BUDGETING & My Video Introduction to Church Finances, Accounting & Budgeting

The area of church finances and accounting is woefully neglected in many of the churches I encounter. This video introduces learning activities that can be utilized by  my clients, colleagues and students to analyze their current financial practices … and improve them.

©️Bob Whitesel 2017, used by permission only.

COMMITMENT & 6 Ideas That Can Increase Giving and Community

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and the 2017 Missional Coaches Cohort, 2/1/17.

  • Annually teach on giving.
    • Teach as a two-week series [studies show one week isn’t enough; three weeks people get bored / annoyed]. Offer it in January or February, after everyone’s Christmas bills come in and household budget/resource allocation is a priority.
    • When teaching on giving, teach on graduated giving – meaning, if you don’t
      give at all, where could you start? If you do give, but give less than 10%, how
      could you increase to the next percentage? If you give 10% or above, could you begin increasing giving to the next percentage as a ‘legacy gift’ to the church?
  • Annually review tithes & offerings.
    • Who knows who gives, and how much? Who knows who’s not giving, or has
      slacked off in giving? John Maxwell suggests the Treasurer, Senior Pastor, and Exec Pastor know in order to pray for givers & giving, and lean into those needing encouragement.
  • Annually review ministry priorities.
    • Get key staff and board together for a half-day or full day of ministry review. Are you most important ministries getting significant resources for ministry?
    • If they’re not, they might not be as high a priority as you think they are. Make adjustments as necessary.
  • Offer Stewardship classes.
    • Twice a year, offer Financial Peace Classes [or similar program].
    • Rather than a staff or board member, attempt to have a key layperson whose financial affairs are in order teach the class, in order to avoid people viewing church leaders as greedy for resources.
  • Expand giving options.
    • Do you offer a variety of ways to give such as: text-to-give, webpage for
      automatic giving, or giving kiosks? What does live giving look like in your church?
    • Do you have special giving opportunities – a campaign to pay down debt / faith promise giving for missions? Beyond weekly / monthly giving, what special giving emphases could be created?
  • Tell stories about giving.
    • Who’s willing to share live or via video a story of how God stretched them to give more generously/sacrificially? Who’s been blessed by receiving a gift through the church? What ministries could you highlight that wouldn’t exist without giving?
    • Interview some older folks who are long-time members. Ask about the vision and mission of the church, and how they see it being fulfilled. Ask them how they prayed and gave in the early days for God to bless and expand the church’s reach.
    • Interview younger folks, families, or individuals who are new. Ask about their experience being welcomed or helped. Use questions in these video stories to connect the dots between giving and outreach / mission accomplishment.

© Bob Whitesel DMin PhD & MissionalCoaches.com #PowellChurch

FINANCES & The LESSON From the Leadership Exercise on Restricted Funds

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 4/21/16.

There is an important leadership lesson from the leadership exercise titled: FINANCES & A Leadership Exercise on the Dilemma of Restricted Funds.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get it right the first time.  Most people don’t.

You see this lesson is … that we tend to look at such dilemmas from the viewpoint of the organization and not the individual.

Most leaders describe how they would explain to the donor the needs of the organization. Very few of leaders in this exercise delve into the donor’s needs and reasons for the donation.

  • Perhaps the donor himself had been impacted by youth ministry and it had changed his life.
  • Or perhaps the donor had a misspent youth and didn’t want other young people to experience the same thing.

In most leaders’ responses the focus is on explaining to the donor the good reasons why the organization needed his money. Often responses revolved around the leader trying to justify that, “if the boiler is not dealt with, there would neither be church nor youth meeting” (a student’s own words).  Sometimes leaders even seem to be offended if the donor didn’t relinquish control and wished him well in another church if he did not agree with them.

But we need to be reminded that the church is people and it could still meet in another locale, as could the youth.  The boiler was chosen by me as an example because it directly represents the “physical” needs, not the “spiritual” needs of a faith community.  Both are important and linked, but the latter trump the former.

In our rush to feed the organization, do we miss feeding the spiritual needs of people?

Not many of my students get the right answer and their grade often reflects that. They understand that’s only fair … and they wouldn’t want me to grade any other way.

Now, you might argue that Paul says in Romans 12: 8 that “If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.” (CEB)  And Paul is certainly making the point that we should strive for these behaviors because such behaviors are signs of spiritual maturity.

But, what if the donor isn’t spiritually mature yet? Are we really helping him mature by trying to get him to relinquish or change he designation?  Wouldn’t it be more helpful to go to him, listen to him and learn what motivated his gift?

Thus, I hope you will take away from this case study our lesson: that lesson is that we tend to look at such dilemmas from the viewpoint of the organization and not the individual.

