Facing Financial Facts at Church

What are the financial facts in your congregation? For example:

  • What are the trends in giving and expenses?
  • What is the giving pyramid – how many givers do you have at successive giving levels?
  • What is the pace of income through the year – what percentage comes in during December each year?
  • What percentage of income goes to ministries outside your congregation?

Who knows what the facts are? Leaders in churches of all sizes can find it a challenge to get a handle on the facts – and to handle their own and others’ anxiety about those facts. Whether your treasurer has a shoebox of papers or uses a sophisticated system to analyze the data, you may find information elusive.

One new church treasurer found that the outgoing treasurer never had time to explain the information in his confusing records. In another church, the finance committee was in a panic from January until December 31, when the end-of-year giving took care of the perceived deficit, every single year.

Facts and anxiety are in an inverse relationship. The higher the anxiety, the more difficult it can be to get good information. And the more leaders avoid, hide or waffle about facts, the higher anxiety can go.

The antidote: as always, work on your own anxiety. Stay calm and don’t panic. Work over time to get as many facts as possible. In highly anxious churches, this can be difficult.

Here are seven tips for dealing with financial facts:

  1. Be as open as possible.
  2. Even difficult facts, calmly presented by leadership with the message, “We can handle this,” help calm people down.
  3. Be patient – in some churches it may take several years to get good reports.
  4. Present financial information in visual and/or story form. Most people fade out when pages of numbers are presented.
  5. Don’t try to convince people things are better than they think (the cheerleader approach). Simply state your own view.
  6. Don’t try to convince people things are worse than they think (the Chicken Little approach).
  7. Overcommunicate. Remember that anxiety is like static – it makes it hard for people to receive information. This may be especially true of financial information.

4 Responses to Facing Financial Facts at Church

  1. Rev Jim Hinds says:

    Margaret, you observations are spot on. There is often lots of data (not always in the best format for review) available on giving and spending. And there is, sadly, an inability or a fear of spending time with fincial figures. Decades ago I served as church treasurer. This ministry built off a facility (thanks be to God) to peruse and pull out salient points from finacial reports. For years I worked to streamline the report process – not to hide but to uncover the ‘facts’ for those who needed to review them. It did not always work, but it left me more prepared now as a pastor to review reports and instruct others in creating and reviewing finance reports. And as always, seeking clarity and transparency is the best policy.
    Pastor Jim

  2. P.H. says:

    Thx for the very helpful post.
    Regrettably, financial folks @ my congregation see things differently.
    They seem to be very suspicious of this radical concept we call “transparency”, immediately jumping to the conclusion that it *must* include a line-by-line name-by-name disclosure (regardless of the number of times this is clarified).
    Two neighboring congregations exhibit a different form of trust – listing a weekly money in/money out feature in the bulletins.
    If nothing else, it helps the congregant see that phone bills arrive each month, whether the family is in the pew that week/month or not.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      It can be a very long process to help people move in the direction of greater openness. I think what helps most is saying clearly what you think without trying too hard to convince others of your point of view. Patience also helps.

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