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Church finances: Involve, teach and share the budget

SUMMARY: Most people in your congregation probably don't think about church finances beyond their own gifts. Yet as you know, church finances go far beyond managing donated money. Why not tell your congregation how your church collects, processes and distributes the dollars it receives? Better yet, involve your congregation in the finances.

When congregants understand church's finances, they may be more likely to give. Unless you educate them, people may have misperceptions about how their gifts are used or how their giving supports both the local church and connectional ministries. This year, go beyond simply including a financial statement in the bulletin. Start the financial education.

1. Expect little or no knowledge.
Don't assume your congregation knows how to read financial statements. Most people know the basics - money in, money out. However, they may not understand how the financial statement shows net income, expenses, restricted funds and so forth. When you present the statement, include text that summarizes what it means. Is there a net gain or a loss? How do the restricted fund line items affect the budget? Consider using a narrative budget this year. The General Board of Discipleship has a great article to help you develop one.

Separately, identify the background and experience of your finance committee chair. The individual may be willing to serve, but lack the education of a financial expert. Provide access to training and consider paying for assistance from a professional.

2. Think outside the box.
Convert your numbers into graphics such as pie charts to show percentages or graphs to make year-to-year comparisons. Make sure the numbers are accurate. Proofread the graphics. Add the pie-chart numbers to ensure they total 100 percent. Add text explanations when illustrations may be confusing.

3. Share the budget.
Even if you don't list every line item, include the major categories. Members can see where the money is going - what percentage goes to facilities, administrative costs, service and outreach, mission and apportionments. Umcgiving.org is a great resource to learn and share about connectional giving. In the Connectional Giving resource section you can download or order the free United Methodist Church Handbook, which explains apportioned funds, Special Sundays and shows where the U.S. local church expense dollars go. The handbook also includes church history, maps depicting central and jurisdictional annual conferences, as well as information about online courses and church structure.

4. Involve church groups.
As the budgeting process begins, ask each committee or group that relies on church funds to propose its budget. A template makes it easy for groups to indicate the dollars requested and plans for spending the money. Have those requesting funds connect giving to mission by detailing the expected impact of the group's activities.

5. Go beyond numbers.
The church is about more than the bottom line. The United Methodist Church is about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Create a clear and concise annual report that includes stories of how the dollars were used as well as concrete financial data. Support the written report with personal testimonies during worship or your charge conference.

6. Connect frequently.
Testimonies throughout the year about the impact of the church's ministries will keep people inspired and motivated. Inform people regularly. Take snippets from the annual report or share new stories each week on the church's website and in the bulletin. Always connect numbers to impact. Frequent communication will do more to nurture a culture of giving than will a big, once-a-year event.

7. Be accountable.
The Book of Discipline requires an annual audit, one way to create a system of transparency and accountability. Share the audit report at charge conference to strengthen your congregation's confidence in how the church manages the gifts it receives. For more information, use Cokesbury's Guidelines resource, Finance: Funding Ministries That Nurture Persons in Their Faith.