The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) recently hosted a webinar focused on church governance, finance, and stewardship. The organization invited Eric Heard, the stewardship pastor of Mariners Church; Cathi Linch, the financial operations leader of LifeChurch.tv; and Mark Davis, former executive pastor and CFO of Calvary Chapel, to speak.
Heard, Linch, and Davis all bring unique experiences and perspectives to the often highly nuanced conversations surrounding church financial leadership and planning. One consistent thread emerged from their presentation: The need to create and maintain a healthy financial culture within the local church.
Churches of all sizes will benefit when they pay attention to these three areas in particular:
No. 1: Giving as worship in a digital age. Heard, who oversees the weekly giving habits of a megachurch in Irvine, California, covered the potential pitfalls and benefits of online giving and tithing, which can affect more than the financial realities of the church. They also affect the spiritual side of giving, potentially detracting from a church's desire to foster a worshipful, generous heart, Heard said. Heard said that tithing online can feel akin to "paying your cable bill" via auto-draft, and that it can become overly mechanized.
Positively, Heard has noticed that many of his congregants appreciate the intentionality of online giving. Instead of giving whatever they feel like at the time or just what happens to be in their wallets each week, people have to be thoughtful upfront about what they choose to consistently give. This is helpful to the givers, and it's also immensely helpful, from a budgeting standpoint, to the church. This approach standardizes a percentage of the overall giving, so churches know what to expect in their future planning.
Heard said online giving is extremely beneficial so long as a church can stay true to its mission and vision, while not compromising the experience of the giver.
No. 2: When the growing gets tough, the tough get growing. The presenters also focused on the challenges of scaling up finance operations. Linch said "small churches grow larger, and large churches go multisite." And when churches experience rapid growth, they often have a difficult time revamping their finance operations without erring in one of two directions. Leadership either can lose sight of the living, breathing, and organic nature of the church and become overly focused on efficiency, or, leadership can over-emphasize flexibility and accidentally mismanage its resources. Either way can be detrimental to the financial culture and general health of the church.
Linch directs churches to follow clear, day-to-day standards. In addition to assessing risks, Linch instructs financial officers to minimize time delays in processing transactions and be sure to limit the number of hands that touch each transaction. A few seemingly simple guidelines can contribute greatly to establishing healthy church finances, because they're manageable and demonstrate transparency and trust by the church's financial operations team.
No. 3: The culture of accountability. Davis stressed the need for authentic accountability within church financial leadership (and church governance in general). He suggested each church take an inventory of current practices in order to gain a pulse for the governance component of financial leadership. Leaders need to ask questions like: Where are we? Where do we want to be? What are other churches [who we would like to emulate] doing? What are the "Biblical Best Practices"? What is most important?
After answering those types of questions, it is crucial to examine your leadership on an individual level. Davis said that as churches grow, it's important to take time and evaluate leadership. A treasurer for a church of 90 people may not be best suited to be the financial officer of a church that grows to several thousand. Additionally, a corporate CPA may not be the best candidate for the treasurer role at a small rural church. Personnel, not just programs, matter deeply.
Appropriate habits of giving, growing, and internal accountability all contribute to a thriving financial culture. When attempting to assess your own church's financial health, check out The Essential Guide to Internal Controls. For best practices for your church's financial leadership, download our ebook, Essential Guide to Money for Church Boards, or view our download, Managing Your Church's Financial Future.
Andrew Stoddard is an editorial intern for the Church Law & Tax Group, joining us from Moody Bible Institute, where he serves as an adjunct faculty member. He recently graduated from Wheaton College with his Masters in Arts in both Historical and Systematic Theology and Biblical Studies. He assists with the creation of eBooks, and provides editorial support for Church Law & Tax Report, Church Finance Today, and ChurchLawAndTax.com.
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