How can your church accounts and reporting function serve to help support your growth goals? How can church financial processing enhance the experience of those who are giving?
Vision and Connection
For those of us who spend a lot of time with our head in the accounts, it can be easy to forget that our congregation members (and even our ministry teams) can have very little idea of what is happening in church finances.
Not that every church member needs (or wants!) to know all the nitty gritty, but lack of appropriate and regular information could mean a subtle but growing disconnect of our members from how finances can be serving the vision of the church.
Where we have cheerful donors wanting to give, we want to facilitate their generosity, rather than create or keep obstacles. Where there is a breakdown of effective communication it can lead to increased difficulty for members to see how the finances are relating to the bigger picture.
So, where appropriate, perhaps consider communicating finances in the context of vision and growth. It’s a different experience (perhaps heavy and negative) when there’s an emergency appeal due to overspending and lack of financial foresight. But if, for example, an appeal could be forward looking and tied in with the plans and mission of your church, this can help with the process of communication and engagement.
In addition, it may be beneficial to consider keeping your members regularly up to date on some key financial figures, perhaps even having a policy in place for when escalated or seasonal communication would be appropriate and helpful.
Viability and Continuity
One of the biggest financial misunderstandings (and hence miscommunications) that can occur in churches is in the area of what we’ll call “cash position” (or “cash viability”).
To explain this, we need to understand the way many churches typically handle the recording and reporting of funds.
In additional to general giving, churches are often receiving funds that are to be used for some future or ongoing purpose, like saving up to start a new ministry, or preparing for a building project, or collecting money for a retreat, or even unused pastor’s allowances.
When these additional funds are not well understood or recorded/reported, an unfortunate situation can occur – the church bank account may look well resourced, but the overall financial position of the church could be dire and desperate.
To put it simply, obvious financial figures like the bank balance and the level of giving may not be very good indicators of your church’s actual financial position. In fact, they could give a false impression of a healthy situation, when in fact the church may owe more funds to others than it has in cash balance (and is in a decidedly unhealthy financial state).
Further to this type of misunderstanding in financial position, the situation can be exacerbated when there is lack of continuity and consistency in those able to help with the finances.
With the demands of modern life, turnover in volunteer positions (like your church treasurer) can be higher than desired, and unexpected changes can cause a break in information flow. Moreover, the learning curve involved in financial roles can mean there is a “reinventing the wheel” situation when it comes to effective and helpful financial processes.
Understanding this important area and having consistent and ongoing attention given to it can greatly assist in beginning to see financial “red flags” ahead of time. We’ll explore these concepts of viability and continuity in more detail a little later in this book.
Confidence and Growth
One thing we truly want to avoid is an unaddressed lack of confidence or even lack of trust in the way finances are being handled.
Here we are not just meaning recklessness or misappropriation of funds (these are clearly important, but not our topic here). Rather, we want to avoid a scenario where a lack of analysis, planning or communication leaves members feeling unhelpfully confused or uncertain as they try to give meaningfully.
Perhaps on the more undesirable end of the spectrum would be the regular emerging of unexpected (but foreseeable) financial crises. Perhaps you’ve seen it before – by the time the situation is understood and communicated, it’s already very serious. Rather than having a warning period and time to plan, the pastor and members are thrust into a financial emergency.
Such occurrences could lead to a concerning level of uncertainty among the team and congregation. Your donors may experience “giving fatigue,” where their planned giving is being regularly stretched in additional appeals. And paid staff may start to question the stability of their employment, and how much lead time they will receive if they need to be let go in a crisis situation.
What can be done to support confidence and growth in a helpful way? So far, we’ve looked at three broad areas to start filling out the big picture:
- The factors that may be hampering effective decisions
- The reasons your team may feel pulled into financial concerns beyond their role
- The possible existence and causes of distant donor relationships
Would you like to explore further topics related to church bookkeeping, church payroll and church financial management? eBook available now:
(including your 80+ point Church Financial Management Overview Checklist)
This guide aims to provide a useful and helpful big-picture view – to assist you in further developing the financial function of your church in your context. Designed for church pastors, church ministry leaders, church officeholders, church admin teams, church treasurers and church members.
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