Last month’s column on conflict struck a responsive chord, judged by the abundance of e-mails and letters we received. The handling of money, of course, is one of those administrative activities that, if done well, receives little attention or thanks. But when it’s handled badly, look out! “Who authorized $15,000 for a bus?” “How long has it been since the last financial audit?” “Year after year we increase each line item in the budget 2 percent. Shouldn’t this congregation’s priorities be reflected in the budget?”
Consider these five best practices that can make a positive difference in your congregation.
• Build a budget to strengthen mission. The budget-building process is an opportunity to clarify, support and change, when necessary, the congregation’s sense of mission. “This year your council and finance committee are proposing an increase of $12,000 in outreach programs, bringing us closer to our understanding of who God is calling us to be in this place at this time.” This statement from a congregational treasurer is qualitatively different from: “Each item has been increased 2 percent based on last year’s experience.” One treasurer used the headings of the budget proposal as a framework for interpretation and inspiration. “Last year,” “this year” and “next year” marked the congregation’s journey toward greater faithfulness to its calling.
• Report financial information often, accurately and make it interesting. There are two ways to hide a congregation’s true financial situation: give too little information (“What are they hiding?”) or too much information (“What are they hiding?”). One congregation asked eight members to meet for two hours one evening to critique finance reports from the last year. Report preparers, who could listen but not respond, gained a sense of what members really needed and wanted to know, and what formats they found helpful, interesting and inspiring.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers