Your Church Isn’t On Mission Until Your Dollars Are

Find out why churches fail and how to keep yours going full steam ahead

The Derailment

One of the easiest ways to find out if your church is on the right track is to simply follow the dollars. Here’s what we mean:

Recently there’s been a plethora of stories in the news about train derailments occurring across our country. Maybe you’ve seen them. Without fail, the images that flash across our screens instantly captivate us, and for good reason: The visual of a train off its tracks indicates something went very wrong. That’s not what they’re designed to do.

Trains have one simple mission.

To get people and cargo to their destinations as quickly and efficiently as possible. But there’s an equally important component to fulfilling that mission that many people overlook: The tracks! They’re just as important as the train. It doesn’t matter how powerful, shiny, or new the train is, it’ll never arrive at its desired destination if it’s not on the right track.

The same is true of your church. It doesn’t matter how powerful, shiny or new your church’s mission is, you’ll never arrive at your desired destination if your church’s accounting isn’t on the right track!

Tragically, many churches never realize their mission has derailed financially until it’s too late. But thankfully, there are four ways to keep your church on the right track.

Related: Want to know in about three minutes whether your money’s on mission or getting derailed?

Take Our Dollars On Mission Assessment



As John Maxwell once said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” In a church setting, there’s typically no shortage of leaders who are passionate about moving the mission forward. They understand the goal, see the needs, catch the vision, and live it fervently. 

But what happens when those same leaders identify “other” ministry opportunities they want to get involved in, but they’re not considered mission-critical?  When that happens, they begin pursuing these new opportunities with the same burden and passion, but unfortunately they also endanger precious resources—such as finances—by pulling them away from the true ministry priorities.

This is why it’s essential for the leadership to (re)connect ministry planning with the budgeting process. It’s important to ask intentional questions whether the activities of each ministry are still in alignment with both the mission, and subsequently, the budget.

  • The leadership should have a clear vision of how to fulfill the mission.
  • Staff and church leaders should be excited about the mission and lead ministries aligned with its priorities.
  • Staff and church leaders should use the mission as a framework to decide which activities and events to prioritize and how to best steward the finances.
  • Leadership should also periodically re-evaluate church accounting systems to ensure they best meet the church’s needs.

We have a couple of effective tools to use as part of our Advanced Service to help churches align their budget with their mission; our Spending on Mission tool and our Ministry Assessment tool. (Find out more about these tools here.) 

If you’re not a Parable partner, the idea is this: Create a report that will allow you to identify where your dollars are being spent and if their percentages are within the boundaries of best practices, as well as helping you determine if the expenditures are mission critical. 

(The first step is understanding your finances. If you are looking for a tool to help you better understand your finances,  check out Advanced Reporting)


There’s an old saying that says, “Provision follows vision.” We like to say, “You can’t spell PROVISION without VISION.” 😉

Unfortunately, if people don’t fully understand the vision, their generosity—or lack thereof—will eventually reflect that reality. 

Sadly, many churches treat financial stewardship as a stand-alone topic that only gets addressed once or twice a year, and even then, we do it grudgingly! Jesus taught us to handle the topic differently. 

In Matthew 6:21, he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, financial stewardship is discipleship because it’s directly connected to the condition of someone’s heart.

How do you measure financial health?

Admittedly, while it’s difficult to measure the health of someone’s prayer life or the depth of their worship, financial stewardship—by its very nature—is a tangible and clear metric. Pastors should jump at the opportunity to better disciple their people, knowing that the average Christian only tithes 2.5% of their income, which also means their total church budget is only 25% of what God designed it to have! 

Read that last sentence again. Just imagine what kind of Kingdom impact your church could have with 4 times the financial resources!

To disciple people effectively around generosity, you must include clear teaching on why we connect financial stewardship to our spiritual growth. This includes:

  • Consistently weaving the vision and mission into all communication, whether from the stage, the website, or printed materials
  • Regularly sharing stories of how their faithful giving allows the ministries to fulfill the mission of the church
  • Constantly reinforcing the vision by inviting people into fulfilling it with clear action steps and behaviors

Don’t forget: It’s good to remind your people that financial stewardship isn’t about what God wants from them, it’s about what He wants for them.

Related Webinar: The 5 Critical Actions You Must Take to Cultivate Generosity in Your Church


Here’s a simple exercise to help identify if your dollars are on mission: 

Show last year’s spending to someone who knows nothing about your church. See if they can identify key aspects of your mission. If they can’t, there’s a good chance your budget planning is no longer on the right track.

Related Reading: The Top 8 Church Budgeting Mistakes

Budget planning shouldn’t consist of an executive pastor or business administrator sealing themselves in their office for two days trying to determine what each ministry needs. (That’s not good for personal hygiene reasons either!) 

A good budgeting starts with your ministry leaders. Ask them what they sense God’s calling to do this year. Determine if it aligns with your overall mission, and then help them be a good steward of the budgeted finances for their ministry.

Additionally, having a budget is one thing, but… 

Following the budget is where the train meets the tracks. 

An approved budget isn’t a suggestion but a letter of intent with the church board and congregation. After all, how can you expect good financial stewardship from your church members if the pastors, staff, and leaders aren’t following the same stewardship principles? 

Proper budget planning means churches should have three to six months of operating expenses in cash reserves so they’re not surviving week to week waiting for the tithes and offerings to arrive. That way, you can make proactive spending adjustments based on giving trends. The converse is common: You make reactive decisions that eventually paralyze your ministry’s momentum.  

Budget planning is an effective way to keep the church’s mission and momentum on track.


Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, it’s much easier to prevent something from happening in the first place than it is to repair the damage after it’s done. This is particularly true in many areas of life (“Who packed this parachute again?”). 

But it’s essential when it comes to managing church finances. 

We get it. There’s a lot of cool ‘stuff’ out there for ministries to spend precious resources on. This is why it’s vitally important to protect your teams from “vision creep” and “shiny object syndrome” by continually focusing on the core mission of the church. 

No one should exist in a silo. 

Policies are your ally and will help prevent spending that’s unnecessary and out of alignment with the priorities of the church. 

Additionally, clear policies and procedures can protect against dishonesty. You never want to give an honest person the opportunity to be dishonest. There should be a high level of accountability at every level, regardless if it’s a volunteer counting the offering or the senior pastor making capital purchases. 

It’s also helpful to use technology to maintain a high level of visibility on expenditures. Consider empowering a group of leaders with financial oversight who can perform regular audits and ask the right questions to help protect the church and the individual from mistakes or dishonesty. 

Unfortunately, it’s in our human nature to get lax with policies and procedures. Preventing issues before they happen will keep your finances on the right track to fulfilling the mission. 

Let’s Get On Track

If you feel like the train is coming off the tracks—or maybe it’s already derailed but you’re not sure why—take the Dollars-on-Mission Assessment. It’s about three minutes of your time, and you’ll receive a free report from us assessing where you are today and how you can improve.

Related Resource: How one church got their finances back on track

We want to see your church on the right financial track in order to accomplish your mission. Take the assessment now.

Take Our Dollars On Mission Assessment