Margin in a church plant budget is simply a little breathing room. It’s knowing that if offering is a little low on Sunday, you are still going to be able to pay the bills. Few things will stress out a church planter more than a budget with no margin.
Compared to our personal budgets, margin is how much you have in savings. Dave Ramsey is well-known for teaching that in our personal budgets we should have three months of our income in savings. I would argue that the same applies for church plants. Three months of operating expenses in savings is a very healthy place to be.
So if your budget is $15,000 a month, then you should have $45,000 in the bank. The reality is that church plants are not financially viable enterprises. They are much more like the individuals with credit cards maxed out who are just starting Dave Ramsey’s financial plan. They don’t have three months of operating expenses in the bank. That would be a healthy margin. Instead, they are on the road to sustainability and should set a target to work toward having three months of operating expenses in the bank.
Church Plant Budget: Keep One Month Expenses in the Bank
For a church plant, it is realistic and important to maintain one month of operating expenses in the bank. Here’s why:
1. Income in a church plant is variable. Offerings and outside support will fluctuate month to month. You need margin in the budget to account for months when offering is low.
2. Unexpected expenses happen. When the box truck you use to haul your equipment breaks down, you need funds in the bank to pay for repairs.
3. Your stress level will be lower when you aren’t worried about money. Jesus has something to say about worrying about money, and chances are you’ve preached the sermon. Regardless, I’ve seen many planters worry about the finances and freak out a bit when the budget projects they will run out of funds in a few months.