Technology as a Ministry Enabler
Today, technology assumes a prominent place in the work of ministry. Education, communication, collaboration, evangelism, discipleship, training, operations, financial management, events, human resource management, compliance, and many other areas are all supported by technology. A myriad of hardware, software, technology processes, equipment, applications, and other options exist to help church staff as they reach, serve, educate, and care for people. There are many choices for maintaining and managing the ongoing support of the church’s technology infrastructure as well.
Most churches believe that the practical application of technology to ministry is critical. But these churches also live with the reality that unlimited financial resources are not readily available. So how does a church decide on how it should spend its money? How do you know what is truly “worth it” versus what is just an unnecessary extra? How do you balance the necessity for technology investments with needs in other areas? Staff salaries, building improvements and maintenance, ministry programs, outreach events, and insurance all require funding. How does a church approach the process of creating their IT budget in a way that will be “found faithful” in stewardship?
Vision, Mission, Models, and Ministry Goals Drive Budgeting Decisions
A church must view any investment or funding decision through the lens of the church’s unique mission, vision, and ministry goals. Form must follow function. While all churches are called to the broader mission of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, God has called each individual church to a specific location(s), community, and distinct focus in that work. So, all financial decisions made should support these church-specific considerations! By keeping the focus on specific ministry objectives, the church can keep its eye on its distinct mandate and utilize its funds more effectively. The remainder of this post will focus specifically on technology expenditures and the budgeting process.
Technology Components to Consider in the Budget Process
The technology components involved in the modern ministry context are numerous and varied. Church Management Software, servers, switches, wireless networks and Wi-Fi, servers, cloud services, email communication, audio-visual technology for worship services, children’s check-in systems, desktop and laptop computers, and mobile devices are all part of the equation. Today, fundamental church operations, from the largest to the smallest, all require some amount of functioning technology to run smoothly. Because this technology is not free and doesn’t work without some maintenance, a church must reserve ample space in the budget for sufficient technology and IT support.
It is essential to remember trade-offs always exist. We have to pick and choose. While there are many possible options available, (advertising and anecdotal information from other churches remind us of this always!), churches have to stick with what is appropriate for their specific context. Even if every other church is doing “X,” it may not be suitable for your church. In managing the trade-offs, ask yourself the following questions. Does it help with our model, our process, our way of doing things? Does it enable, extend, and enhance our ministry operations? If so, does it do so effectively and efficiently?
So, returning to our initial question, how do you decide what technology items make it into the budget?
Technology Roadmaps and Budgeting
In deciding what to budget in this area, you must develop an ongoing “technology roadmap.” Starting with your church’s mission, vision, and ministry objectives, you must envision where the church is going to be 1, 3, and 5 years in the future. Consider what technology implementation will be required to support the church’s progress over that period. (Obviously, things can change. God can bless an initial vision, or He may call the church in a new direction. But prayerfully, you must plan for what seems the most likely scenario given God’s current leading.)
With a clear vision of your ministry goals, you must define the status and condition of your current technology environment and assess what needs to happen to get from where you are to where you want to be over the designated timeframe. Formulate a realistic timeline, create a roadmap, follow it, and review it regularly! Leave room to account for evolving technologies within your roadmap. Always be willing to reevaluate options and make sure your roadmap still has you heading in the right direction for your church’s specific situation. This longer-term roadmap will become an invaluable tool in setting annual budget numbers. It will keep you focused on the bigger picture when unplanned events or needs invariably sideswipe you.
Some Specific Recommendations from Enable Strategy Consultants
Enable has been helping churches plan and successfully budget for their technology needs for almost 20 years. Here are some helpful recommendations from our Strategy Consultants, who specialize in technology roadmaps for churches.
- Make sure that you analyze last year’s operating budget and confirm whether your projected budget was in line with what you actually spent. Make sure to update or include items that may have changed (e.g., increase in ISP or software costs).
- Use hardware lifecycles to budget project expenses. Typically, we recommend a 3 to 4-year life cycle on computers, a 5-year life cycle on servers and firewalls, and a 5 to 7-year life cycle on switches and wireless. If possible, try to get into a hardware refresh cycle where you are replacing some of your equipment every year, as opposed to massive, capital-intensive refresh projects for your whole fleet of machines every 4 or 5 years.
- Budget for growth. How many new users/staff members do you plan to hire next year? Do you foresee any construction projects coming up? Does the church plan to acquire new space for a church plant?
- Budget for dream items. Do you want to replace the wireless in the church but don’t have funds yet? The longer the finance committees know about it, the more likely you will be able to get it included in a future budget before circumstances require an “emergency” project.
- Collaborate with all church departments on their budgets. A comprehensive departmental view is critical. Many times, departments do not communicate technology needs to the IT/business office promptly. They may not understand the associated technology implications of their goals and plans and assume that IT will just be able to support them with equipment and maintenance. Having a comprehensive vies of all departments’ strategies and goals will help you set up your budget to accommodate for the whole church’s IT needs most efficiently and cost-effectively. It also paves the way for making hard decisions regarding prioritization, trade-offs, etc.
- Be sure to account for subscriptions, licenses, renewals, refresh cycles, maintenance contracts for various systems, etc. These numbers can change with falling or rising staff counts, and it is essential to keep current figures.
How Enable Helps Churches Budget for IT
When we work with a church to build out its technology roadmap and systematically create a budget, we approach it from the standpoint of a strategic advisor or CIO. Ministry strategy is paramount and drives the process and any resulting choices. We bring our strategic IT expertise to the table as a partner to aid your church in creating a technology plan that is realistic, comprehensive, and promotes good stewardship. After understanding your specific ministry goals, we work with you to build out a plan. We will tell you what we believe are the technology investments you should make and maybe the ones you shouldn’t make. Because your ministry vision, mission, and goals will be driving the process, Enable can assist in helping with prioritization of technology requests and any alternative strategies to accomplish the objectives.
It is our privilege to partner with churches all over the country to make stewardship-focused decisions as it relates to their IT budget, and if your church would like help in this area, please reach out to us at [email protected]!