Church Leadership
4 More Church Finance Lessons I Learned The Hard Way
Money touches everything we do, but most pastors haven't been taught as much about it as we should have been.

Most pastors get a lot of training before we go into full-time ministry. We learn about theology, preaching, counseling and more.

But the one aspect of ministry that most of us get the least amount of teaching on is one that touches everything we do. Money.

Because of this, most pastors learn about church finances the hard way – by making mistakes as we go along.

In a recent article, I wrote about 5 Church Budgeting Lessons I Learned The Hard Way. Here are 4 more lessons I’ve learned the hard way about church finances:

1. Trust, But Verify

I don’t want to minister in a church in which people don’t trust each other. And I refuse to work with leaders I can’t trust.

But trusting each other doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put proper financial checks and balances in place.

Trusting each other doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put proper financial checks and balances in place.

For instance, from the moment the offering is received until it is deposited into the bank (or into a sealed bank envelope) no one should be alone with the money.

Not only does this make theft and mishandling less likely, it also reduces the likelihood that innocent people will be accused of impropriety.

Also, if you have an in-house person do the bookkeeping, have a qualified person outside their congregation take a look at the books at least once a year. This keeps the records clean and stops potential problems from being overlooked.

And no, this doesn’t have to cost too much (or any) money. If you’re in a denomination, ask someone in their finance department to go over the books for you. If not, ask the pastor at another church in town if their treasurer or in-house bookkeeper can give your books the once-over. You might be surprised at their willingness to help out.

How I Learned The Hard Way

On two occasions, we’ve had people mishandle our church finances.

I was caught off-guard the first time and it cost us a great deal of money, because I was trusting, but not verifying.

But after putting proper checks and balances in place, when it happened the second time, as painful as it was to be betrayed, we caught the problems early and minimized the damage.

2. Invest In A Sturdy Safe

Then bolt it to the floor. And put the offering in it as soon as it’s collected.

How I Learned The Hard Way

Several years ago we lost an entire offering that we thought had been placed somewhere that no one knew about. But it wasn’t locked and someone found it during the service.

All the cash was lost for good. And even though we put the word out to those who wrote checks, less than half of those checks were rewritten.

What we lost on that one Sunday would have paid for several large, solid safes with changeable combinations.

3. Behind On Bills? Talk To Your Utilities, Vendors And Lenders

Your mortgage company doesn’t want to foreclose on you. The electricity company doesn’t want to turn your power off. The plumber doesn’t want to sue you to get paid for the emergency work that was done.

The Bible says “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). While that passage specifically refers to our relationship with God, it’s also true with people. And, believe-it-or-not, with banks and businesses.

Before letting the bills pile up, call the bank, vendor or business. Let them know you’re having trouble. Ask for debt reduction, consolidation or outright forgiveness.

Most banks and businesses would rather settle for a percentage of the bill than to take a church to court.

Most banks and businesses would rather settle for a percentage of the bill than to take a church to court.

Ask. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll get.

How I Learned The Hard Way

In my first pastorate, we went through a significant downturn in finances for a while. Instead of asking our vendors for forgiveness or a delay in paying, we cut back on doing ministry.

One day, when I went in to pay the utility bill at the last second, the helpful clerk asked me if the church needed some help.

I admitted that we did, they set up a reasonable payment and rate reduction, which allowed us to get back on our feet again. If I’d asked for help earlier, we’d have saved a lot of money, worry and ministry.

4. Ask About Non-Profit And Religious Exemptions And Discounts

There are a lot of businesses that offer discounts for non-profits. If you pastor in the United States and your church files as a 501C(3) non-profit entity, you will qualify for them. From discounts, to special offers, to cash back and more.

But it won’t happen automatically. You have to ask.

How I Learned The Hard Way

Despite living in the middle of a heavily-populated area, our church is in a black hole, tech-wise.

For years, the only internet we could get was so ridiculously expensive and so slow that most of the staff went home when they needed decent internet access.

Finally, someone thought to ask an internet provider, “do you have a non-profit division?” As soon as we did that, everything changed. We were no longer under commercial rate restrictions and they had an answer that was fast and reasonably priced.

Learn From The Mistakes Of Others

Far too many churches – especially the smaller churches I’m blessed to work with – don’t have a lot of these basics in place. Not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because they haven’t been taught. I wasn’t.

Leaning from our mistakes is good. Learning from other people’s mistakes so we don’t have to make them ourselves?

That’s even better.

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December 21, 2018 at 10:50 AM

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