The Goal of Financial Management in Ministry

Sometimes I get philosophical about the reason for why things are done a certain way or why some things even exist.  This is true of even the whole purpose of financial management within churches and ministries.   What is the goal of finance and accounting in churches and religious ministries?  In the world of for-profit business, the purpose is very clear: to make money.  Or as we would say back in my business school days, it’s to maximize return on investment to investors.

But ministries are different–there are no investors looking to make more money (or at least shouldn’t be, which very well might be a topic for another day!).  So what is the goal of finance in ministry?

In my thinking, there are really two goals, and today I’d like to discuss one of them.  As I see it, the purpose of finance in our work is to create sustainable ministry.  To ensure that the ministry has impact… to make sure that the ministry lasts beyond our lives and ministers and blesses generations to come.  In my thinking, this really is what good stewardship is about.

So what does this look like in our approach to finance and how we manage our ministries?

First, it calls for prudent budgeting.  Certainly we want to stretch our organizations to reach more and do more, so we proceed, but we proceed with caution.

Second, it calls for partnership between our minds and the Holy Spirit.  God gave us minds to think, and God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide.  Instead of relying on one or the other, why not both?

Third, be wary of temporary fads… or at least don’t commit to them.  We certainly need to pay attention to trends and adjust to them, but sustainable ministries start by thinking long term, and temporary fads are contrary this sustainable approach.

Fourth, develop solid systems and processes.  These create administrative stability, and stability helps create sustainable ministry.

Finally, make sure that you have a solid financial team.  The operative word that goes hand in hand with sustainable ministry is team.  Having one person doing everything for finance creates risk for the ministry, because once they go, stability goes out the door.  On the other hand, if someone leaves a team, the other members should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to cover the missing member’s talents, thereby sustaining the financial work and ensuring ongoing support for the ministry.

As I mentioned earlier, this is one part of my answer.  The other part will need to wait until next week as I delve further into the topic.   In the meantime, but bug I want to plant in your brain is whether or not your financial function is helping you create sustainable ministry.  Is it?  Is it in only some areas?  Or aren’t you sure?  Let me know what you think with comments below, or by contacting me.   I’d love to hear from you.

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