Monday, September 17, 2018

Help for Church Budgeting Part 1 - Strategic Planning

A budget is a strategic plan for dispensing available resources to various areas of your ministry. One thing is clear right from the start – there is no single perfect way to do church budgeting.  Yes, nearly all budgets involve electronic spreadsheets or sophisticated software - but budgeting is so much more.

A budget sets priorities for every activity of the church. It reflects your values to ensure that you spend money on the things you believe are most important. It is both a compass and a map to help you achieve the goals of your ministry in a way that is fiscally responsible.

As Richard Vargo and Vonna Laue remark in their Essential Guide to Church Finances, “A good budget process means that 11 acts of war can be eliminated because one annual battle is substituted for 12 monthly skirmishes.”1

Budgeting includes evaluating past spending habits and deciding what you are going to do in the future. You must make decisions and establish priorities for all the possible ministries your church may undertake during the coming year. Every aspect of ministry, from salaries and facilities to the senior and youth programs, must be taken into account.

A budget causes a church to decide whether to fund each ministry fully, partially, or not at all. Staffing costs must be considered within those decisions, since some programs carry significant staffing costs while others may be heavily supported by volunteers.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, biblical texts provide insight for mapping out budget categories. Galatians is a particularly helpful New Testament letter for budget managers because it was one of Paul’s first letters written at a time when the early church was making financial decisions (c.48-49 AD). In Galatians, budget managers learn to be sure to care for the poor (Galatians 2:8-10), to minister to the needs of those who teach, which in modern terms means pastors and other church staff (Galatians 6:6), and to work toward programs that bless the congregation as well as the larger community (Galatians 6:10).

For nearly two millennia, these areas have been the basic components of church budgets, but building and administrating these budgets is a complex process.

ECFA’s eBook, 10 Essentials of Church Budgeting aims to assist leaders in today’s churches to budget efficiently and effectively, and in accordance with the biblical model.

Click here to download the eBook. (free for ECFA members and ChurchEXCEL subscribers)

Be sure to watch for next week’s blogpost, which will highlight a recent podcast on the topic of Church Budgeting as well.

Lastly, don’t miss our upcoming companion webinar on this subject, 10 Essentials of Church Budgeting, in which ECFA’s Vonna Laue and John Van Drunen will pull insights from the eBook, and also allow time for Q&A. This webinar is FREE for ECFA-certified churches as well as for ChurchEXCEL subscribers. Register here today!

1Richard J. Vargo and Vonna Laue, Essential Guide to Church Finances (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today International, 2009), 11.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Top Legal Risks for Churches Today with The Church Attorney, Erika Cole

Operating with integrity and being aware of risks are necessary elements needed to focus on ministry work. In today’s shifting culture, churches face many risks that were not such pressing concerns in the past. In a recent podcast, Erika Cole, also known asThe Church Attorney, offered a few tips for leaders on changes that churches are facing today. Here are some highlights:

Church litigation is a primary concern. There is a shocking amount of litigation involving churches nowadays. It can affect all churches, but especially those with memberships of over 1,000. This significant shift means that churches must be aware of the rapidly changing legal environment.

Social media is something that is now a part of our daily lives, and many churches use it to reach more people than ever before. However, sometimes things can go awry. Such an important and public platform requires policies, careful management, and consideration of legal concerns.

Church mergers are becoming more common for a variety of reasons.

In the face of all these concerns, how should churches respond? Ms. Cole encourages church leaders to be proactive in prayer and pursue new education on these topics. It is important to be informed and up-to-date on these risks and what actions are being made to mitigate them.

In an environment of increasing risk in various forms, encouraging and challenging one another to operate with integrity is imperative.

For FREE updates, resources, and best practices, visit

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fraud Checklist - How to Prevent, Detect, and Correct Fraud in Your Church

We hear about church fraud in the news, but we don’t want to consider it as a possibility in our congregation.

To help churches address the issue of potential fraud, ECFA has developed a checklist which includes basic fraud prevention steps as well as a list of behaviors and actions on the part of a member of the finance team that may serve as warnings of a possible fraud environment. The checklist concludes with practical follow-up steps if fraud is suspected.

While this short summary is not meant to be all-inclusive, it will help you assess your current situation and determine if additional precautions or considerations may be necessary to protect your church.

Remember! Most fraud is committed by a faithful, long-serving volunteer or staff member.

