Only one inch of bulletin space is usually all that is available to communicate a weekly financial update, and it is important to identify information that accurately paints a picture of where the church is financially and encourages people to be generous.
Going in the Wrong Direction
Many churches report only the budgeted giving, but this number has two significant limitations. First, this number is based on the expected level. If leaders expect the congregation to be generous, then the budget numbers might be four or five times higher. Why should a church assume its members won't be encouraged to give more this year?
Second, this seemingly simple number is difficult to interpret. If a church has higher than expected giving, does that mean further giving is not needed? Does this suggest that the church is growing in people, maturing in generosity, or both? Does a deficit signal to people, even visitors, that the church is in trouble?
Some churches report expenses incurred rather than budgeted giving. Yet this suffers from similar limitations. Does a deficit mean that church employees need to tighten their belts? Should planned ministries be cancelled? Should the pastor push people to give more? What if this is just a problem of timing? While expenses are spread evenly throughout the year, isn’t giving often concentrated at the end of the year?
Provide a More Robust Picture of Church Finances
Consider three alternative numbers that may help inform a congregation. Rotating these numbers from week to week (in addition to the more traditional numbers) provides a more robust picture of church finances.
- Impact of Investment
People want to know their money is actually making a difference for the kingdom. With many Christian organizations constantly appealing for financial support, it is important that members understand why giving to their church matters. The church leadership should identify the number that best reveals the effects of God’s work through the church. For example, how many people in the city or around the world heard the gospel from this church? How many people were given financial aid through the benevolence ministry? In other words, inform the congregation of how giving to their church is advancing the church at large. This approach may help church leaders consider not only how much money they are spending, but also how effectively they are spending it.
- Tithing Capacity
Sometimes it's only one third of the church that does the majority of the giving. With IRS statistics one can estimate the fraction of people’s income that is being given to the church. Try presenting this fact and encourage those who give a small percentage to consider increasing that percentage this year.
- Unmet Needs
To highlight the need for more giving, the budgeted numbers could be supplemented with unmet needs. This would focus the reader’s attention on the unbudgeted projects that need financial support. For example, when a missionary is unexpectedly requesting support, put it out to the congregation for their consideration. This number may help people to realize that their church’s effect on the community is limited when vital funding is absent. This would also help show that even a budgetary surplus does not mean the church has all it needs to provide critical ministry.
Jason MacGregor holds a PhD in accounting from the University of Florida and is Associate Professor of Accounting & Business Law at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
For more ways to encourage generosity in your ministry, check out Increase Giving at Church.