Most churches I know have challenges with money. It’s a continual burden for church leaders in the light of increasing costs and the failure of many believers these days to honor God in financial stewardship. What can we do to meet our financial challenges in difficult days? Allow me to suggest a “back to basics” approach. Consider three things every church ought to do in managing finances effectively.
1. Establish a budget and live within it!
I can’t imagine a church of any size functioning without a spending plan. It’s true, we don’t use pledging systems in our Baptist churches, and thus we cannot know with certainty what our people will give. But we can do some good-faith estimating prior to the start of our fiscal year and set up a realistic plan to fund the various ministries of the church. I believe a good annual budgeting process includes input from the appropriate ministry leaders as the budget is being prepared—and ought to have congregational support. Frankly, an informed church family in this area is generally more committed to faithful stewardship. As with a personal or family budget, a church budget is valuable only if it is followed! It’s a spending control that won’t control anything unless there is a willingness on the part of the church leaders and congregation to live within it. It’s important in my view to set up a system of accountability for spending decisions within your budget and regularly evaluate your financial picture in the light of current giving.
2. Communicate about church finances.
I can’t say enough about the need to keep the congregation apprised of the church’s financial situation. Yes, it’s possible to spend too much time talking about money. But I have found the opposite (too little talking about money) is a bigger problem in most churches. We need to overcome our fear of being misunderstood. Here are some ways to keep our people informed.
Financial updates in weekly worship folders . . . I found a helpful monthly update including both cash flow and budget-need to be most helpful.
Stewardship messages . . . A once-a-year preaching emphasis is not too much. Give Biblical exposition on stewardship and give application by mentioning specific church needs and opportunities for giving.
Business meeting updates . . . Most church business meetings include the presentation of financial reports for congregational information or action. Taking time to communicate at that time seems especially appropriate.
Prayer meeting announcements . . . Communicate with the people who are most committed to prayer, since they regularly bring the needs of the church before the Lord. Print “prayer prompters” to highlight financial needs.
Congregational letters . . . Use occasional church mailings to reach the entire church family. Keep letters short, concise, and positive! I’ve found this approach most helpful for a special giving initiative or stewardship drive.
Testimonies . . . Invite individuals to share in corporate worship settings about the the difference the church’s ministry has made in their lives. Celebrate the good things happening in your church throughout the year!
3. Demonstrate accountability.
Every church needs to regularly examine its practices regarding the handling of money. Integrity in this area is absolutely crucial. The congregation will stop giving to the church if a lack of trust exists over the handling of finances. Keep at least the following in mind:
The person who opens the mail should log the incoming checks. Count these later with the regular offerings.
No usher should deliver an offering to the church safe or bank building without another unrelated person present.
All offerings should be counted and agreed upon by two or more people.
Do not leave money unattended or in the control of only one person.
Checks should be signed by someone other than the one who prepares the checks, and not related to the preparer.
Have your financial records independently reviewed annually. Consider a schedule for outside audits.
Taking the time to put the financial house of the church in order pays rich dividends for the church family and allows church leaders to function more effectively.