for the wrong reason.

Lawsuits, threats, protests. These are words I’m reading in news stories about CHURCHES.  The media is focusing on these negative stories (because that’s typically what the media does), not the stories about churches serving the community, meeting needs, and being socially responsible. If you’re labeled reckless, much of the good you’re doing will be glossed over.

And your story will contribute to a meta-narrative. We share in each other’s successes and we share in each other’s shortcomings. To the outside world, many churches are all the same. So, what we do affects the whole. This isn’t just a church issue: businesses, states, and programs that open up too soon run the risk of being labeled reckless.

Medical safety aside, there’s a big perception risk.

Even though you want to get back to meeting and your people want to get back to normal, this is not a race. There’s no prize for being first. In this case, those who go first might suffer even more of a public backlash.

Reason #2: You don’t want your church members to get the wrong idea.


The second reason I don’t think you should rush back is that this is not only the perception of the community but the perception of your church members.

For years and years, we have preached that the church is not a building. We’ve told our people not just to come to a service but go into the world. There are churches that have signs on their doors as people are walking out that say, “You are now entering the mission field” or “go be the church.” Even as we moved online, we encouraged our members to “be the church,” warning them against reducing everything to a livestream or online service.

So, what does it say if on the very front end when we can meet again—even when lots of people were advising against it and having questions—we rush back?

One of our ministry coaches, Matt, posted this in our Facebook group. He said, “Those churches that hurry back to worship will give members the perception that they need the public gathering to truly be the church. So all the things we've been telling them all along about church happening, wherever you are, we'll sound hypocritical now.”

I know we want to gather. I know we want to meet again.  And that's a good thing. But if you make it all about the meeting, then we are reinforcing the opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach.

It doesn't mean that the gatherings are unimportant or that they are not crucial to who we are.

But don’t give your people the wrong idea that we can't be who we need to be without gathering in a building.

Reason #3: You shouldn’t exhaust your resources solving temporary problems.


The third reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is you shouldn't exhaust your resources trying to solve temporary problems.

There is a thankfulness that will emerge out of this time as a lot of churches are rethinking what they're doing. They are looking at their strategy, their ministry, and their programming in light of cultural change. There’s a bit of a reset happening

Five years from now, when we look back on this time, we will realize we re-evaluated quite a bit.

We redefined the term “essential.” We built muscles we didn’t even know we had.  We learned a lot of things we didn’t want to learn but they turned out to be helpful.  We figured out how to expand our digital footprint.  We learned how to build a community online.  We learned how to be incredibly responsive.  We flexed an innovation muscle.

But what if we paused during this intermediate time and thought more deeply now? In the time between when we can legally gather and when we should gather, what if we leveraged our time to continue getting good at things that can help us for years to come?

These new skills and muscles we're developing will help us for years to come, not just the last few weeks.

Yes, we could rush back and quickly figure out changing guidelines, investing tons of man-hours and resources into solving a temporary problem. Or we could continue to build digital momentum, holding back the tide, until it’s not just safe but when it can truly kickstart momentum.

Build skills that you can use for the long haul; don’t just scramble to solve problems that only provide a quick fix.

We should view this pause as an opportunity to reset, not just rush back because we miss what we had.  Of course, we miss our gatherings, but let’s not just run back to what is comfortable and familiar.  Let’s embrace this time of learning and experimenting

Alan Hirsh said this…

 “If you want to learn how to play chess, you should start by removing your own queen. Once you’ve mastered the game without the most powerful piece, then put the queen back in and see how good you are! For the church, the Sunday service is our queen. We’ve been relying on it too much. Now that the queen has been taken off the board it’s time to rediscover what all the other pieces can do.”

When you gather again, you will have new skills.  You will be better.

It's not that we want to forever do church without the gatherings. We want to have those things, and we need to bring those things back. But it’s okay to temporarily build other parts of a healthy church.  It doesn’t make the queen unimportant, it just means it’s not all about the queen.

Maybe this time of waiting is an opportunity.

To reset.

To rest.

To reevaluate.

To refocus.

And to come back better.


We got you. Watch the video below to catch the latest on why your church shouldn't rush to re-open.