The Rev. Brenna Baker writes that scenario church budgeting can help us respond with calm and grace to any situation that comes up.

A planner, open and ready to be written in.
Credit: Deborah Hudson from Pixabay
Published On: January 1, 2024

This past summer, my family had one of those financial months. Some things we had planned for, like a new baby and new expenses. But we didn’t plan for our cat to end up at the emergency vet for a few days. We didn’t plan for car issues. So, there we were, at the end of June, with about $5,000 less than what we expected we would have. It was really hard, and meant we had to make some difficult decisions about other things we had planned for the year.

But this is not how most churches approach their budgets. In my work as Stewardship Support Staff, I’ve found that most communities of faith treat the budget as a hard and fast indicator of income and expenses. A budget is made in December, it’s approved by March, and then only in the last weeks of the year does anything happen to avoid a deficit. But the reality is, finances are much more fluid than that. 

What if financial realities change during the year? What if someone has a great idea for a new outreach project in July? What if the boiler breaks in October? What if we get that grant funding? What if we don’t?

Scenario budgeting is a tool I’ve recommended to congregations to bring in both better preparation and more imagination to their budgeting process. It’s a technique championed by nonprofits whose sources of income can vary, and who often modify and add new programming throughout the year. The idea is simple – you still have a budget that gets approved at your AGM, based on your best predictions of income and expenses, but you also use an “if/then” approach, imagining various scenarios and making decisions ahead of time for how you will respond.

For churches, this might mean creating a “Scenario A” budget in which your annual giving program meets its goals of 10 new donors and a 5% increase in PAR. During your program, you can communicate to your community how those increased funds will make a difference: “With these goals met, we plan to start a monthly community dinner.” Paint an inspiring picture of what could be, putting those plans in writing so that you can follow through.

Alternatively, you can create a “Scenario B” budget based on a decrease in revenue before you’re in crisis mode. It might look something like: “Each year we lose valuable members of our community to death or moving out of the area. If by June we’re seeing that our overall donations are 10% lower than projected, we will wait on the garden landscaping project we had planned.”

Scenario budgeting helps create reassurance and invites us to consider our priorities in financial planning. Both unexpected challenges and opportunities will come up throughout the year. Having a plan ensures you can respond with as much calm and grace as possible so that “What if?” is a phrase you use not with fear, but with curiosity.

There are lots of resources and templates for scenario budgeting online. You might start with this template.

And all of your scenarios should include our Called to be the Church: The Journey learning opportunities and resources.

—by the Rev. Brenna Baker

Brenna is the Community of Faith Stewardship Support Staff for the Southwest Ontario Regions.


The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.