By Joseph Kormos, Parish Development Ministry Leader; Diocese of Western Pennsylvania
We often get a chance to review budgets from various parishes. Most could be described as bare bones - the absolute essentials and nothing more. They cover building expenses (heating, electricity, mortgage, maintenance) the priest's salary, assessments and often very little else. Computer? Forget about it -- use that typewriter!
No doubt there are a variety of good and less good reasons for lean budgets. Limited parish income is of course among the top reasons. Limited vision. The common aversion to "programs". A desire to avoid bloat and a dominant preference for fiscal restraint. (See an interesting article exploring the differing personality traits of those involved in parish budgeting in "Green eye shades and Rose colored glasses".)
Expressing a Vision or In a Rut?
However not all of our parish budgets are threadbare. Some parishes try different approaches to thinking through their budget and defining how it can better support the parish to be the Church and to do the work of the Church.
The following is a list of "non-standard" budget items we've compiled through observation and discussion with parishes. Some came from ideas we've found in two years of parish health grant proposals --which by definition stimulate creative thinking on how to use funds to build up the Church.
Perhaps your parish budget already includes some of these items. If not perhaps it is time to start thinking about these and ask some "what if", "why not", "what keeps us from" type questions.
Charitable line item?
Most parishes make some form of charitable contributions -- often via special projects or collections. A growing number of parishes now annually include a line item for charitable donations. Many adopt a budget goal that the charitable line item is (e.g.) 10% of the parish budget. For most parishes that would be a difficult goal to achieve in one year. If so start with the line item at say 2%, with an initiative to grow it by (e.g.) 1% per year until you reach your target.
Sadly some parishes have not yet developed a competency for providing help to those outside their doors. Build fluency for serving others by looking inside. Can the parish make a meaningful commitment to a parishioner(s) in tough economic times? A month's rent or food?
Most parish budgets include a church school item, but many seem appallingly small or ask that parents pay extra for it --as if our children aren't a part of our parish. Ask: "What should we as a parish be spending per child?" Consider internally funding an annual church school or youth project to do something truly special and then don't cut corners -- do it with excellence and high quality. Teach children about giving our best to Christ. Perhaps offer the equivalent of a parish grant to youth groups or teens with a good and valuable idea.
Take the grant idea a step further and provide seed money ("talent" grants) of say $250 to small groups in the parish to undertake a valuable outreach or service project. Or a larger amount ($2000?) to selected parish ministry with an important project.
Perhaps the parish council or other parish group has an important project that needs to be completed. Unfortunately the volunteer who has planned to do it for three years just can't seem to work it in. Should we consider a modest stipend to move the project to the top of the list of a parish free lance person? Might a $300 to $500 stipend spent on the effort likely improve the timeliness, thoroughness, usefulness and quality of the result? Or is it always better to aim for "barely good enough"? (Recalling the old saw "That good enough for government -- and Orthodox Church -- work.)Is a total reliance on" volunteer ministry" limiting the work your community can do?
Outside accountant or payroll service?
Perhaps it is time to consider an out sourced accountant for handling aspects of parish finances. We know a number of small Orthodox parishes doing just that. Or, you can hire a payroll service to handle monthly payroll -- handling tax withholding and proper IRS filings for as little $50 per month. (If interested contact Joe Kormos for a vendor contact.)
Youth and Church School workers are required to have a background check. The cost of the check, done normally by local law enforcement, is usually modest but is this not a legitimate cost for the parish?
Child Care for Adult Events?
Many parishes find that "a lack of understanding of our faith" is a limiting factor for their community. Yet adult education events may be poorly attended. In some cases (certainly not all) young parents might attend if child care was provided. Put it in the budget and try it. If it helps it may be an excellent long term investment in parish vitality.
Serious Adult Education?
Perhaps your adult education effort needs serious updating. Perhaps its time to plan a series of quarterly retreats, workshops or classes. Since not every pastor has the time, skill or motivation to develop and deliver a compelling class on a different topic each quarter or year you may need a budget for speaker stipends or honorariums. Good high quality classes often involve handouts and binders. Perhaps for your next retreat the parish should cover the cost of food -- good food perhaps -- for those attending. Such events are a good way to attract visitors. Feed them. No need to show off but on the other hand let them experience a parish mind set of giving your best -- not one of minimalism.
Sound System? Projector?
Some presenters come with a built in loud voice personal sound system but most speaker's voices need some amplification. If you're going to hold a some large scale educational events, some of which involve playing videos, perhaps its time to do more than haphazardly rigging up a microphone through a teen's boom box.
Meeting Tools? -
If you're having trouble with productive meetings it may be because you lack the tools to conduct a useful meeting. To do this you need to write the agenda on a viewable page, keep track of ideas, focus on key points and summarize. (Really? Who Knew!) In point of fact it is hard to have a good meeting in most of our parish spaces. We've given talks or led workshops at probably 25 or so parishes in the last thee or four years. We recall only one or two that had a flip chart easel, LCD projector or wireless internet connection. Few had a white board and fewer a flat empty wall useful for brainstorming? If your church basement is used for coffee hour and meetings why does it only have a coffee pot and not a white board?
Yes, it is time for the parish to provide Father with a working, up to date computer and a realistic internet connection. The Apple IIe really must go.
Is it time for a second priest? A parish secretary? A stipend for the youth leader or choir director?
Could your parish community benefit from more competent ministry leaders and contributors? Offer training to church school, parish council, youth or choir leaders. News flash: trainers, materials, travel are not free. If your parish spent 2% of its budget on developing the strengths of ministry persons would that seem justified?
Sabbatical and Continuing Ed?
Is it time to invest in your pastor? Perhaps a sabbatical would be a way to recharge his batteries. Should we not at least provide a consistent annual plan for continuing education (courses, seminars, workshops) enabling him to sharpen his saw, develop new skills or shore up pastoral areas in which his background is limited?
Visitor/Newcomer Introductory Materials?
What information do visitors to your parish receive? Do they leave with something more than anecdotal recollections? Having something well planned with good layout and attractively printed on high quality paper with various inserts tailored to particular needs of a visitor helps greeters and all parishioners to make a real human connection. Flashy? Not necessary. High quality and tasteful? Absolutely. A welcome video? Something to think about perhaps.
What's that? Your parish doesn't have any visitors or newcomers? Perhaps you need some effort, supported by appropriate budget, for awareness building. Most parishes report that websites are their most important tool here. Costs are modest -sometimes free. However if you do have a website it needs to look good and be kept up to date. If your "volunteer system" isn't working then perhaps a stipend or a professional will lead to better results.
Perhaps its time to start a conversion about an endowment for your parish. If so see the article "Endowments: Pro and Con".
Expressing Your Values
Is now the time for a parish conversation about doing more in your parish - and whether additional budget funds are needed to support those efforts? Is now the time to move toward becoming a "fund the vision" parish as opposed to a "meet the budget" parish? Parish mission and vision statements are sometimes valuable -- but your budget is probably a more accurate indicator of your community's hopes and your values.
Some would of course argue that the current economic times are no time to talk about extras. Others argue that now may be the perfect time to start thinking three to five years down the road about what the budget of our increasingly vibrant parish should look like.