Narrative budgets: an idea whose time has come

by James Newman

In 2010 at Christ’s Church Cathedral Hamilton, something special happened.
Regular parishioner giving increased by 30% over giving in 2009.

What’s even more remarkable is that the increase has held every year and into 2017 despite the loss of several exceptionally generous parishioners. Our average annual gift in 2016 was $2,142. And the impact is more than financial—there is a fresh new spirit in our parish.

While we can’t be certain, we believe that our narrative budget development process was instrumental. We believe that change will result in almost every parish that focuses on these key fundamentals: understanding their mission and ministry, strengthening hospitality and welcoming, building community involvement, being specific about their needs, thinking positively and strategically and clearly communicating their parish story through the end product—a narrative budget.

It’s a process.

It takes a rector and a parish corporation plus a helper or two who are strongly committed to keeping Christian stewardship softly simmering all year long, and then carefully brought to the front burner for about 15-20 weeks prior to Vestry.

It takes a consistent focus on mission and ministry to build clarity of vision and foundational values, real discipleship and enough credibility to ask parishioners for specific increases in giving.

It starts with communicating that Christian stewardship is not about money, or paying the bills or keeping the church from closing. It’s about our relationship with God. Our giving back is a way of saying thank you to God.

We are to give generously—the best of our time, abilities and possessions back to God’s mission in the world in gratitude for God’s endless love for us, and for all God has done for us. We are to give from a theology of abundance, not scarcity. The Most Reverend Douglas Hambidge, a former Anglican Bishop from British Columbia, says, “If the people of the Church ever grasp what giving is all about there will be no need for special appeals, drives and campaigns.”

Your narrative budget becomes a living document that follows the sacred story of your parish from year to year.

The mission of a parish can get lost in traditional line item budgets, but adding a parallel narrative budget to your reporting system helps your parish understand what’s being done about outreach, evangelism, social justice, pastoral care and much more.

A well composed narrative budget educates and inspires everyone!

Of course it’s essential that stewardship and abundance be preached regularly, and not only by the rector.

We ask parishioners to make brief commentaries outlining why they love, support, promote and endorse our parish. They’ll speak about a highlighted ministry of the week and how they have benefitted, about a personal growth experience and about generosity.

We only request that they “speak from the heart”.

If you are not directly connected to the narrative budget process, there are many positive things you can do.

You can pray for a spirit of generosity in the hearts and minds of all Anglicans. You can focus on abundance, and be an example of generosity to others. You can make a formal written intention or pledge—it’s not a contract and can be changed if circumstances change. You can give thanks.

Just as our parish thanks us for our gifts and resources, we need to give thanks to God for all that we have and all that we are.

For more information or to receive a copy of a narrative budget, contact James Newman, a parishioner of Christ’s Church Cathedral Hamilton.