Aligning budget with vision

The CE Interview: Christina Borja  |  Chief Financial Officer  |  National Community Church  |  Washington, DC

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

In 2002, Christina Borja accepted an office manager job at National Community Church (NCC) thinking she’d keep at it for six months to a year. But the position developed and soon she was helping lead pastor Mark Batterson with the books. Under her financial leadership, NCC’s annual budget has grown from $200,000 in 2004 to $7.3 million this year.

ChristinaBorja3“It’s the Lord’s favor,” Borja replies when asked what could have contributed to the growth of NCC. But there are other things that may be at work: NCC holds services in several movie theaters, offering people convenient locations and time options; Batterson is a wonderful speaker; and majority of attendees are young and single — not a typical church demographic. “We had zero idea this [growth] was going to happen,” says Borja. “We just steward the people that God brings to us.”

Borja has a business mind and a heart for ministry. She says she makes budget decisions based on reality; however, she couples this reality with praying for the miraculous and for what God can do. “We don’t make decisions until we have the money,” she explains, “but we’re hopeful; we talk about what it could be, we dream about what it could be, we pray that it will be and we anticipate that it will.”

How does your job as CFO impact the vision and growth of NCC?

I was the third full-time staff member from the original team to come on board. As the church has grown, I felt like it’s my responsibility to figure out how to grow it from the business and operations side. For example, in terms of how to put a team together, how to create jobs based on the workload and figure out when is there a need for another job and when there isn’t, and how do we structure it. There isn’t really a pattern or an example for what to do when a church grows this fast, so I think I kind of just forged through that side of it with the help of our lead pastor. I’ve been a member of our executive leadership team for the last 13 years. I took a sabbatical in September 2013 when I went overseas. I think I impact the vision and growth of NCC as we discuss major decisions in terms of how we grow and where to expand. In my role as CFO, I try to keep our budget in line with our vision and make sure our checkbook matches our priorities. I do that through the process of managing the budgets and assembling the budget requests and making sure that the appropriate percentages are in place.

What strategies are in place to ensure good stewardship of NCC’s resources?

We’ve focused a lot on internal controls over the last five or six years. In 2007, I hired an outside firm to do a full audit for us and they gave us great recommendations that helped me formulate good practices. Prior to 2007, it was more of a common sense approach, such as not having one person count the money. I also try to stay up on reading some materials from other nonprofit organizations and what they do to ensure stewardship. We have an annual audit that reviews our internal controls and checks if we actually do the controls we put in place. I try to make sure I’m thinking about that and communicating it to our donors.

What measures do you take to protect the financial integrity of NCC?

Our budget managers — staff members who oversee different departments — submit their budget requests and I analyze those based on their prior year spending and their actual versus budgeted spending from the prior year. Then we meet as an executive leadership team to decide if the budget requests are appropriate and if they fit into our projected income. We also have a stewardship team — a board of lay members who are responsible for our bylaws — that approves the budget. There are “outside” eyes — members of our congregation who make sure the budget is appropriate. And then again a lot of internal controls — things that we do to make sure our accounts are balanced and that two people are reviewing transactions and the person who balances the checkbook is not the same person who writes the checks. All of those things add to the financial integrity of the church.

How do you project your church’s income?

It’s a soft science. I have records of our growth since 2002 when I started. I have all of the growth percentages over the last 12 years or so and we use that as a benchmark. We’re usually a little bit conservative with our budget. If we think there’s going to be an 8-percent increase in the coming year, we’re going to try to budget for 6 percent. I give the executive leadership team my best estimate and then we decide together. Generally, we don’t want to feel the pressure in case we don’t make the offering that we projected, but we also have to be realistic. We have a lot of programming and different ideas that the Lord is asking us to launch. If we’re too conservative, we might stunt growth and dreams from coming to fruition. That’s why I call it a soft science.

What are the financial implications of holding church services in theaters?

We pay around $1,000 a week for each theater depending on the location. But that’s actually a pretty good price in terms of not having to manage a building or pay for real estate in Washington, DC. It’s a good deal for the movie theaters because they’re not using these theaters on Sunday mornings. They take care of maintenance, so there’s less to manage on our end. It’s a fairly good price for having that space for three hours instead of maintaining a building in each of our location. To us it’s pretty wise, financially. The main reason we hold services in movie theaters is we want to be in the middle of the marketplace. We want to have a church where people feel comfortable going. It lets pretense and walls down for people who wouldn’t normally set foot in church buildings.

What are the biggest challenges CFOs of large churches face today?

I don’t know that I can speak for all large churches. In fact, I think that ours is an anomaly in a lot of ways. I don’t know if it’s because we’re a multisite or the different businesses and projects we do, or the complexity of the city or urban space. But for me, my management style with our budget managers in the early years was much more relational. However, as our team has grown, I had to shift focus from managing them one-on-one to more of doing standard training sessions. That’s a challenge to me because I feel better at managing these situations relationally.

Another challenge is the growing complexity of what we do. We’ve grown from a church with a budget of $200,000 when I started taking over the finances sometime in 2004 to an annual budget of $7.3 million this year. It’s a challenge just having that kind of upward gain in terms of financial transactions and ensuring accuracy. Also, the amount of different people we’re working with, training staff and keeping up with the pace of our growth.

NCC_1604Because we’re a church and we’re about people, relationships and the way we handle circumstances are more important than, I think, it would be in another organization. For example, if I have budget managers who keep turning in receipts late or accidentally use their church credit card for personal items and I have to stay on them, these conversations for me are more tricky and delicate than they would be if I worked for a for-profit entity or something of that nature. Personally, I feel that that’s a challenge.

What are your biggest accomplishments at NCC?

Starting our coffee house on Capitol Hill. I managed the construction project of Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse and got the business off the ground from scratch. It’s been here since 2006 and it does well, financially. Running that from scratch was a huge challenge. It was very hard, but worth the effort. It feels rewarding to see it flourish, and my favorite part is when I walk toward my office, which is right above it, and I hear people talk about the Lord and discuss life. It does what it’s set out to do. I love that our community comes here — those who know the Lord and those who don’t — and that we get to cross paths with them in a natural environment because of this place.

Another is figuring out how to grow our church from small to large and structuring that from a financial standpoint and from a human resources standpoint. I hired a guy about three years ago who takes care of the operations side of the church and he has been helping figure out growth. But in terms of how do we properly insure ourselves, how do we have enough staff — all of those are things that I managed for the business and operations side of the church for many years.

I feel like I have a business mind and ministry heart. I love the Lord with all of who I am and I want people to know Him. Over the last 13 years, I feel like I’ve been able to keep the big picture the big picture.

What is your vision for the financial future of NCC?

My personal vision is that we would be debt-free. We are currently, but we’re not always. I also have a vision for being a place where donors feel secure to give, and that more and more of our church attenders would tithe. My influence in that area comes with talking with our lead pastor about current statistics and through some donor communication so our donors can see what they’ve given. My hope is that people would find joy in tithing and understand that it’s a part of their transformation process with the Lord. And that we would continue to have good stewardship as we grow.


QUICK FACTS

National Community Church

Year Established: 1996
Lead Pastor: Mark Batterson
Denomination: Assemblies of God, Association of Related Churches, Willow Creek Association
Number of Locations: 7
Number of Staff: 55
Combined weekly attendance: 3,000
This years budget: $7.3 million

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