If you have no money, how do you run a church budget?

Early on, when I had first started at Bethel Church, I remember having a general discussion about budgets. I forget specifically why we brought it up but I do remember our treasurer saying – and it is such a blessing to have a treasurer who says things like this – ‘I’m not much of one for budgeting. At the end of the day, if we need something, we’ve got to get it’. What a great man he is! That was pretty much the first and last time we ever bothered thinking about budgets.

The closest we get to a budget is our regular giving. This isn’t so much a budget as distributing 10% of whatever comes in (for ease) to our various mission partners. There are several reasons we stopped (or, rather, I never started) bothering with budgets.

First, we function on a regular monthly deficit. Over the last quarter, our deficit was c. £5000 and our usual monthly deficit is around £1200-1500. One is especially conscious that I am the chief (but not sole) cause of the issue. The bottom line, it is very hard to set budgets when we know what is coming in won’t cover what must go out.

Second, many people in our church come from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds. We are reaching the urban poor as well as sizeable numbers of asylum seekers. However impoverished those on benefits may be (typically on £74.20 per week), asylum seekers are given less than half this amount. What is more, there are times when those seeking asylum find their cases accepted, or rejected, and they find themselves in a black hole between two systems. If successful in their claim, they must move from National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to UK resident benefits e.g. job seekers allowance whilst searching for long-term employment. When unsuccessful, they will often appeal their rejection. In either case, there is often a period of time during which housing and financial support ceases and there is a significant time lag (sometimes of several months or longer) before they are embedded in the new system.

Given all of this, it is hardly surprising that we run a substantial welfare bill every month. Plenty of people – often church members – find themselves in positions where they cannot afford to turn their lights on, run the heating or feed their families without some basic help from the church. How can we claim to take 1 John 3:16-17 seriously if our answer to such people, church members, is ‘sorry mate, but the budget just won’t stretch it’. Not only that, but the level of welfare required fluctuates month on month. It simply isn’t possible to budget accurately based on fluctuating need.

Third, as our dear treasurer said, if we need something we’ve got to get it. If somebody needs support to feed their family, the budget will not tie our hands. If something needs fixing, it needs fixing. There are some eventualities that a budget simply cannot cover. There are some contexts in which those eventualities are more prevalent than others. Ours is one such context.

For these reasons, we don’t tend to bother with budgets. Instead, we focus primarily upon the needs before us. If you would like to help us meet some of these needs, and reduce our regular deficit, you can support our work by visiting the Oldham Bethel Church giving page.

You might also like to read about some of the other reasons you might want to be involved in supporting the work at Oldham Bethel Church. You can do that here.

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