Tracking the Money

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How can a new church or fellowship's money be tracked? Why is record keeping an important part of operating a group?

The responsibility for taking care of church finances belongs to all in a congregation. This includes receiving offerings, paying expenses and taking good care of church property. When the Apostle Paul was transporting an offering of money and food for the poor, the congregations that gave chose someone to accompany him just to make sure that the offerings were correctly spent (2Corinthians 8:18 – 21).

Collections of money are generally much better served when they are for a specific purpose. When funds are received and held for an uncertain future use, there is a tendency for their custodians to take them for what they want. This happened even during Jesus' ministry (John 12:4 - 6).

It should be noted that there is no biblical example of passing a collection plate at a church or temple service. King Jehoiada, when people brought money to God's temple, instructed the priests to put it in a box with a hole in the top (2Kings 12:9). A locked box or some other container with a hole on top is a good way to collect offerings. Today, many prefer to give via credit card readers, QR codes or through online payment services.


The approach to handling a congregation's expenses can vary greatly based upon the size of the group. With a small church group, a very informal approach is possible. Large groups, however, definitely need a formal plan.

Some small congregations run fine without someone keeping track of the money and paying all group bills. For example, one member will pay for the music equipment, one for the hymnals, one for the refreshments, and so on. Others might serve by letting the congregation use their home, vehicles or other resources. If a rental hall is used, two or three families might agree to alternate months paying the rent on the hall.

There are many churches and ministries, however, which cannot use a simple system. If there is a need to own real estate, pay wages to people, or pay a large variety of bills, or if many people need tax-deductible receipts for their offerings, then a centralized financial system is the best way. This usually means that one, two, or sometimes three people will open bank and other accounts, and keep track of the finances with one of the many inexpensive software packages available today.

A large congregation usually has someone who works in accounting or who does the accounting for their small business. When choosing an accountant, always choose better honesty and character over more accounting credentials or experience. The church leadership should always have access to all of the financial information, and the brethren should always have access to how the money is being spent.

Record Keeping

And they did not ask for an accounting from the men into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, for they dealt honestly (2Kings 12:15, ESV).

The above verse shows us the importance of honesty over extensive accounting. Simple accounting will shine light on the simple thief in cases where the money received exceeds the amount actually spent and saved.

Accounting requirements are more stringent and detailed today than they ever have been in history. Never think your financial system is secure primarily because of the security features of your accounting system or because of the performance rating of your accounting firm. Know the people who work in these areas and pray for God's wisdom and guidance in those in whom you place your trust.

Smaller groups might keep their records in an accounting book while larger ones will probably use a computer program. While non-profit software is available, inexpensive personal financial software may be used. Every accounting program allows expenses categorized such as evangelism, missions, helping those in need and so on.

Tracking the Money

Brethren have the right to give without others knowing when or how much they give (Matthew 6:3). Personal finances should be kept in the strictest confidence, known only to the people who maintain the records, and shared only with those who gave. The most common ways to track money for a fellowship or group are the following.

1) Manual record keeping. Keep one ledger with a separate page for each person who gives money. Include their address, phone, e-mail and whether or not they want annual receipts. Record each offering on a separate line: amount, date received, payment type, check number (if any) and stated purpose for the offering (if any).

Either once per week or at the end of each day, move all the offerings received to the church bank account or money storage box. Record the deposit date in the first ledger on each item deposited, so it is possible to audit this process later. Record the total deposit amount and number of offerings in a second ledger (the income journal).

The second ledger, without names of people, is the one made available to the entire membership. Use the first ledger for year-end receipts and the second ledger to reconcile the bank statements.

2) Using two computer programs. This is essentially an automated version of the two ledgers above. A spreadsheet, word processor or database program can be used to replace the first ledger. Its "mail merge" feature will send annual receipts. The weekly or daily deposit total is then entered in an income account of your chosen accounting software. All financial reports can be printed from the accounting software without revealing the names of donors.

3) Using a single computer program. More complex accounting software has the ability to limit which users can access Customer (church member) and Sales (offerings) detail information. By using this feature, only the few authorized people can see who gave what amounts of money.

If money is received anonymously, create a record named "anonymous" and record the amounts, received dates and deposit dates just like other offerings. If an anonymous giver ever thinks his offerings are being stolen, he can ask to see the records of anonymous offerings and probably determine if his offerings have been correctly recorded and deposited.

Important Records

If no record is kept of the total amount of money received and spent, it will be difficult to determine if any of it is lost, stolen or misspent. Fellowships should be good stewards of what they are given.

In today's world, religious groups that do not keep records of finances are often assumed doing something wrong. Keeping records doesn't make anyone righteous, but it provides a means to discover and stop some theft and corruption.

All church congregations and ministries should gratefully accept whatever they receive from whoever gives to them. They should use what they receive for purposes to which the congregation agrees. The congregation should be able to know how much money is received and how it is spent. Members whose spiritual gift is "giving" need to know if their giving is bearing fruit.

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