All posts from “March 2012”

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March 29, 2012

With Fraud Prevention, Patience and Planning Reign Supreme

How to deal with the fear of mismanaged funds in churches.

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Fraud prevention in churches isn’t an easy subject to bring up. The topic naturally creates tension, pushing up emotion levels with staff, lay leaders, and volunteers. And for good reason: One significant prevention tactic requires two people—not one—to handle the money collected at services. So, tactfully explaining to a sole financial worker or volunteer why more people are needed can be awkward. And in some cases, finding available staff or volunteers, and matching schedules to handle financial duties, may not be easy, further complicating the process and creating frustrations all around.

This topic struck a chord last summer when Vonna Laue, one of our Editorial Advisors, listed the top three reasons fraud happens in church. Many readers responded in the comment section. One church secretary described the weight of being the only person working on the church’s finances and her hopes that her pastor would someday agree to put more safeguards in place. Another church staff member took measures into her own hands to protect herself: “I insist on a minimum segregation of duties. I write checks but don't sign and I have a volunteer who does the bank reconciliation. I'm regularly surprised by folks who say, ‘Don't they trust you?’" Others described how safeguards help prevent false accusations.

Continue reading With Fraud Prevention, Patience and Planning Reign Supreme...

March 27, 2012

Giving Rebounded for Many Churches in 2011

State of the Plate survey shows 51 percent experienced increases

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A majority of churches reported giving increases in 2011, the first such occurrence in three years, according to results released today from the 2012 State of the Plate report.

The constituency survey of more than 1,360 pastors and leaders of Protestant churches nationwide showed 51 percent experienced increases in 2011 compared with 2010. Thirty-two percent said giving declined.

The reasons given for giving increases ranged from an improved local economy to increased attendance to more dedicated efforts to teach about giving and generosity.

With more funds, many churches expanded their budgets, spending more on missions, benevolence, and staff. Leaders also indicated an increasing acceptance of electronic giving options and a continued use of financial best practices to ensure accountability and transparency.

Among the highlights of the fourth annual survey, co-sponsored by MAXIMUM Generosity, Christianity Today’s Church Finance Today and Leadership Journal, and ECFA:

Continue reading Giving Rebounded for Many Churches in 2011...

March 26, 2012

Churchgoers Restrain Gunman During Sunday Service

Quick action helped prevent a shooting this past weekend.

A man armed with a shotgun entered worship services Sunday at a church in South Carolina. Quick—and courageous—action by attenders helped prevent a shooting.

The Huffington Post reports churchgoers watched through the church's windows as the 38-year-old assailant approached the building; half a dozen attenders responded when he burst through the doors, the website said.

As the man was led away by police he told reporters his children were recently taken away from him and he was "trying to get someone to listen to him," the site said.

Because of their accessibility, especially on weekends, churches sometimes receive visits from people who are troubled or upset. In a few instances, those people intend to do harm. Leadership teams can prepare ahead, though, to try and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. ChurchSafety.com offers the following preparation tips from its Confronting Gun Violence at Church training resource:

Continue reading Churchgoers Restrain Gunman During Sunday Service...

March 22, 2012

Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 3

Setting the church's direction shouldn't require blind obedience.

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Editor’s Note: Today is part three of a three-part series looking at the ways difficult decisions must be made, even when they’re sometimes risky. Part one looked at personnel decisions and part two looked at commitment and considering the good of many with decisions.

Using the principle of commitment for situations other than institutional ones compounds their difficulty.

It is perhaps easiest to confuse an institutional problem with a theological one and ask for obedience when commitment is necessary. For example, when a leader claims, "God told me to build this building," he has masked an institutional matter — will a new building help our church be more effective, and can we afford it? — as a theological issue. Instead of asking people to commit themselves to the hard work of determining building needs and projecting income, he demands their obedience by divine fiat.

Why does this type of confusion occur? Partly because there is a relationship between theology and the institution. Good theology undergirds all decisions in a church, whether institutional, interpersonal, or personal. Good theology increases the chances that a church will be a good institution. In an intriguing study reported in the Review of Religious Research, Doyle Johnson investigated the relationship between commitment to the church and the acting out of justice in the community. He found those persons most likely to be racially tolerant and working for social good in the community were also the most involved and committed to the institutional church.

Problems arise, however, when institutional decisions that call for a pragmatic answer are "solved" by demanding obedience. Demand obedience to a church leader on institutional matters, and cultic devotion usually results. Call for obedience to a group or institution, and chauvinism results. In institutional matters, discussion and give-and-take are needed, not unquestioning obedience.

Continue reading Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 3...

March 20, 2012

What Is Your Hope for the Church?

Tell us yours and then read what others are saying.

As I travel the country and interact with church administrators, executive pastors, treasurers, and bookkeepers, I’m often reminded of the steadfast commitment these people bring to their roles and their churches. Because of the nature of their duties and responsibilities—crunching numbers, hiring a new staff member, or implementing a new safety policy, to name a few—it’s easy for their work to go overlooked, at times even underappreciated. It’s unfortunate, because what these men and women do each day helps make ministry flow at churches throughout the country.

