Inspiring Generosity

Inspiring Generosity


The Narrative Budget: Is It Still Relevant?


         ...even with a budget.          suzyhazelwood@pexels

And all at once summer collapsed into fall.
I couldn’t have said it better than Oscar Wilde. So, I shan’t try. Lucky you.
Here we are on the precipice of fall. In the mainline church, that generally means it’s time to start thinking about next year’s budget. Next year’s budget…already? Have I ruined your day? Please accept my apologies.
It’s true. There’s no time like the present to start planning for your future. Unfortunately, that generally involves needing financial resources – which also means creating a budget – to make your congregation’s vision a reality.

Recently, a clergy friend asked for information about a “creative budget.” Besides the chuckle I got thinking about the many “creative” budgets I’ve seen in my life – usually involving expenses far exceeding income – I knew she was talking about a narrative budget.

In years past, the narrative budget (aka the missional budget) was all the rage. Even though they are considered best practice in theory, I haven’t seen too many over the years.
What is a narrative budget? It’s the story of your congregation. People like me find their eyes glazing over when looking at rows and columns of numbers. Don’t get me wrong, I find those numbers fascinating in their own right. As a grant writer and as the chair of our church’s Finance Committee I have to know how to read and understand budgets. Those numbers on the page? They tell a story.
However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. There’s no nuance. No vitality. No excitement.
That’s where the narrative budget shines.
A narrative budget gives you the opportunity to bring those numbers to life.
And yes, they are a lot of work.

It’s one thing to conquer the arduous task of determining income and expenses in a regular budget. Then to additionally ask that those numbers be put into words? That’s hard.
But friends, it’s worth it.
I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: the narrative budget allows you to tell your congregation’s story and vision. Doing that can be inspiring – not only to you but to your congregation.

-  Utilities suddenly become an opportunity for ministry.

-  Custodial staff’s purpose is beyond cleaning.
-  The choir director helps build up the body of Christ. 
-  Your preaching inspires spiritual growth moving people beyond church walls.
Where can you find examples of narrative budgets?
A simple Google search yields plenty of illustrations for all church sizes:
Hixson UMC, Tennessee
Zionsville UMC, Indiana
Aldersgate UMC, Indiana

And here’s one of my old favorites from Battleground Community UMC, WA.
These narrative budgets tell their congregation’s story in a positive, uplifting way…in a way that a spreadsheet never can.
Is the narrative budget still relevant? Is it worth all the extra work? Even during COVID?
You bet.
If you’ve developed a narrative budget that you’d like to share – please do! Email it to me at
It’s time to get your budget ready. Be sure that through your budget you paint a whole and joyful story of the exciting ways you’re impacting your world.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. For nearly 25 years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. In honor of September, here’s Earth, Wind, and Fire from 1978. It may not be Oscar Wilde, but it is groovy. You can reach Cesie at or on Facebook at or at


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Cesie Delve Scheuermann

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

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