Highlights of the Fiscal Support Team
The Dwell Fiscal Support Team (FST) is made up of financial supporters willing to make a yearly pledge to the church’s General Fund.
FST members are expected to give at least 5% of their gross income (although new members can start with a 3% commitment their first year) to the General Fund. Dwell honors this level of committed sacrifice with the opportunity to vote on certain discretionary items in the yearly budget. While below the traditional 10% tithe, we believe the 5% level allows people to also give to other ministries and programs. We encourage people to consider supporting Dwell missions efforts, periodic building campaigns, and other charitable causes to which God draws them, over-and-above their General Fund support.
The FST helps ensure Funds funds its core work, ensuring the basics are covered and the church is able to focus on God’s work without worrying about annual finances. This is a critical ethos - that we can only move forward with ministry around the world when we have first taken care of the needs of a strong and stable church at home. From this financial stability and strength, we are able to proceed to greater works God has set before us, with confidence.
Starting in 1993, Dwell elders formed a group financial supporters to help decide budget priorities. This group, the Fiscal Support Team (FST), was composed of those who participated in the Voluntary Pledge Program and who were willing to donate at least 5% of their gross income solely to the General Fund. It became part of the regular budgetary process in Dwell for each budget year. Members are encouraged to increase their giving level over time, but 5% allows for a solid starting point in stewardship, while providing households with flexibility to support other charitable causes within the church such as missionaries and humanitarian aid (see more on the "5 percent" below).
In 2007, to ensure we opened this team to as many new members as possible, we added a category for first-time pledgers. As a first-time pledging household, members can meet the FST requirements by giving at just 3% of their annual gross income, raising to 5% the following year. We also "roll over" pledges from one year to the following year, unless the pledging household / the giver informs us of a change.
Membership on the FST for the current year, allows FST households permission to vote on church spending priorities at the next annual 'Vision & Stewardship' meeting in January/February. This voting privilege is for people who met their FST commitments for the previous year, tying that membership to helping set the church's ministry agenda for the coming year.
Our hope and expectation is that by including most committed financial supporters in the budget decision-making, we will gain insight, increase our understanding of the issues involved in prioritizing limited resources within the Dwell budget and share greater corporate ownership of our common goals. Historically this team helped determine detailed spending priorities for 15% to 25% of the total church budget. In recent years, with increased economic constraints and stability in both giving and our shared direction, voting has not included such a high overall percent of the budget. Yet the FST still helps direct a substantial portion of church spending, especially helping prioritize enhancements in ministry direction and opening up new ministry.
The Annual Planning and Budgeting Process
As the first part of our annual goal-setting and funding process, the elders and senior sphere leaders meet with the management team for a multi-day off-site retreat to go over spiritual goals in each division. The retreat typically happens in late-October. The focus of this first-of-two retreats is to gauge the status of and form consensus about the direction of the fellowship. Detailed tactical planning will follow from the strategies set at this retreat.
Based on the agreed-upon goals from this planning retreat, the division coordinators work out their budget needs with department heads and other staff. They must sharpen the division's base budget (that part of funding required that can't be seen as discretionary to complete the division's goals) and also develop budget categories for enhancing existing ministry and growing ministry where God leads.
Approximately one month after the planning retreat, the Dwell elders and senior sphere leaders meet for the budget retreat, where they study spending needs, interviewing one coordinator at a time. The coordinators go over the costs of attaining the goals decided upon at the earlier retreat. The elders sign-off on what is indispensable in their proposed budget (such as critical staff costs, key program needs, facility expenses, etc.) From the debate at this retreat, a "core" maintenance budget and a "wish list" are generated. The core budget needs no further discussion, because the budget items are all essential to maintaining the healthy position of the church. That core budget will typically be at or below the previous year's spending levels as one-time projects and prior discretionary ministry enhancements are removed from permanent funding.
The wish list elements of the process represents important discretionary spending for existing and proposed ministry. The majority of time is spent in this area, as we work to ensure we are coming alongside the things God is doing and showing us as priorities. From the focused discussions of that list "Strategic Initiatives" are developed within (and often across) division budgets.
Vision & Stewardship Meeting
In February of the new year the results of the planning and budget cycle along finances from the prior year are ready to present to the church. Dwell holds the 'Vision & Stewardship Meeting'. It is open to anyone interested in the church's finances and planning. There the elders and coordinators go over the results of the preparatory work, and present their budget requests, including the core spending budget and "Strategic Initiatives" for each division. Essential items are funded before the less essential items. By breaking spending into initiatives, the budgetary process is simplified enough to explain in a large group. The rationale for each initiative is explained and discussed publicly.
FST members in good standing are then given the opportunity to vote on new directions in funding and prioritizing ministry. Members vote through an on-line web-based system, made available through the day following the Vision & Stewardship Meeting. Members can vote on what projects they want to prioritize by "spending" a pre-determined amount -- voting for more expensive proposals takes up more of the amount. Each FST member has their own vote and the corporate results are tallied. The proposed initiatives are ranked, and the highest ranked items receive first priority for approval.
The General Fund Pledge Campaign is held after the Vision & Stewardship Retreat. As pledges and other financial support rolls in, these additional wish list proposals are funded in the order determined by the Fiscal Support team. We are able to report on how each budget initiative is covered as the next few weeks proceed and budget funding levels are reached based on pledges received.
