Caring for offerings and honoring the giver are also keys to good stewardship
by the Rev. Jody Mask for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service
Reflecting the ecumenical spirit of Stewardship Kaleidoscope, Mark Stauffer, past Council president and treasurer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Rev. Joseph Moore, Ministry Relations Officer of the Presbyterian Foundation, co-presented a workshop called “Stewardship After the Gift.”
In it, they informed participants how churches can care for the offerings they receive in a way that honors the giver, inspires confidence in a congregation’s attentiveness to details and protects all parties involved when it comes to the fraught circumstances of handling money.
One point they emphasized at the outset is that pastors should be involved in stewardship matters. It is theologically incorrect to assume that giving is going to happen, as well as practically egregious.
So while pastors should not be the only ones who have a stake in church fiduciary responsibility, they cannot ignore it.
Cutting out risk and temptation
To illustrate this necessity, Moore told the story of a church member who periodically taped a brown paper bag full of $100 bills to the church door. Though he could appreciate her desire for anonymity, a conversation was necessary to emphasize the outsized interest of security and accountability when it comes to church giving. After all, “we assume people are not going to steal — until they do!”
The temptation of theft is one of the many pastoral care issues surrounding church finances. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money and its ability to corrupt. Churches should have many systems in place related to handling monetary gifts, whether they are the usual weekly offering gifts or special gifts as part of a larger campaign.
Most important of all, however, is gratitude for the gift, and telling givers, “Thank you.” Stauffer and Moore emphasized the primacy of this simple yet often overlooked act that cultivates continued giving. “Say thank you — early, often, authentically.”
A more contentious idea is whether pastors should know who gives regularly. Data supports the idea, according to the Foundation. Despite the fact that churches have a different grounding ethos than most non-profit entities, the fact remains that every successful non-profit has leaders who know who gives.
Honoring God with good policies
Undisputed, however, is that how we handle money in churches honors God and those who give. Poor financial management practices discourage generous giving. Both pastors and church councils have important financial oversight responsibilities. The reality is that one-third of churches suffer from some form of financial misconduct. Among churches that self-report internal fraud, the average loss is $70,000.
Though financial oversight in congregations includes pastors, councils, treasurers, bookkeepers, and auditors, one of the simplest safety measures is the “rule of twos” that says two people must be present when counting the offering. The same philosophy applies to other financial operations so that one person is not burdened with the temptation to commit fraud. Importantly, even opening the mail should be done by two people — something that many churches do not do.
Smaller churches face more challenges in establishing security protocols, according to one small-church pastor who was present in the workshop. Moore recommended sending quarterly giving statements, encouraging online giving and establishing independent review of cash account reconciliations and staff expenses.
When it comes to special gifts like memorials and restricted fund donations, it is important that those gifts be used as intended, and not pooled with operational income. To ensure this, maintain separate bank accounts for such funds and document the nature of each fund and their associated transactions on separate ledger sheets or spreadsheets.
Also, the treasurer (ideally, the pastor and session too) should review balances monthly, and funds should not languish, but be spent for the purposes desired by the giver.
Financial management systems
The presenters concluded the workshop with tips for selecting electronic financial management systems. The best of these track membership, contributions, the general ledger, financial reporting and bill payment/check writing. Cloud-based systems relieve churches of worrying about backups and other computer hardware considerations. Stauffer recommended systems specifically designed for churches. If practical, he also recommended outsourcing financial records management to firms that specialize in churches.
Though well-established churches may have many of the tips in their workshop already in place, the workshop had something for both experienced and inexperienced church leadership alike. In this way, it was both ecumenical and sensitive to the importance of constantly communicating faithful financial practices in church contexts.
The Rev. Jody Mask is a member-at-large of Central Florida Presbytery. He is a native and current resident of Orlando, Florida. He loves distance running and nature hiking as ways to be generous to his health. He is thankful that the Presbyterian Foundation provided him the opportunity to experience the Stewardship Kaleidoscope Conference, and encourages pastors, elders and other church leaders to attend Stewardship Kaleidoscope in Minneapolis in 2023.
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