Trust is becoming an increasingly difficult commodity to gain and keep, especially when it comes to dealing with finances. The last few decades seem marred with stories of financial infidelity, misappropriations, and embezzlement. Companies like Enron, Lehman Bros., Tyco, and others often make headlines due to their very public scandals. But nothing seems to catch the public’s attention quite like a church in a position of fraud or impropriety. As non-profit organizations, Churches depend on donations to fulfill their mission. For many, donating to a church is a huge step of faith. And it shows a level of buy-in by the person making the donation that they support and believe in the mission. While most churches are worthy of trust and steward the money entrusted to them well, one simple act demonstrates accountability and builds upon that trust – sharing the annual budget.
According to a Christianity Today article from 2017, about 10% of protestant churches experience embezzlement. A glass-half-full kind of person would say 90% is pretty good on the trustworthiness scale. Maybe in the secular sector, that’s good, but churches should be above reproach; churches should set the standard for handling money in a way that honors God. As far back as the ten commandments in Exodus, God said not to steal. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul taught that “the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10.
One way to gain and increase the congregation’s trust is to build, follow, and share the church budget. Yes, every church should create a budget regardless of size, denomination, or donation amount.
Build – Follow – Share
- A budget shows the congregation the allocation of their donated money, and it’s a tool to fund the vision and advance the mission. Building a budget is a significant investment in time, taking up to 5 months from start to finish.
- Of course, it takes more than just building a budget – the church must follow it. After all, a budget is not a theory; it’s a working document to guide the church in maximizing the use of donations and that spending aligns with the mission, vision, and goals for the fiscal year.
- But the church should not keep the budget a secret. It’s the act of sharing this valuable information that provides accountability and transparency that builds trust between the church, its donors, and a watching world.
Transparency vs. Privacy
While sharing the budget with the church is imperative to building trust, sharing too much personal information, especially about how much an employee makes, is not advisable. Experts agree that sharing church budget data while shielding personal data is possible. Instead of listing the individual salary for each staff member, provide a summary of total compensation. The same strategy works for missionary support; provide a summary total instead of a list.
In a world becoming increasingly cynical and suspicious of how organizations manage money, churches should be the shining example of stewardship and accountability. Providing the congregation with the church budget is a simple way to show transparency and accountability.