Material History of American Religion Project

Planning a Budget

The late nineteenth century saw the rise of big business—thanks, in part, to increasingly sophisticated management methods. The success of corporate management techniques attracted the attention of church leaders, especially in mainline Protestantism. Corporate America provided the model for efficient and effective management, and the churches followed their lead—in structure and governance, in publicity, and in finances and accounting. National organizations and large urban congregations increasingly organized their temporal life along the lines modeled by business corporations.

These methods came late to the countryside, however. Small rural churches—often made up of a network of family relationships—traditionally saw little need for strict governance structures or accounting practices. With few members and little money, it wasn't necessary. After World War I, however, national denominational officials began advocating the extension of corporate methods to rural churches. Departments of "Town and Country Churches" provided advice and models for organizing a local congregation along business-like lines. They hoped that such churches might have a more influential ministry with more efficient management.

In the 1940s the Committee on Town and Country Churches of the Disciples of Christ published Financing the Town and Country Church. The author, Edward D. Hammer, identifies the unique factors in rural church finance and offers models for organizing the financial life of mural churches. In this excerpt he introduces the idea of planning a budget. His approach suggests that such an ideal is a novelty to his audience.

A budget is an estimate of the income and expense for the year ahead. Unless the church wants to run the risk of letting its pastor suffer or of crippling some phase of its work, it should give careful attention to the budget.

The Financial Year

Churches may plan their financial program according to the time schedule most suitable to their own circumstances and convenience. The cooperative missionary program of the brotherhood dates its financial year from July 1 to July 30. Many churches follow these dates in their own financial program. Others find it convenient to follow the calendar year beginning on January 1.

In rural communities it is often well to plan the financial year in relationship to the seasonal income of the people. A good time to underwrite the budget is between September 1 and November 1, when people will have more time to give to financial canvass. They will have just completed a crop year and will likely feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They will be planning for the year ahead.

In any case, the church board should determine the dates of the financial year and the finance committee begin its work six weeks to two months before the year opens.

A Study of the Records

The finance committee should examine the records for the past year to find out what the income was, the sources from which it came, and how the money was used. In some instances records may have been kept so poorly that this information cannot be obtained with any accuracy—then as careful estimates as possible should be made. If there has been no budget, the committee may find the money came from a small proportion of the members and that there has been a considerable amount of poor judgment in its use. The study of the records will form the working basis for the new budget.

For example, the finance committee of a church in a pastoral unity or yoked field might examine the records and discover that money was received and expended during the year as follows:


From 2 members at $100.00 $200.00
From 1 member 70.00
From 5 members at $50.00 250.00
From 5 members at $25.00 125.00
From 21 members at $12.00 252.00
From 2 urban landlords at $25.00 50.00
Loose church offerings 115.25
Sunday school 242.93
Special day offerings (Easter, etc.) 105.00
Special revival offering 154.50
TOTAL $1,564.68


Pastor's salary $700.00
Evangelist's salary 100.00
Janitor's salary 78.00
Lights, water and heat 74.49
Insurance 31.00
Repairs and paint 165.20
Sunday school literature and supplies 128.55
Hymn books 50.00
Offerings to missions and benevolences 150.00
Miscellaneous 71.30
TOTAL $1,548.54


Outlining the Budget for the New Year

With the survey of last year's income and expenses before them, the finance committee then needs to consider which of the expenses will be recurring, what items should be added, which of the last year's expenses should be lowered or increased. Under normal conditions, the church should try to increase its budget each year. It may be the pastor's salary should be raised to keep up with living costs. The missionary giving should be kept in proportion to the amount spent on local expenses. Some churches feel that at least 10% of their total budget should go for missions and benevolences. Others try to give fifty cents to missions for every dollar spent on themselves, and a few churches even match dollar for dollar the amounts given for others and for themselves. There may be some major items of equipment or repair which should be included. It is always wise to have an item in the budget for maintenance and repair to cover unforeseen upkeep costs and to permit an accumulation toward major reconditioning jobs.

The Unified Budget

There are many advantages to the town and country church if a unified budget is established. One way is to have only one treasury for the Sunday school, the church and missions. The woman's missionary organization and the young people may want to have separate treasuries both for missions and for their own work, but apart from that all money comes into the church and is disbursed through one treasury. In that case the church budget must include costs for Sunday school literature and equipment and the amount to be given to missions. Each class in the church school can still keep records of its giving although people would be encouraged to make one pledge to the total program of the church and give through the use of envelopes.

A step further is where the treasury of every organization, including the woman's society and the young people, is united, making a truly unified budget. All giving through the organizations then goes into the church treasury Each organization is allocated an amount for its operating expenses from the one treasury and its needs considered in setting up the over-all budget.

A partially unified budget for a town and country church might include the following:

Minister's Salary
Pension Fund Dues
Travel Account for Minister.
Church School Literature
Special Program Material
Janitor's Salary
Heat, Light and Water
Maintenance and Repairs
Printing and Postage
Offerings to Unified Promotion (Home and Foreign Missions)
Offerings to National Benevolent Association
Offerings to Church Colleges
Membership in Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and the World Council of Churches

The Dual Budget

Some churches have successfully used a dual budget which means there is a budget for current expenses and a budget for missions. The members then make their pledges to both and use duplex or two-pocket envelopes which can be secured for that purpose. This permits every individual to determine the amount he will give to missions and benevolences.

Edward D. Hammer, Financing the Town and Country Church (Indianapolis: The United Christian Missionary Society, 1940s?), 25-28.

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