Balancing the books

Having just read about Jesus and the money changers in the Temple in John 2:13-22, and been involved in an chat about PCC accounts on Twitter, it seems time to discuss filthy lucre and churches.

Our benefice has three PCCs and so three treasurers – one for each parish.  They work extremely hard to track our finances, and to project future requirements.  They approach members of the congregation about giving money to the church, and are usually regarded with a mixture of awe and distaste.  We are the church, we are Gospel, we shouldn’t be talking about money.  

Yet money is one of the basic units in our society, and if we wish to be involved in the exchange of goods and services, we need it.  Our contribution to the Diocesan funds is in money (it is used for clergy stipends, pensions, and a smaller amount on staffing a headquarters).  If we require maintenance on our buildings, we need money.  If we are to pay energy and water bills, we need money.  If we are to acquire supplies of candles, bread, wine, linen, we need money.  In other words if we are to do the things that make us  the churches we are, we need money.  There’s no getting away from it. Hence we need to be able to show people where we get our money from, and where it goes to.

The better the treasurer, the easier it is to see where money comes from (planned giving, plate collections, tax rebates, hall lettings, fund raising events) and where it goes (Diocese, ministry team expenses, building operating costs, administrator, musicians, energy bills, maintenance, youth work….etc).  And if these are tracked year on year, then trends can be spotted and predictions get better.  And in a benefice with an annual turnover of close to £100k, it’s right that they should be.

Nothing hides the fact that our congregations are getting older, so income becomes lower and fixed.  Costs are going up.  There is a gap and it has to be closed.  

So are PCC Accounts a tool for mission?  Of themselves, no, of course not.  But they can provide additional impetus for those who don’t really get why we should be invitational.  Accounts can ensure that people see what is being done with their money, in their name.  They can stir people to prayer and action – and drive people to distraction.

PCC Accounts?  However bleak they look, I love them.  (The same goes for the Treasurers too!)

3 responses to “Balancing the books

  1. Nice post Claire.
    I guess my ideal situation would be for PCC accounts to not only show how money was spent, but also to reflect the achievements made by spending the money; and from there to allow budgeting which was driven more by the mission priorities of the Church, than by its historic spending patterns. I've never managed it. Every Church I ever worked in set budgets based on last year's spending rather than according to this year's priorities; and I never (yet) was able to turn a Church around to this. It seems to me that setting budgets according to last year, simply supports a target setting culture which is in the end always going to lead to a sense of failure. It is better to say, “this is what we have, what shall we do with it?” than “this is what we must do, where are we going to get the money from?” (Yeah, I know, idealist)

  2. I suspect that this is a perennial conversation that goes in circles just as it does in many churches. Like you, we have three PCC's and 3 treasurers.

    As the Benefice Treasurer I try to coordinate things, particularly with Deanery Finance and Treasurer (our Diocese delegates Parish Share to Deaneries). I also deal with DBF on disagreements about allocations and for grants. We know why the money is needed by diocese and spell it out clearly. But some people are not convinced that diocese is taking their money for nefarious purposes.

    Strangeandalien makes the point about budgeting looking over your shoulder, rather than forward. I've yet to convince a sceptical audience that analysis of previous expenditure is good for audit, but not a really accurate tool to project future spending. Just adding X percent for inflation, doesn't produce anything but static thinking. Costing and analysis of projected future plans is what is needed, but getting individual PCC's and treasurers to coordinate in this way seems to be humanly impossible.

    We have a Deanery Mission plan, made 2 years ago. Which we has affected the quota we pay. Now, we are in the process of a Deanery Reorganisation, which will throw any planning we might have had into the bin, and we'll have to wait for the new Deanery to bed in and to produce its mission plan. When this is sorted, we may find that we've actually paid to much in past years – but getting this reconciled and credited for future years is impossible. DBF have limited flexibility in this as once they've spent it, its not really recoverable.

    Stewardship is important, but it involves not going round with a begging bowl, but highlighting the issues we face, being honest about past mistakes and providing realistic, affordable projections for one or two years down the line. There is an excellent diocesan team which goes around to advise, but uptake is tiny. Possibly as some PCC's don't want to be to open about the real state of their finances. Lots of money is tucked away in 'Reserved' funds for specific purposes. It's untouchable. And causes additional pressure on General Funds.

    Lots of these Reserved Funds may in fact have run their course and no longer be appropriate, but parishes are reluctant to challenge/amend the terms of them as they might have to return gifted or donated monies. There needs to be clearer guidance and robust management by DBF on this aspect to ensure that funds for general use and the Churches mission are released where needed.

    Chunter over!

  3. You both make the point, rightly, that past performance isn't a guide to future growth. I agree, however, if in your budget each year you allocate £1000 to Youth Work, and £500 to stationary, and it's come out the other way round for the last ten years, that does say something. (The example is fictitious, and what it tells you depends on how you interpret.) Results of what actually happened compared to expectation can be informative.

    I have been on a PCC which invested for the future without knowing where the money would come from – it made a three year commitment, and it was fine “in the end” although it caused some heartache on the way.

    I have great sympathy with finances driven by a Deanery Mission Plan – it makes sense but only if the Deanery agreed, and if the borders don't change. But it would be great to set a budget from the “what do we want to do” perspective and then work backwards….

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