The church was located in Eastern Ohio. As a church consultant, I was there primarily to help them become more effective at reaching out to the unchurched in their community. In my analysis of the various aspects of their ministry, I noted some unusual practices in the area of handling finances. The treasurer was a quiet person who kept to himself. It was unusual that he refused to be a part of my interviews, which are standard for every church. This man handled both the receipts and the expenditures of the church. His reports were very sketchy and some of the payments listed each year were for taxes in (churches are tax-exempt). When I questioned the senior pastor and board, they reported the treasurer had served for 25 years and became “uptight” when anyone ever questioned anything. He was a volunteer, and there had never been an audit. My questions led to an official investigation that discovered he had embezzled over $50,000 from the church. Today, he is in prison. The church was devastated. It has taken years to recover.
While this is a rare and unusual result of my church consulting, I do see a number of church practices—when it comes to money—that should be considered more carefully by churches.
- First, the vast numbers of those who serve their churches in the area of finances are loyal, honest, and committed Christians who do an enormous amount of volunteer work for their congregations.
- For their protection, and everyone else’s, every financial system in a church should be built with checks and balances.
- When money is collected, counted, and deposited, it should be done by more than one person.
- This group should be of several people who rotate so that there are rarely the same people in the same group.
- A different group of people should handle the receipts.
- Yet another person should pay the bills; someone who never handles the actual finances, but who only works from reports of deposits.
- An internal audit should be conducted in most (smaller) churches, on an annual basis.
- This audit should be conducted by someone outside those who handle the finances or prepare the bills or financial statements. This person can be a volunteer, to save the church money.
- An external audit should be conducted every three years (in smaller churches) and every year (in larger churches).
- Staff should never handle money. If someone greets the pastor at the door, and says, “I forgot to put my envelope in the offering,” the pastor should ask them to give it to an usher.
- Day-to-day expenses should be paid by check or credit card, whenever possible. Receipts should always accompany purchases and reimbursements.
- Some ministries (like Church Doctor Ministries) pay an annual fee to a watchdog organization like the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability (ECFA). The ministry must follow their accounting procedures and submit annual records. The use of their seal provides confidence in the best and highest level of fiscal responsibility.
Thank God for those who serve in the fiscal areas of your church. They are often committed volunteers who serve regularly and faithfully in the important ministry of finances. Protect them with systems that signal confidence to your donors.
What practices assure fiscal responsibility in your church or ministry? We welcome your comments below.
Kent Hunter is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, or you can visit www.churchdoctor.org.