It won’t be long before most United Methodist churches are preparing for their annual charge conferences. A lot of work is involved in getting ready for charge conference and the requirements can be found in The Book of Discipline. Let’s focus on one particular requirement for charge conference: the committee on finance’s responsibility for presenting a report of the annual audit of the records of the financial officers of the local church and all of its organizations. This requirement is stated in detail in Paragraph 258.4.c of the Book of Discipline.

Churches are very certainly trusting organizations, sometimes too trusting. This fact is a primary reason that congregations often fail to follow the requirements of the Book of Discipline, such as that of Paragraph 258.4.c. We seem to feel that doing proper audits of the church’s accounts would be an unfriendly or unnecessary thing to do. I am aware of churches who have failed to conduct their audits, some for a number of years, and they have suffered serious consequences. The consequences range from finding the bookkeeping in a hopelessly confused state when an audit is finally done to finding that one or more of the financial officers has actually taken church funds for improper uses. Can your congregation withstand a loss of resources to carelessness or intentional misappropriation?

Good stewardship of the congregation’s resources is a primary responsibility of the committee on finance. Strict requirements for their work are provided in Paragraph 258 and following them will provide a strong measure of protection for the financial resources of the church. For example, Paragraph 258.4.a requires that at least two persons who are not immediate family relatives and who do not live in the same household be designated to count the offering. Furthermore, these two are to work under the supervision of the financial secretary. Using this structure creates a system of checks and balances for safely and prudently managing the financial resources of the congregation. If your church’s committee on finance has not conducted its audit this year, there is no time like the present to get it done.

The annual audit may be the most important safeguard the committee on finance can use. Other safeguards are also included in The Book of Discipline. The church treasurer must be bonded. Funds collected in the offering must be promptly counted and just as promptly deposited. Accurate records must be kept by the financial secretary of all contributions and payments. The committee on finance is to develop the annual budget for presentation to the church council and then the committee must carry out plans for raising income sufficient to fund the adopted budget. Put all of these safeguards into place and you will create an organizational plan that includes a fairly large number of people who will work together to protect the resources of the congregation. This organizational plan will also help to prevent any single person having access to funds or records and misusing their access. Do all you can to create good systems for the stewardship of the church’s financial resources and you will assure the church’s ability to continue in ministry.

For consultation on building sound financial practices for your church, contact Joy Melton.