This recent but not uncommon letter from a pastor prompted me to write this article:
“Thank you for the trial account on Church Office Online. I'm afraid we will not be proceeding with the account - I have not been able to get the church admin team to agree on a way forward with replacing current church paperwork with a computer system.”
How do I transition my church from recording contributions on a paper ledger to a computer program?
The recording of our church finances are stuck in the past, how do we bring it to the present?
Our church treasurer is reluctant to use a computer to record church contributions, what should I do?
Have you ever heard the following in your own church?
- What if I push the wrong button?
- I’m comfortable with the way I have been doing it.
- If it’s not broken why fix it?
- I’m afraid I will break it.
- It’s just too difficult to learn.
- I’m not willing to learn how to use a computer program.
- I’ll mess up and crash the computer.
- I’ll make a mistake and delete something.
As a pastor of 25 years I can say I’ve heard them all; that is, those excuses and statements used by those who doggedly defend their position of not wanting to change. If you couple "change" with the church’s "finances" you have a blockade to change that seeks impregnable. Don’t get me wrong and think that I believe everything needs to be updated to today’s technology. But when it comes to finances, while the important principles of biblical stewardship need to remain a constant, the tools definitely need to keep up with the times. I would even say that if you are still recording your contributions on a paper ledger you are in deep need of change.
This short blog will focus on two topics:
- Principles and Practices for Bringing Needed Change to your Church
- How to Move your Church Contributions from Paper to PC
Principles and Practices for Bringing Needed Change to your Church
First, “time” for me looked more like an evil enemy preventing me from seeing the change I believed was needed NOW. I’ve always thought myself patient when it comes to seeing change. Yet, time after time things/people/practices/programs that were as old as the church would win over my patience.
Second, I had the notion that I was the “go-to-person” who could “influence” change to take place in the church, LOL. Wow, talk about being wrong there. I later learned that in some cases the person that was the most influential for a specific change was not even on my radar.
Third, the likelihood of change taking place had more to do with people’s perception of what, when and how a specific change was “communicated” than its details. I never asked the question: “What do they think I am asking them to change?” What I did ask was, “how they felt about change”. This type of subjective “touchy-feely” and “I feel your pain” questions always led change down the black hole of good intentions that prevented change to move forward.
So, if you desire change to take place in your church here are my top three tips you need to consider:
- Time is NOT Your Enemy
I recently had to go to my dentist to get an upper back molar extracted. My very wise dentist stated that if you provide a constant pull and enough time he can extract the most stubborn tooth. He then said: “Time is our friend” and with both pressure and time the tooth was removed. We are all pressed in ministry to consider everything as urgent. We yank and yank to make change happen and wonder why relationships become shattered and very little of the change we desired happens. Think slow a steady. Those that work the numbers and figure out the budgets will be more apt to change if you are willing to approach it at a steady pace. People are more apt to move when they know you won’t give up so easy and you are willing to wait it out.
- The Most Influential Person is NOT Always You
God’s ways are not our ways. Allow for the likely possibility that someone in your church, other than you, can move the church to a specific change. This became evident to me when I asked a business man who attended my church if he could help only after I spent much frustration with my own efforts to bring change to the way a 100 year old church did its finances. He had made similar changes in his business finances and knew what it would take. It took him only a month to do what I couldn’t do in two years. Pray about it, plan for it, expect it and step aside when it becomes evident that someone else is better suited.
- Communication is NOT a One-Way Activity
Communication is one of the biggest challenges facing the church today. Why? Because of the following:
- Contacts are no longer stationary but transitory and mobile. Invest in an online church management program that allows members to update their own contact information using an Individual Member Access feature.
- We gravitate to the subjective and the abstract in our communication; the subjective (I feel, you feel, we feel) because it makes us feel connected and the abstract because it makes us feel safe. Inject some objective conversation into you communication.
- Our Hurried-Up life style causes us to drop the call before the other person even gets to speak. Our society is “mobile”, ignoring it won’t make it go away. If we are to be effective in communicating with today’s culture we must learn how to use its devices. The good news is that they are more than willing to help. Enlist them in your communication team. Empower the team to set up a website, Facebook/twitter/LinkedIn/connection, and Individual Member Access to your Online Church Management program.
How to move financial records over from Paper to PC
Paper records written in financial ledgers can be entered into a PC but let me clarify a few things first.
- Ask yourself, “Do I need to enter all records from the beginning of time?” The answer should be NO. You should only be looking at entering those records for which no end-of-year contribution statements have been sent. So if you sent a contribution statement out for 2011, you only need to enter those contributions from the beginning of January 2012. If you just want the information to look back on consider just entering the individual’s total year contributions for each contribution category for the last month of the year (IRS does not need a week by week record of each contribution). The weekly breakdown is for the benefit of the member not the IRS. After you determined the range of contributions to enter you are half way there.
- The next thing you will need to do is to find out what the contribution categories are (i.e. General Budget, Tithe, Missions etc…) that you will enter into the program you will be using. You can find these categories in the income area of your church budget. Those categories will need to be entered into your program before you can enter amounts into contributions. Most programs allow you to add categories as need. You will also need to add your federal ID number which will be placed on the Individual Contribution Reports.
- Many have asked about using scanners as a way to turn handwritten/ typewriter text into PC text. I would strongly caution you not to as very minor jot, spots and creative writing can change a five into a six and so forth. You will end up doing more work and missing errors than if you enter it. I encourage you to enlist someone who will read off the name and amounts as you enter them in. It will move along faster and be more accurate (est. 2 people = 500 contributions entries per hour). Cloud based church management systems allow multiple users to access the program at the same time. You can divide up the entry work up even more depending on how many people your church gave permission to view financial records to.
- After the records have been entered pull up a contribution report and compare it to the ledger.
If your church treasurer or clerk is still having problems ask them to evaluate the program if they haven't done so. Also consider that you don't need to convince them to swallow the whole thing. Ask them what part of the program did they feel would make their job easier. If getting the program up and running seems daunting to them most programs have a data import service or utility. We have many churches that start their service with just using the member management features and later use the contributions.
If you employ these principles I know you will experience change not only in those outdated practices but in yourself.