It’s also unfortunate because it’s easy for senior pastors, worship leaders, or church board chairs to forget that these men and women have visions, dreams, and hopes for their churches, too. They’re not all about paperwork and policies, although some may get energized by handling those things. They do their jobs because they want to serve the Lord, and as a part of that desire, they see new opportunities, dream big ideas, and genuinely hope their churches advance to greater heights.

Christianity Today, the global media ministry that publishes this site, recently unveiled a new look and a new initiative that encourages people of all backgrounds, roles, and responsibilities to share their hopes for the church. For those of you who regularly read this site, and deal with the administrative, accounting, legal, financial, and risk management duties in your churches, this is your invitation to join the conversation.

It’s my hope you feel valued, appreciated, and heard in your roles. Whether you are or aren’t, though, this is your opportunity to be heard on a larger platform. Take a few minutes to share your hope for the church right now (the first 1,000 to respond on ChristianityToday.org/Hope receive free, one-year subscriptions to Christianity Today magazine). Read what hundreds of others have already said. And spread the word to your friends, family, and social media networks (if you’re on Twitter, use #hopeforthechurch as your hashtag, and make sure to follow me at @MattBranaugh and tell me you’ve participated).

March 15, 2012

Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 2

Why commitment and considering the good of many is key in your decision.

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Editor’s Note: Today is part two of a three-part series looking at the ways difficult decisions must be made in churches, even when they’re sometimes risky. Part one looked at personnel decisions.

In deciding an institutional issue, church leaders should try to determine which alternative will serve the largest number of people. That is, what will allow 100 percent of the congregation to worship and serve God most effectively? In difficult situations, of course, 100-percent solutions may be impossible. Many decisions will satisfy only 90 percent; some only 60 or 70 percent. Truly agonizing decisions arise occasionally when the congregation is split evenly.

Institutional decisions can often be no-win situations. Our research has shown little correlation between making or not making these decisions and staying or leaving. Ministries may be forfeited either way. These are the truly selfless decisions, done for the good of the body, though recognition may not come for years, if ever.

One pastor remembered such a situation:

Continue reading Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 2...

March 13, 2012

Is Income Exceeding Expenses at Your Church?

Study shows more churches have experienced deficit spending.

Findings from the 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff reveal that the overall percentage of churches operating in the black—income EXCEEDS expenses—declined in almost every region.

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Continue reading Is Income Exceeding Expenses at Your Church?...

March 8, 2012

Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 1

Leaders sometimes need to make tough—even risky—decisions to keep the church unified and healthy.

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Editor’s Note: Today is the first of a three-part series looking at the ways difficult decisions must be made in churches.

Church institutional decisions may involve finances, facilities, or personnel, but their common denominator is that if ignored, the church will fragment, go bankrupt, suffer serious decline, or fail to realize its full potential.

Perhaps the toughest of these decisions is related to personnel, particularly when a staff member must be fired. There's risk in letting someone go.

Drexel Rankin, minister of Carmel (Indiana) Christian Church, remembers firing an organist:

Continue reading Needed Church Decisions, Unavoidable Risk: Part 1...

March 2, 2012

IRS Issues Alert for Scam Targeting Church Members, Seniors

Watch for these warning signs as scam circulates country.

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On Tuesday, we covered the latest "Dirty Dozen" tax scams the Internal Revenue Service flagged for individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and churches to avoid. Today, the IRS issued a new update regarding a specific scam circulating the country that targets senior citizens, working families, and members of churches.

The IRS says:

The scheme carries a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don’t have a tax filing requirement. Under the scheme, promoters claim they can obtain for their victims, often senior citizens, a tax refund or nonexistent stimulus payment based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, even if the victim was not enrolled in or paying for college.
In recent weeks, the IRS has identified and stopped an upsurge of these bogus refund claims coming in from across the United States. The IRS is actively investigating the sources of the scheme, and its promoters may be subject to criminal prosecution.

And then later:

Typically, con artists falsely claim that refunds are available even if the victim went to school decades ago. In many cases, scammers are targeting seniors, people with very low incomes and members of church congregations with bogus promises of free money.

Pastors and church leaders should watch for this kind of activity in their midst. Even if no signs point to its existence, it's wise for leaders to remind church members, especially senior citizens, that any claims sounding too good to be true usually are. The IRS also offers these tips and warning signs to share:

Continue reading IRS Issues Alert for Scam Targeting Church Members, Seniors...

March 1, 2012

Proper Payroll Withholdings Critical for Churches

Those who don't do it right face stiff penalties.

The recent payroll tax holiday extension keeps a 2-percent reduction for employee and clergy Social Security withholdings in place throughout 2012.

We've already covered what those rates should be on paychecks. But the reason why it is so important for churches to get all payroll withholdings--the payment of employee income and entitlement taxes--right is illustrated by the Feature Article in the upcoming March edition of Church Finance Today.

A federal court in North Carolina recently ruled that a minister met the definition of a “responsible person” under section 6672 of the tax code, and therefore the IRS could assess a penalty against the pastor in the amount of 100 percent of the payroll taxes that were not withheld or paid over to the government by the church.

Continue reading Proper Payroll Withholdings Critical for Churches...