The voting process will drive the prioritization of funding, in any case. So the voice of the FST is heard in how spending in the coming year unfolds in key areas.
This funding approach applies to General Fund, with that as the critical need for the church. We first must look after the healthy funding of the church. But we also fund 'Humanitarian Aid & Development Fund' (HADF) initiatives each year, the goals for which have also been established as part of the planning budget retreats. And then additional missions giving opportunities are available through Dwell's 'Global Partnerships Fund' (GPF). Once the General Fund has been covered, we can prioritize other spending including but not limited to HADF and GPF.
The Dwell Fiscal Support Team shares responsibility along with the elders for raising annual funds (primarily during the annual Pledge Campaign), and for explaining the budget and prioritization to others. Whether an individual is in the majority or the minority on any given issue, it is essential we all agree we are bound by what the majority decides, and will support the overall decision.
Reasons for Initiating This Procedure
The elders wanted additional input on the budget preparation, with ownership for achieving the target budget shared by the committed stewards of the church. Whether we decide to seek more income or to cut spending, an appropriate safeguard is to pool the wisdom of our most-committed givers.
Those who pay the majority of the bills in the church should have as much of a voice as possible in setting the direction of church spending, in the growth of spending, or in any needed cuts. In our not-too-distant past it was not possible to identify the group of people who rightfully should compose such an augmenting decision-making body; today, with the pledge program, it is possible to identify our main fiscal supporters.
The elders want the church at large to have a deeper understanding of the issues involved in creating Dwell's budget. We believe a meeting/retreat focused on church vision and needed stewardship creates understanding, excitement about what we can accomplish, and increased prayer and motivation as people take ownership of the fellowship's goals.
Aren't the elders supposed to lead the church in financial matters?
The elders still lead the church because they have to approve the base budget. This ensures essential ministries are funded at least to a maintenance level. The elders, along with the management team, also determine what items are put forward for approval. This is the power of initiation, which constitutes leadership. Sharing leadership with members has always been an important policy for Dwell elders, but finance wasn't always included in a systematic way, mainly because the budgets are so complicated. This policy brings finance into the arena of shared leadership like other areas of ministry.
Who can participate in the Fiscal Support Team?
The Dwell Fiscal Support Team helps the elders make some very important decisions. These decisions determine much of the future direction of the church. Responsibility and decision-making power should go together. Therefore, it is essential we avoid giving such important decision making to people who aren't responsible in their support of the church. To this end, the following rules govern who may participate in the retreat:
- The participants must have Dwell as their primary fellowship church.
- Fiscal Support Team members must be authentic participants in the pledge program. They must have registered for the Voluntary Pledge Program by the date given as the deadline for that year (usually January 31), and have performed on their pledge thereafter.
- Participants must confirm that their pledge to the Dwell General Fund (so not including any other targets of their giving inside or outside of the church) represents 5% (five percent) or more of their gross annual income. Some exceptions will be made for the poor. This provision is designed to identify serious, regular and responsible givers.
- It is important to note that any giving to missions work through the Humanitarian Aid & Development or Global Partnership funds, or to other annual Dwell fund-raisers are not counted in the calculation of a household's FST commitment to the General Fund.
- If some are unable to give to the level of 5% because they are poor or because of special circumstances, they can seek counseling from our personal finance ministry. They will have to disclose their financial problems and demonstrate their inability to give 5% is due to conditions beyond their control. If the counselor agrees their priorities should not include 5% giving at this time, we will waive this requirement. We assume anyone in this position will work toward a more robust giving pattern at the earliest possible time.
What about people who don't, or aren't able to participate in the team?
The Fiscal Support Team is a positive feature for those who qualify. It takes nothing away from other members. People who aren't involved in the FST will be in the same position they always were. They will be notified about the budget in the annual report as in previous years. We will celebrate all stewardship in the church, but membership in the FST includes the reward and responsibility of active participation in budgeting processes.
Why pick the figure of 5 percent?
We do not consider 5 percent giving a high or even admirable goal for most North Americans. However, many solid givers suffer from shortages, or want to be able to give to other causes. Also, we have a building fund, which may decrease the ability of some to give as much as they would like. In addition, team members often support missions strongly, which is not included in this 5% figure. This figure is a compromise that should be within the reach of all but the poorest people.
With the implementation of this structure, we are in accord with most evangelical churches (which usually vote on a budget annually), yet even better. Churches that vote on a budget usually have only a "yes-no" choice, limiting involvement in the process. Our procedure ensures the real issues of priorities are open to public discussion. We have even revisited certain priorities and funding based on feedback received from FST members at our retreats.
Each February, we look forward to an upbeat time of establishing satisfying goals. With the Dwell Fiscal Support Team, we are confident all of us share the same burden and loyalty to the work of God in this church. It is exciting to spend a focused meeting time with scores of like-minded supporters, discussing the direction of the church and making a deep impact in lives for Jesus Christ.
Join the FST now, or you may fill out one of the pledge cards or contact the accounting department at the office, indicating that your pledge will qualify for FST membership. Your membership on the team will allow you to vote on Strategic Initiatives to impact the budget for coming year.