One of our readers in Norway (you didn’t know we had readers in Norway?), Geir Kristoffersen sent me a note the other day about church tech budgets. He was looking around at various TD job descriptions and came across the following quote from one such description:
8. Manage the campus production budget to fulfill as many technical needs as possible.
This is interesting language. “Fulfill as many technical needs as possible.” That could be read in a few different ways. It could mean, “Hey, we’re only giving you so much money. Do your best. We know it’s not enough, but do all you can.” On the other hand, it could mean, “We have high demands and we expect you to squeeze value out of every dime and get all this done.”
What’s in a Budget?
As I pondered that thought, it started to occur to me that many younger TDs probably don’t have a lot of experience in managing budgets. And yet you are expected to manage thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for your church every year. Often, you are responsible for every dollar you spend, and you may or may not have a say in how many dollars that is. I hear from many of you who tell me there is no tech budget—you simply have to beg for funds when something breaks.
Others of you have to submit a projected budget for the coming year, which can be especially challenging the first year or two you are in that role. Without any historical perspective, it’s hard to know how much to put down in what categories. Or what categories you even need.
Over the next few posts, I’m going to walk you through a few concepts for developing a church tech budget. But before we do that, I want to share some of my experiences. My hope is to help lend some perspective that you are not alone in this struggle.
Church One: Tight Budget
My first day on the job at my first church was the last day for the senior pastor. He was leaving to teach at a college. In the ensuing months as the search for a new pastor started, giving fell off. Way off. I had five rooms that had full production equipment in them, and they were used a lot. Most of the equipment was old, broken or wrong. And the budget was small to begin with.
As we were just going into the budget cycle for the next fiscal year, I studied past budgets and began looking for areas to cut so I could start replacing equipment. That’s where I started with rechargeable batteries. An initial investment of $700 saved me $3,500. That $2,800 went a long way. Still, it was tough. I had to get every purchase approved first as cash flow was tight. It took 2 1/2 years to make any progress. But as leadership started to see results, trust, and the budget began to grow.
Church Two: Disappearing Budget
When I came on board at Coast Hills, it was during a period of great change. In the time between my first interviews and when I started, the tech budget shrank by 40%. Over the next two years, it went down by another 20-30% each year. And during that time, leadership expected everything to run as normal. By year three, it was time to start making some hard decisions. We reached the point where we could not continue to do things the way we had been. It was a hard place to be, but after some frank conversations, we found a way through.
But as things began to turn around and I demonstrated that I could work with less—albeit at a slightly lower level of production—the budgets came back. I was able to get a capital replacement fund started based on big equipment end of life expectations. By the time I did my last budget there, leadership barely batted an eye at my submission. I had built enough trust that they looked at my projections and said, “OK, Mike’s knows what he’s doing here.”
Geir made a great analogy in his email. He said the string is only so long, and when you get to the end, there is no more. When we manage a tech budget, we have to work with what we have. We manage it well, but it is only so big. We can only do so much. And often, it is others who determine the length of the proverbial string.
I’m going to try to help you walk through this process. Developing a budget, establishing a capital replacement fund, and building trust. The last one cannot be overstated, either. You simply have to build trust with your leadership when it concerns your budget. So stay tuned; we have some good stuff coming ahead.