Hardly a week goes by without news that someone has either been fired or is about to be fired because church funds have been mishandled. Maybe the pastor ran off with the church’s money or spent the church’s money on a personal item. Maybe a staff member is arrested for embezzling from the church, and by the time the problem is recognized, thousands of dollars are missing. Even if the money is recovered—which is unlikely—the damage has been done.
Many people assume churches are either lazy or incompetent when it comes to handling money. Pastors are generally considered to be good people but lousy businessmen or -women. Whether that’s true or not is a topic for another article, but honestly, that’s what most people think.
Because of this, the first thing a pastor must do in order to increase giving is to increase trust in the financial system of the church. The process for handling money in the church has to be above reproach. Every dollar has to be accounted for, and no one can be above the financial policies of the church.
This begins with the annual budget. The budget should reflect the priorities of the church for the coming year. Anyone should be able to tell two things from your budget: First, where the church is going in the coming year, and second, how well the church is doing currently against those goals. An annual budget keeps the church from jerking this way and that way behind every fad that comes down the road. The budget enforces not only a discipline of spending but also of organizational priorities.
Second, establish a finance committee to oversee and administrate the budget. These members must be beyond reproach. They also must be tithers. How else will you understand the laws of God’s economy if you haven’t personally learned them from God’s faithfulness in your own life? Do not make the mistake of putting “good business people” on your finance team. Don’t misunderstand me; if someone has the gift of administration, then by all means use them. Don’t assume, however, that the world’s understanding of resources and God’s understanding of resources are the same. They are very different.
Every expenditure must be documented—no exceptions. As the famous saying goes, “In God we trust. Everyone else brings receipts.” The finance team and treasurer should literally be able to justify where every nickel of the church’s money went. Having these kinds of policies and procedures in place will keep the process objective and keep it from becoming emotional. Usually, emotions and money don’t do well together.
Checks should require two signatures, and neither one of those signatures should be the pastor’s. I know there are different situations where common sense would suggest the pastor should be able to sign checks. These situations, however, are few and far between. The pastor should know what’s going on with the church’s finances, and I’m not suggesting a totally hands-off approach. I am suggesting a wall of accountability that frees the pastor from even the casual suspicion that the pastor may be taking advantage of inappropriate access to the church’s funds.
The church should be audited every year. This way the members are assured the money is being handled in a responsible manner and the church is kept up to date with the changing requirements of accounting standards and any change in the regulations overseeing church and nonprofit accounting. Our church does this, and having a clean audit letter goes a long way in making our members more comfortable with the way church finances are being handled.
While an individual church may or may not find a monthly church business meeting necessary, there has to be regular time of reporting and open communications for questions and information, however the church chooses to do it. Any time people don’t have correct information readily available, they always assume the worse. Being ready and able to answer any and all questions about church finances will go a long way in keeping people focused in a positive manner.
Now, here’s the real reason all of this matters. Not only are we called to be faithful stewards of God’s resources, the cold, hard fact is people will not give unless they trust the financial integrity of the church. Before you ever preach a sermon on tithing or begin any campaign to raise money, do the hard but necessary work of increasing the integrity of the church’s financial structure. I’m confident you will find giving go up proportionally with the church body’s rising confidence in how the church handles their money.