FINANCIAL INTEGRITY FROM DAY ONE
IT’S ON YOU. NOW WHAT?
One of the fastest ways to derail a church is a slip-up in the area of financial integrity. In the early stages of a church plant, you've likely had some help from a sending church in this area. Maybe they collected all of your giving in the pre-launch phase or provided some bookkeeping support. But inevitably, there is a moment in each church's history where the apron strings are cut and you're on your own.
The steps you take in this critical transition phase could make or break your plant. Pretty scary, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. There are healthy habits you should form and common pitfalls you should avoid so you can be well on your way to impeccable financial integrity.
WHERE IT CAN ALL GO WRONG
Without getting into the gory details of how badly churches have mismanaged their money, I can guarantee that over the past 15 years of working in church finances, I've seen it all. Especially in the early stages, it just takes one person asking a question that catches you off guard before folks start talking and things get out of hand.
For more established ministries, pastors can rely on an executive pastor, outside accountant, elder board or a board of trustees to look over their shoulders. But as a growing church, you’re likely on your own, and it may be years before you can afford a part-time bookkeeper. But you can overcome this vulnerability (and cover your backside!) by preparing to answer any questions sent your way.
RECORDS ARE YOUR FRIEND
There’s nothing like cold, hard numbers. Impeccable records are the best safeguard, so if you don’t already have an efficient system in place, start one now.
Some quick tips to get you started:
- Keep your receipts – all of them!
- Make sure all giving is fully documented. This includes monetary giving, but all other gifts should be recorded as well.
- Be wise about what you spend money on and how you communicate that. People are watching closely and make assumptions when they should be asking questions.
- Be timely in updating your records. You want to inspire confidence as you lead in this area and accurate information in a timely manner sets people at ease.
- If you don’t have access to a record or figure, don’t guess. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out and get back to you as soon as I know for sure.”
Inquiry access is your friend. When it’s just you and the numbers, it’s easy to miss blind spots. Find someone you trust who can provide a second set of eyes and keep you accountable, but don’t pick your best friend. You’re looking for an individual who’s trustworthy, independent, and willing to ask you the tough questions. Here’s how it works:
- Most financial institutions will allow you to designate a non-signer with the ability to log in to your account and keep an eye on things.
- Have them commit to logging in on a regular basis to monitor your church account and ask any questions that come up.
- then, commit to a regular time to discuss how you are spending the church's money with that person. Keep a record of those meetings and any questions that were asked.
- Invite general inquiries from the church. As a church plant, you’re mostly attracting unchurched folks – many of whom have tenuous associations with the money side of ministries. Show them you’re an open book and open the books.
This will keep you fresh in terms of answering those "gotcha" questions that may come up. Most importantly, it will protect the witness of the local church in an area (money), where past mismanagement has done plenty of reputational harm over the years.
I know that some of this sounds like additional work, but carving out time to preserve financial integrity is time very well spent. I want to encourage you to take these steps to protect both your reputation and the church plant that you've spent so much time nurturing.
If you need any additional help with these steps, the financial advisors at ECCU are ready and willing to take you through the process and share our suggestions for best practices. We look forward to talking with you. Contact us here, today.
BIO: Kurt Blake is an associate vice president at the Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU). Over the last 15 years he has worked with thousands of ministries to help align their finances to their mission. He has served as an elder, church treasurer, board member and CFO of an apologetics ministry.