If this lesson sinks in (and I know it will for most who read this) then in the future…

  • You would go to the individual spend time with him.
  • You would learn about what he wanted to accomplish with the donation.
  • You would spend more time listening and less time explaining.
  • You would spend less time considering this money the church’s money and more time understanding that the Holy Spirit was at work in this donor’s heart.
  • And you would probably end up with a more spiritually mature donor.

This is a much better and I think more Christ-like approach.

FINANCES & A Final Thought About the Use (and Abuse) of Restricted Funds

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/11/15.

As you may have noted from my Leadership Exercise titled “A Leadership Exercise on the Dilemma of Restricted Funds,” this is a sticky area.  And, the law can be interpreted differently depending on what state you are in and to whom you are talking.  Thus, the best advice is to seek professional advice (legal and financial) before taking action.  Remember, the laws are too varied per state and the circumstances too diverse (e.g. was the money solicited, was it restricted specifically or generally, etc. etc.?).

Part of the reason for this leadership exercise is to remind us that though we are studying fiscal concepts this week, the answer to specific church dilemmas may lie in local, indigenous and professional advice …. not in our textbooks.

Thus, though many churches shy away from getting professional help from a lawyer and/or a CPA on such matters, it is imperative we do so.  Professionals often tell me that churches prefer to do things themselves, and do so to their determent.  Don’t let this be the case with your congregation.  Help your congregation see that professionals in the community are God-given resources to help the church move ahead legally, ethically and with her testimony intact.

The answer is: get advice from local professionals 🙂

FINANCES & State of the Plate Research

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  Here is an article to assist in making sound financial judgments (and to underscore the relevance of this finances for leaders).  It is called the “State of the Plate” report and it is the research of Christianity Today and Leadership.  It was shared with me my one of our adjunct instructors, Professor Halee Scott.  Here it what she found:


FINANCES & How Much Should Be Spent on Staff Salaries? Research Tells Us.

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/6/15.

A common question I receive is, “How much of a church’s budget should be spent on staff salaries?” And, my friend and colleague Warren Bird of Leadership Network has done some remarkable and helpful work on this.

His insights can be found here: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100408/survey-explores-churches-with-lean-staff-costs/index.html

This research was created to start some discussion on percentages of budgets that go to staffing. And, the survey noted that often churches with leaner staff tend to me more missional in orientation (e.g. with more lay people involved in ministry).

FINANCES & A Leadership Exercise on the Dilemma of Restricted Funds

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/61/15

I designed this leadership exercise to help leaders wrestle with tactical decisions that arise from donations that are given (or “restricted”) for a specific purpose.

Leadership Exercise:

DILEMMA:  Lee gave $5,000 to the church with a restriction* that it be used for the youth ministry program. The youth ministry had been in need of funds, and the pastor had even publicly solicited monies for this fund.  However, recently the church boiler has stopped working and with the approach of winter the boiler must be repaired if the church is to remain open (and the youth to have a place to meet).  The boiler repair will cost $5,000 and the church administrative board sees no other place to get this money other than to use the money that was restricted to the youth program.

YOUR ADVICE:  Now, what would you advise this board to do?  Do an online search for laws that govern such restricted giving in your state.  Then, using some online references tell us what you would recommend the church do in this dilemma of restricted funds.

* Some people might call the funds that Lee gave “designated” funds, but actually they are “restricted” funds.  A student once summarized this by saying “a board designates, a donor restricts (Hammar & Cobble, 2006).  If the donor restricts, then the only option is for the board to ask the donor to remove the restriction for use with the repair.  If the board designated money, then it can undesignate the money at any time.  For example, if they create a youth ‘fund’ and allow contributions to be made to it, than the board can decide to undesignate the youth funds and reclassify the funds however they want.  It all has to do with who is initiating the special use.”  This is a good summation.

Hammar, Richard R., & Cobble, James F. (2006). The 4-Hour Legal Training Program: For Church Boards (CD edition). Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.

For further reading:

Here are some interesting resources that students have discovered on this issue:



And, sometimes churches will receive a donation that is intended to directly support an individual, such as a teen going on a mission trip.  Here is what one student found about this: “From the IRS Website: ‘The law allows a taxpayer to deduct a contribution or gift that is to or for the use of a qualified organization (section 170(a) of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code)). A religious organization, such as a church, is generally a qualified organization. However, for a contribution to be deductible, the church must have full control of the donated funds and discretion as to their use. This ensures that the organization will use the funds to carry out the organization’s functions and purposes. Further, to deduct a contribution, the donor’s intent in making the payment must have been to benefit the charitable organization and not an individual recipient.’ (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/09-0038.pdf)
(Caveat:  remember, this is an exercise designed to help you find and locate financial advice and consul.  This exercise is not meant to create anything legally binding. Always consult professionals such as accountants and lawyers.)