Invest in Your Mission with Margin
Updated: Sep 4, 2021
By Paul Rice
In the previous post, we discussed the importance of building survival margin into our church budget. Survival margin keeps our church moving forward when things get tough.
However, survival margin alone is not enough to help a church actually advance its mission. Advancing a mission requires trying new ideas, and that means spending money, not saving it.
If your church is actually going to advance its mission, you must incorporate another type of margin into your budget: Growth margin.
The biggest difference between survival and growth margin is that survival margin is meant to be saved. Growth margin is meant to be invested.
Growth margin has two incredible benefits.
First, growth margin reduces the financial risk of investing in new ideas. It doesn’t matter financially if the idea fails. Your church’s financial survival is already taken care of. What matters is trying something new so your mission doesn’t get stagnant.
Second, growth margin enables a church to invest in unexpected opportunities. Churches are pretty good at planning for emergencies, but we tend to stop there. We have to take the next step and start planning for opportunities too. If we aren't ready to strike, those opportunities will pass us by, and our mission will stagnate over time. In short:
Good budgets plan for unexpected emergencies. Great budgets plan for unexpected opportunities.
For some leaders, this approach will require them to change their perspective on money. Find a mirror and say this to yourself every day until your perspective changes:
“I don’t spend money. I invest money.”
What’s the difference?
Spending money implies an immediate exchange of equal value. I give Domino’s $10.00 and Domino’s gives me a large pepperoni pizza. Domino’s makes a profit and I satisfy my hunger now.
Investing money implies an exchange of unequal value, favoring the investor in the future. A farmer who plants seed expects a larger harvest than the amount of seed he planted, but, he has to wait for it.
Shifting your mindset from spending to investing can be difficult, especially if you were taught that money is a tool for survival. Investing money is a risk and you can’t risk your very survival, right?
Remember, survival margin is already working for you. You CAN afford to invest into new ideas. You CAN'T afford to miss another unexpected opportunity to advance your mission.
Don’t want to miss a potentially great opportunity? Start building growth margin into your budget so you can say “Yes!” to the next mission-advancing opportunity.
Let’s talk practical application.
Application #1: Don’t hoard growth margin! Invest it wisely into your church’s mission.
I tell my church’s leadership team all the time, “Underspending is worse than overspending.” We intentionally build 10% growth margin into our annual budget for the sole purpose of investing into our mission.
If our leaders are not investing financial resources into their area, we are losing potential returns for our mission. I would rather a leader invest too much money into their area than not invest enough. Advancing our church's mission is that important.
Application #2: Aggressively eliminate expenses that don’t advance the mission.
As church leaders, we must learn to expect a return from the things we invest in. When considering any expense, you should always ask this question:
“Will this expense advance our mission further than it is right now?”
If the answer is “No”, it’s probably not a worthwhile expense. This question is great for weeding out non-essential expenses ahead of time and will help keep your overhead under control. It will also help you identify areas you should be investing money into.
If you are having trouble funding your survival margin, use this question to find and cut everything that isn’t moving your church’s mission forward.
Application #3: Build survival and growth margin at the same time.
Small churches typically try to save 10% of their budget every year, usually going into an emergency fund, if they have one. Once your church has some survival margin built up, begin refocusing some (not all) of that 10% towards growth margin. As your budget grows, save more than the standard 10% for a bigger boost to your growth margin.
Building in growth margin earlier allows a church to seize on investment opportunities sooner and advance their mission faster. It might mean cutting additional expenses to make room, but the flexibility growth margin provides is worth it.
Survival and growth margin, working together, will maximize the effectiveness of your church budget. You might be thinking, “There’s no way we can fund both right now!”
In the next post, we will discuss how to create margin in your budget and start building survival and growth margin at the same time!