You start at $0. You know what you spent last year in each category, and whether that was enough or not, but that is just knowledge. It is not a base to have an increase from.
Find out your obligations to the denomination first. These are fixed by the gang at HQ. They represent your church's participation in the church at large--to provide Christian higher education, for the retirement of your clergy, and for evangelistic and church work outside of your area, whether that be across the country or across the world. You will also contribute to the running of your district or region. Next is the every day expenses of having a building or a place to gather together for worship and fellowship: mortgage/rent, electricity, phone, internet, water, gas, insurance, maintenance of same. You'll have guidance from the previous year with regard to this, but it is only that. A one time replacement expense in one year does not cause the budget to be permanently elevated--in fact a replacement of a furnace with a more efficient one may cause the next year's overall budget to go down. Then there are program expenses, such as Sunday School literature, music resources, conferences and such. Again, one year is a guide. Perhaps there will be more expense this year then last year due to the purchase of hymnals or software for projection of song lyrics. Finally, there are church staff salaries. Can we afford to have a paid janitor, or is the congregation willing to take up this job on a volunteer basis as a way to give to the church? Has the church grown and thus taken in a bit more money, enabling the hiring of new staff or a raise for someone who deserves it? Here is an important concept: Just because that money is there, does not mean it has to be spent right away. It could be tucked away as a rainy day fund for that inevitable day when the church van's engine blows up, or the copy machine dies...
In churches in which I have participated in this process, we have had spending go up, and spending go down. We examined each item asking, "Can we do it cheaper? Can we lock in a utility cost (#2 fuel oil contracts can be settled as early as summer--sometimes you can save a bit of money with a early lock-in.)? Can we find a new internet provider? Should we rely on paid staff here, or is this something the congregation can and should do?"
The fact is that our great country has gotten away from this common sense way of doing business, and we are paying the price now with debt that is almost impossible to conceive. We may never pay down the debt we have. My deepest desire is that we work hard to stop adding to it. And in reality, no one has an answer to our dilemma that they are 100% certain will work. In my darker moments, I see a decline we cannot avoid for our country. As someone said recently if we can slow down in a controlled manner, it would be far better than slowing down by hitting a brick wall.
I am glad that we have enough resolution that we have avoided the brick wall of the debt ceiling not being raised--but have we done enough to avoid the other brick walls out there? Can we get back to handling the budgets with common sense, the common sense of the American people?