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Using a Narrative Budget

As we prepare for the congregation's annual meeting a major focus will be the budget for the coming year.  The budget isn't only a spending plan but it also interprets the congregation's mission and stewardship of resources.  The use of a narrative budget may be a helpful tool in connecting financial resources to the mission of the congregation.


Glenn Taibl, Co-Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders

Using a Narrative Budget
By: Grace Duddy Pomroy

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Center for Stewardship Leaders e-newsletter where I discussed the importance of answering the "why" question, namely why should people give to the church. I said that the best way to share your congregation's answer to the "why" question is to tell stories of hope and transformation from your congregation and community. Today, I want to discuss one of the best ways to share these stories as well as connect them to stewardship and that is through a narrative budget.

A narrative budget tells the story of the congregation's mission and ministry, connecting every aspect of the budget to it. It uses a narrative style, rather than a spreadsheet style, utilizing stories, pictures and graphs to link money to mission. Narrative budgets explain how the congregation is living out its ministry through generous gifts (monetary and non-monetary) from its members and ministry partners. Line-item budgets reduce ministry to a price-tag, while narrative budgets seek to tell the robust story of what God is up to in the congregation and community. Narrative budgets ask, thank, and tell all in one document. As the Center for Faith and Giving explains, "Narrative budgets inspire, interpret, encourage, challenge, and inform donors about why their gift matters." The Center for Faith and Giving has some great examples of narrative budgets.

So how do you create a narrative budget?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Collaborate: Involve as many folks as you can in creating your narrative budget. Invite the various program committees, congregation treasurer, stewardship committee, staff, writers, graphic designers, artists, etc. to join in the effort.  
  • Discern God's Mission in your Community: The best narrative budgets are directly connected to the congregation's mission/vision statement and values. Putting together a narrative budget helps to keep the congregation honest about whether or not they are living up to their mission/vision statement and creates space to discern how God is calling the congregation to live and move in new ways.
  • Take a Look at the Program Areas: Spend some time grouping your program areas and staff time under different headings that align with your congregation's mission and values. Instead of traditional categories, such as staff compensation & benefits, benevolence, youth ministry, building/mortgage, etc., you might use more illustrative categories such as local community, wider mission, worship, teaching and nurturing, communicating and caring, etc.
  • Gather Stories and Photos for each of the Categories: Commission a team of 2-3 congregational "journalists" who can take photos and collect stories at church events as well as seek out, photograph and write the different ministry stories of your congregation. Ask the different program committees, staff and community partners to submit narrative descriptions, stories and photos of their work.
  • Create a Line-Item Budget: Use your mission, vision and discernment work as your guide for creating your line-item budget for the next year. When you start with the line-item budget, you run the risk of letting the money control the ministry rather than allowing the ministry to which God is calling you to shape how the congregation's money is utilized. Be sure to include this line-item budget at the end of your narrative budget so the finance-minded can see exactly where the money is allocated.
  • Allocate the Money to Specific Program Areas: Translate the money allocations from the line-item budget to the narrative budget by aligning the line-item categories with specific budget categories/headings. Ask staff and program committees what percentage of their time they spend working toward each category. For instance, the senior pastor may spend 10% of her time focusing on the "local community", 10% "wider mission", 30% on "worship", 20% on "teaching and nurturing" and 30% on "communicating and caring." Thus, her salary would be allocated by those percentages into those areas of the narrative budget.
  • Format Your Narrative Budget: Make it easy to read and share. You might create hard-copy documents, share it online on your website or show it in a PowerPoint during your annual meeting. If you are just beginning to use this form of budget, you might take some time in an adult-forum setting to explain it.

As you can see, creating a narrative budget does take more time than most traditional congregational budgeting processes. But, it is time well spent. Narrative budgets help connect money to ministry in a concrete way. They remind people that they give to the ministry of the congregation, not just a financial statement. They are also a great way to tell the congregation's stewardship story year-round.


Grace Duddy Pomroy is the Executive Director of Operations for Kairos and Associates and former Assistant Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders. Grace continues to engage in research involving her commitment to support stewardship ministry in congregations of the church.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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