How to Hunt Down the Elusive Church Communication Budget

How to Hunt Down the Elusive Church Communication Budget

July 22, 2019 by

A church communication budget is a bit like a Sasquatch—you hear they exist and you hope they are going to be really big when you see one. Unfortunately, like this elusive creature, despite being hunted down across the globe, church communication budgets are pretty much non-existent.

Part of the issue is that many churches still don’t see communication as a true ministry. They don’t give this vital area enough credit, time or attention, let alone a budget. The reality is that supporting and budgeting your communication ministry is paramount to successful outreach, engagement and the biggest overall goal—spreading the Word and love of Jesus Christ.

How Much Should Your Budget Be? Good Question

This is a question for the ages—but one only you can answer. It has to be realistically what your church can afford based on size and overall operating budget. Identify your target audience and focus on one portion at a time. Do you need to focus on engagement or outreach or both? You then need to determine the best modes of communication to that particular audience. Where do they live, work, play? How do they consume their information?

You can only do what is possible within your means of course, but a healthy budget should have a variety of engagement and outreach opportunities via several channels. This can include:

  • Digital media (ad buys and boosting your posts).
  • Direct mail (printing and postage).
  • Simple materials that give a flavor for who you are and what you offer that can be shared with congregants to use for inviting others, as well as for you to distribute at community events.
  • Website improvements for best user experience including mobile optimization. Your website is your front door and your resume to the world.
  • Promotional items (T-shirts, hats, tote bags) congregants can use, share and/or wear outside of church to help spread the knowledge of your church and provide them with the information they need to further engage and move further into their faith journey.
  • Resources and equipment (computers, software, online subscriptions, etc.) that help you do this essential work in a professional and efficient manner.
  • Outsourcing work (website, photos, videos, graphic design). As most communication ministries are short staffed this is a big one. You can still work hard, but not be overworked and burnt out in delivering all the important components needed weekly with a little outside help.

Starting at Zero

If you have no documented budget or even a very small one, you can look at other areas of your overall church budget and identify line items that would make sense to be in a communication budget. For instance, is there a printer/copier budget? Signage? Paper and postage? Bulletins or worship folders? If you can get those moved over into your budget you can have a better handle on where money is going in these areas and how you can more creatively and effectively use this money for overall better church communication.

Do Your Homework—Calculator Required

Check pricing on the items you want to include. Have some realistic figures in front of you in which to speak into. I like to have three budget options to present: a minimum, a better and an optimal:

  • Minimum: You are then noting in your professional opinion, the minimum needed to keep things properly communicated and/or to achieve the goal set for your ministry area.
  • Better: Then you are noting what would be a better option allowing for more exposure, results, etc.
  • Optimal: The optimal budget would be to truly do the work we are setting out to do with the best results (especially important if goals have been set for you).

It is usually an eye-opener for people outside the communication field to see these numbers. They have no idea how much things cost in this arena and when they see what they should be spending to get results they are often astonished. This makes the better and minimum budgets look a lot more reasonable. It also sets more realistic goals.

In addition, since churches can be very tight with their money, the minimal budget may be an easy choice for decision makers. Be prepared to make your case for why the better and optimal budgets will do a much better job at yielding results. It is also important to note that you need to try it in order to make any type of progress. The efforts can then be reevaluated after you see what results you have yielded.

Track Down Your ROI

Whatever budget you are working with, it is important to measure your results. It’s hard to gauge your return on investment (ROI) when promoting personal relationships with God, but there are some clear ways you can track your communication efforts.

Some of the best and easiest ways to see if you are getting any movement include keeping track of attendance at worship services, classes, camps, and other events. Use Google Analytics to track increases to your website, and use social media analytics to see if you have gained new followers or added more shares or engagements. These numbers can tell a story about how your efforts are effecting engagement and outreach, as well as help arm you with data when budget talks come up.

Run a Tight Ship

When you are lucky enough to have a budget under your control, it is important to keep a close eye on spending. You need to plan the full year of spending out month by month, and estimate costs based on real proposals as much as possible.

At least once a month check what you have spent and what you have left. If you see things are adding up quicker than you expected, find areas to pull back and get yourself back on course. You can also talk to vendors periodically and see if they can give you any additional breaks or make any suggestions for cutting costs. At the end of the year you want to be able to show that you have been fiscally responsible, stayed within budget, and ideally, got a lot of bang out of the bucks entrusted with you.

Freebies, Deals, and Good Old Fashioned Hard Work

You can still get some movement even with a smaller budget to help bring your message to the surrounding communities and better engage your congregants. You have to roll up your sleeves a little higher and do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself, but you do get mileage out of all these efforts. However, they do work best when combined with paid methods as this covers a much better cross section of your market.

  • Donation of ad space from a sales representative or business owner.
  • Vendor relationships—search for vendors who believe in your mission and will cut you good deals and offer you discounts.
  • Volunteers can be utilized for graphic design, helping with research, or even printing and cutting a big job.
  • Fliers on classes, groups, events to post around local hot spots like coffee houses and family restaurants.
  • Make a Costco run for bottled water and pass out at local events along with some info on your church (where allowed by law or through arranging with event sponsor).
  • Look for ways to host, or put on, events, meetings, etc. at your location where the public is invited.
  • Create a plan for staff, elders and other leaders in your church to spend one-on-one time with congregants to encourage and support them on their faith journeys.
  • Support and provide resources to encourage congregants to invite others.

Communication Budgets for the Modern World

Good communication is an essential component to spreading God’s Word and encouraging people to engage deeper in their faith journeys. This requires them to do more than just show up for worship and therefore, we must communicate the ‘why’ of this journey. As church communicators, we need to provide resources so people feel comfortable and equipped to spread the Word and invite others.

But it is also imperative that local churches have outreach efforts that open the door to people who have left the church or are struggling to find it. How are we inviting those in on the outskirts? The people who are hurt, lost, searching. We need to seek those sheep like Jesus did. In the modern world, that means a combination of paid and free outreach to let people know we are here and welcome them with open arms. So unlike the Sasquatch, your church budget can exist and thrive, and you are the catalyst to help make that happen.

Post By:

Linda Hale


Linda Hale has worked in marketing and communications for more than 20 years—from advertising agencies to religious organizations. She currently serves as the senior director of communications at Christ Church, Oak Brook and Downers Grove, Ill., one of the largest churches in the Chicago area.
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