Vision-Based Budgeting and Other Cures for the Common Church

You give them something to eat. With six simple words (see Matt 14:16) Jesus forever removed the "We don’t have the resources" excuse for not fulfilling his call on our lives and ministries. Jesus commanded his disciples to feed a crowd of 5000 Jewish men–plus their wives and children–without any regard to the resources they had, or didn’t have, on hand. 

How’s that for a budgeting strategy: set your budget by what you think God is calling you to do, not on the resources you think you’ll have available? It begs the question: Are we resource-dependent or God-dependent? Hmmm . . . . .

This radical plan is what I call Vision-Based Budgeting, and it’s how we’ve set our church budget at Austin Christian Fellowship every year for nearly a decade. It has also become a critical component in our overall ministry strategy. 

We use Jesus’ feeding of the multitude as our guide when planning our expenditures. We ask our ministry leaders, in the language of scripture, to pray about what multitudes Jesus want them to feed. Then we calculate the cost in cash, assets and personnel that will be required to fulfill their respective visions, and we budget accordingly. The projected annual expenses (our multitude that needs feeding) always significantly exceeds our projected annual receipts (our loaves and fish). The last step is that we pray like crazy and see what God does. But we always make our commitments based on what we think God wants us to do, not our what we think we can afford. 

Give and Go

In 2005 God led us to practice Vision-Based BudgetingIn the same year, God also led us to start giving money away and become a “sending church”—to start sending teams of people to ministries around the world. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but we weren’t a giving church at the time. We were only giving away 1% of our annual receipts. On top of that, we had no missions sending ministry at all. We pretty much kept our money and our people to ourselves. But after Hurricane Katrina hit and we saw the impact our giving and serving had on the people who had been forced to relocate to Austin because of the storm, we felt like it was time to start being more generous and to start walking by faith. 

We determined through prayer to begin giving away significant amounts of money. We set a goal to eventually give away half (50%) of whatever we receive. We also determined to start sending teams around the world as God would allow us. That was 2005. 

Today we give 35% of our annual receipts to other ministries. We expect to be at 50% giving in the next two years. We send money and people to Moscow, Uganda, Guatemala, Nicaragua, France, the U.S. Gulf Coast (for ongoing post-Katrina work), and we support over forty ministries in our home city of Austin. And, our mission opportunities are growing daily.  In other words, once we decided to become a giving and sending church, our ministry impact exploded. God honored our obedience and opened countless doors for us. 

Increase Your Budget and Receipts Through Giving

Whenever people hear that we give away so much money, they immediately assume that we’re limited in what we can do. "If the mission and giving pieces of the pie are that large," they reason, "then the rest of the pie must be proportionally smaller." But because of Kingdom economics, the exact opposite is true. Because we give, we can actually do more. We know that there are just some things we can’t do unless we give. And because we give and live by faith, we’re doing much more as a church than we could be otherwise.
What’s the bottom line? The most strategic decisions we have made as a church in the last ten years were to budget on vision, not perceived resources, and to give away large percentages of what God gives us. And after nearly a decade of living that way, we have no intention of turning back. It has made us a better church. 

Getting Started

I honestly believe that if you want to add fuel to the fire of your church, ministry, business or even family, then you need to increase what you’re giving away and become much more desperate for God’s provision. Remember, the just will live by faith. Here are a few starter suggestions:

  • Pray about it. Make sure you feel led by God to venture into vision-based living. It’s way too scary otherwise. Knowing God led you there will get you through the lean times. 
  • Don’t look back. Vision-based living isn’t something you experiment with. You don’t try it to see how it goes. It’s an all-or-nothing thing. Burn the ships, cut the cord, put your hand to the vision-based plow and don’t look back. 
  • Rally your troops. You’re going to want good, praying people around you. Make sure your support system is mature and mighty in God’s Spirit. 
  • Buckle your seat belt, because you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime. 


What to know more about Vision-Based Budgeting, living by faith and how it specifically impacted our church? Read my new book, Enough: Finding More by Living with Less. 

©2012 Will Davis. Used by Permission.