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Visionary pastors shouldn’t employ visionary accounting practices

A Southern California presbytery works with immigrant worshiping communities to help them develop strong accounting systems

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jon Moore

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Jon Moore, a mission engagement advisor for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, had a real-life example to explain the relationship new worshiping communities have with the presbyteries in which they do ministry.

As part of the online Pandemic & Property conference put on by the Mid Council Financial Network, Moore appeared alongside Kathy Hill Long, the business manager for the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. They called their Wednesday workshop “New Worshiping Communities and Property.”

Moore said the presbytery has administrative guidelines in place for groups seeking to be recognized as an official new worshiping community. “A lot of communities see themselves as a Bible fellowship,” Long said. “There may be cultural differences” — for example, “everything is run on a handshake and a promise. But they are also a business, and this is what we do for our best practices.”

All seven new worshiping communities in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos are new immigrant communities, Long said. “Some are so new they take all their donations in cash and keep them in a shoebox, with no financial accounting.”

That kind of practice doesn’t last long. “We train them just as we would a church,” she said. “I offer hand-holding for them for quite some time.”

“Part of my job is customer service,” Long said. “I tell them they can call me as many times as they want. It is much easier to steer them in the right direction in the beginning than clean up the mess afterward.”

Those worshiping teams must also regularly transmit reporting to Moore and his team.

Kathy Hill Long

“With new and different ideas about ministry comes new ideas about how to finance ministry,” she said. “We have visionary pastors, but that doesn’t mean they should have creative visions in accounting and finance.”

Moore said the Presbytery of Los Ranchos’ new worshiping communities must pay their employees through the presbytery’s payroll system. California law allows almost no one to be paid as an independent contractor — including church musicians, Long said. “I have to catch up with a lot of people” in order to help worshiping communities to pay their employees, she said, “but we want to do it the right way from the beginning.”

New worshiping communities are encouraged to use online giving methods, including the online giving program offered by the Presbyterian Foundation. Learn more about that program here.

Among the quarterly reports Moore receives from new worshiping communities: a balance sheet, an income report, a dedicated account statement, weekly giving and attendance, and minutes of the meetings of the partnership team and/or administrative commission meetings.

They’re also required to file an annual report. “We try to make it easy to prepare while keeping it accurate,” Moore said. “We try not to create a lot of work that frustrates the new worshiping community and yet gets us the information we need.”

He encouraged churches nesting a worshiping community to have a facilities use agreement in place. The worshiping community must also have a sexual harassment prevention policy in place as well as screening for staff and volunteers.

These six characteristics help demonstrate a worshiping community is ready to be chartered as a church, Moore said:

  • It has a defined and articulated mission
  • It has leadership trained and equipped to lead the mission
  • It has a sustained structure of support
  • It is committed to the larger covenant community of the PC(USA)
  • It is a training and sending community
  • It has completed all denominational and state requirements for incorporation.

“We have done that with two new worshiping communities [in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos] over four years,” and another is “in the process of being chartered,” Moore said.

Learn more about the new worshiping communities in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos here.

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