View the Fraud Checklist here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

10 Foundations of Church Financial Integrity

In today’s environment, the need for churches to operate by the highest standards of financial integrity has never been greater.

“Overlook the foundations of financial integrity, and your church is headed for a world of hurt. All it takes is even the perception of wrongdoing for ministry to come to a screeching halt,” says Michael Martin, ECFA’s vice president of church relations. “On the other hand, watch your ministry accelerate as trust is enhanced through demonstrating financial integrity and accountability.”

Ready to assess where your church stands? Use this ECFA checklist as your guide in addressing 10 foundational areas that are key to operating with excellence and integrity.

As a certified church, displaying ECFA’s trusted seal can help strengthen your testimony and encourage greater generosity. To learn more about the benefits of certification, visit

Looking for more resources to build upon your integrity foundation? Check out these other free tools from ECFA:

ECFA’s Integrity Standards for Churches (Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Is Your Church Culture Healthy or Toxic?

Whether or not you know it, your church staff has a culture — and it may determine more than you know.

First, of all, we’re not talking about the culture of your church as a body of believers. That is entirely different. Staff culture is formed by the people who makes things happen at your church. They may be leaders, salaried, or volunteering. Ask yourself: who is at the center of how things get done at our church? 

Your church may have core values that are written down, but culture is typically unwritten. It involves how the staff functions together, the “family rules” that often go without saying. Ask yourself: beyond the mission of our church, what are the behaviors that we exhibit as a team as we try to accomplish that goal?

In William Vanderbloemen’s book, Culture Wins, he coins the importance of finding “your kind of crazy.” Having cultural values that aspire to perfection are not it. Rather, focus on identifying your quirks and strengths as a team. Ask yourself: what is unique (and successful) about your staff that may be uncommon elsewhere? That’s your kind of crazy.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Charitable Giving Inches Upward

ECFA conducted a survey to ask how churches and ministries ended 2017 and began 2018 in terms of charitable giving, releasing the results on July 16, 2018.

  • The survey indicated an upward tick in charitable giving that put churches and nonprofits in a better position to start 2018. The year 2017 ended better than did 2016 for many ECFA-related ministries. Going forward, there are many factors to consider in 2018. Depending on the size of the church or ministry and their annual budget, even a decrease in giving as low as 3% could have a significant impact on nonprofit organizations. 

  • Despite a bump in giving from December 2017 for many ministries, money remains tight. The year-end increase somewhat hides the close financial margins experienced by most ECFA-related ministries. The response to a potential decrease in giving for 2018 depends on a variety of factors. Some have adequate reserves to absorb the impact, while most ministries would need to compensate with budget changes. 

  • One finding that comes as no surprise is that ministries are very donation-dependent. For ECFA-related ministries, December is a crucial month. These year-end donations are critical to their budgets. In fact, a solid majority of ECFA-related Christian charities receive more than 75% of their income from donations alone. For churches, the percentage of income from donated funds is even higher.

Download the full Charitable Giving Inches Upwards survey report for more trends and benchmarks.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Combatting the Tyranny of the Urgent

The seemingly endless barrage of phone calls, emails, reports, meetings, and everything else on the to-do list: we’ve all been there. One of the most common problems facing church leaders is that they are busy. This condition is often referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent,” and it is what keeps financial managers from becoming financial leaders.

Without micromanaging the day-to-day management, senior leadership needs to consciously align budgeting, controls, and systems with the mission. When long-term planning happens, there is confidence in the future of the ministry. Not only that, but financial leadership inspires a sense of freedom to pursue future ministry opportunities.

Here are a few practical ways to grow in financial leadership:

Be acutely aware of trends. They are more than just fads. Identifying trends as they relate to your ministry will keep you updated and relevant.

Focus beyond the funds. Financial management generates sound numbers, but healthy financial leadership is needed to make sense of those numbers. How do you measure the success of a ministry? Lives changed is a good place to start.

Network with others. Make sure people learn what they need to. Connect to mentors that can answer questions and offer guidance. Engage with available tools and connect with newsletters, articles, and other materials related to the work of your ministry.

Assess regularly. Take time to step back and identify areas of difficulty and start making necessary improvements.

No matter your staffing ability or resources, church leaders should be asking: What am I doing today that only I can do, and what can someone else be doing that I am spending my time on? This could mean prioritizing, delegating, hiring, or seeking out skilled volunteers when the budget is tight.

For more on growing in financial leadership, check out the Growing in Financial Leadership Podcast at