Missouri Woman Admits to $140,000 Church Theft
Practices church leaders can use to protect funds.

A woman in Missouri pleaded guilty last week to stealing nearly $140,000 while serving as the treasurer of a local church and its denomination's local governing organization. According to a Kansas City-based news website, the woman wrote checks to herself, overstated various expenses, or received reimbursements for expenses that never occurred. She faces severe penalties, including up to 10 years in prison without parole.

As lawmakers closely study financial accountability in local churches, it's important to note that these types of cases are the exception, not the rule, across the country (although two more headlines emerged here and here this week, sobering reminders that the threat remains real). Leaders must build healthy practices and procedures at their churches to protect the money entrusted to them by those who attend.

To get started, or to refresh your memory and test your knowledge, use this Weekly Lesson and related interactive quiz created by Richard Hammar for church board members (get similar lessons every week for free by signing up here).

As a next step, consider our Internal Controls for Church Finances, a downloadable training tool to equip paid staff and lay leaders, and from there, the Essential Guide to Church Finances as the final, comprehensive resource to reference whenever needed.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Church Bookkeeper

May 10, 2011  10:40am

Unfortunately I work for a church where this very thing can easily take place. I am the bookkeeper here and there are no internal controls or at least very little. The church treasure gets weekly reports but he has not seen them in a month and when it comes to making financial decisions for the church he asks me what is going on as he doesn't really know except for what the numbers tell him. I have done all I know to put protective measures in place and to make sure that I don't have the opportunity to set myself up to embezzle from the church. I keep copies of all reports that I send out and don't pay any major bills unless I get approval from the pastor or treasurer. Then whenever I need to be reimbursed for items I purchased for the church. I always get the pastor's approval first. I wish leadership would be more proactive in this, but there is nothing I can do at this point.

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May 07, 2011  9:20am

A situation like this took place at the church/school I attended years ago. The treasurer had embezzled over $300,000 which eventually led to the closure of the school. At that time only one signature was required for each check...the treasurers. If two signatures had been required this may not have happened.

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