Every Sunday across the country, people put their hard-earned money into an offering plate as it's passed down the aisle. There's an implicit trust they place in church leaders to use that money wisely and with integrity.

Church finance teams need to put certain safeguards in place to honor and maintain that trust.

Here is a look at five such safeguards:

1. Require three or more to be present while counting the offering

Although text-to-give and online giving are becoming more popular, many people still give cash or checks. If you have three or more individuals present while counting the offering, it's much harder for any one person to steal from the congregation.

Also, consider the reputation of the people counting the offering. If there's ever a question about the amount deposited or concerns about the totals, it's easier to provide evidence that the amounts were accurate when multiple people signed off during the counting process.

2. Clearly define levels of financial authority

Document and communicate who has authority to do the following:

  • Sign checks (and at what amounts)
  • Incur debt on behalf of the church
  • Establish new bank accounts

In all instances, it's best to have more than one unrelated person involved in these processes. That practice protects the church from collusion and those with the authority from unwarranted accusations.

3. Document and enforce a process for handling benevolence requests

This process should include a request form, specific criteria for why a request would be approved/disapproved, how funds will be dispersed, who has authority to approve the requests, and how the request will be documented from start to finish.

4. Develop, review and approve financial reports

The senior pastor, executive pastor and leader of each department should review the budget vs. actuals for each ministry area on a monthly basis. Departmental leaders should explain any variances (+/- X%). This report should also be reviewed with church board, elders and/or deacons.

5. Request an annual audit

Hire a neutral third party to audit your church's accounting records annually and provide their findings to the senior pastor, board, elders and deacons. This brings in unbiased experts to provide their opinion regarding how your accounting team is performing, the effectiveness of your accounting processes and policies. It also provides another layer of accountability.

As your congregation entrusts you with their tithes and offerings, take these steps to ensure those finances are spent effectively and with integrity. It's easy to overlook the back-office processes since they don't immediately look like ministry. However, maintaining the trust of your congregation and the community is a foundation upon which you build ministry.