On Following the Offering Bucket Into the Back Room
Imagine five people living in a house. In order to pay all the bills and expenses of the home, the 5 roommates are asked to give a certain high percentage (and hopefully more) of their hard earned wages. One roommate will oversee that pool of money and also, instead of having to work will draw their wages from it. Now imagine that person saying, “Because I am trustworthy I will keep our budget, expense sheets, salary, and any other uses of the money confidential to myself. And please don’t ask why.” Who would write that check?
I’d like to propose complete financial transparency in churches.
Churches are like that house and are made up of people who have a vested interest in what the church does. Whether that’s Sunday morning services, outreach, equipping people of faith, providing youth initiatives, mission trips, divorce, single mom and homeless care…the list goes on. I know I’m not including everything, that’s not my point. My point is this: the people who make up churches are the ones who finance churches.
Millions of dollars go in and then out of churches every year. People freely give large percentages of their net income (we’re talking up to and sometimes beyond 10%). As people give, they of course receive an end-of-year giving statement, but most times, nothing more. Sure, there are snazzy videos made of what initiatives are going on (where their money is going), and people are aware that their giving feeds into the pastor and administration salaries…but how does it all work? Who gets paid what, and where does the rest go?
The church serves its community. It’s funded by people, and those people - I am proposing - should know where their money goes. Not generally, but specifically. We call on big businesses to be transparent with their finances, we make it an absolute priority to know politician money manners when voting…so why not be consistent with that desire and seek to understand where the donated funds go within churches? Do you realize that your pastoral staff is paid by you? It’s almost like they are paid to serve you…hmm.
When I think of complete financial transparency, I think of Mercy Ministries. This organization provides free-of-charge residential counseling for girls ages 13-28 with life-controlling issues. They don’t receive government funding, and they give 10% of their proceeds to other charities.
As a 501(c)3 charity, Mercy is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) and has maintained a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. Only 6% of charities receive this high of rating for the amount of time Mercy has. What does that say? That says Mercy is baller, legit, and straight up kicks ass when it comes to being a Christian organization that does amazing things in an excellent way.
Churches educate, equip, empower, and give time, money, and resources. In the Bible, people are exhorted to give to the poor, take care of the orphan, and look after the widow. In that regard, Mercy is a branch of the church. So then as church establishments also seek to do similar things through various initiatives - how are church members and web browsers to know that churches are doing these things? Yes, videos and brochures cover it all: mission trips, church planting, adoption funds, etc. but where are the financial statements? An independent audit? The breakdown is probably not posted for you to see. For some churches, it is - I honor Pastor Tim Keller’s church in NYC (Redeemer Presbyterian Church). Their financials are clearly broken down and posted online. But somehow most people in most churches never say, “wait a minute, I want to know what I am paying for, and who I am paying and how much.”
Why not ask of your church what you ask of your charity? As people give to Mercy Ministries, they know where each dollar goes. And for most people - giving to Mercy is less percentage out of income than is giving to church. More clearly - let’s say you give 1% of what you make as a gift to a charity, and then 10% of what you make to your church. That’s your tithe, and your offering. Except you don’t know exactly where that higher percentage goes, and you know exactly where the smaller does. Sound off? I thought so too. You don’t give your money to charities without knowing exactly what the charity does…so why not do the same with your church? What if you didn’t give anything more until you knew exactly where it was all going? What if?