By James Jordan
The Merriam-WebsterDictionary defines transparent as “free from pretense or deceit: frank; easily detected or seen through: obvious; readily understood and characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”
What does transparency of financial matters have to do with a church? Everything.
People join organizations they perceive are successful. They leave them because of management. There are many articles and surveys over the decades that lead to these two points.
If members can see their gifts being used for the purposes they intended, they tend to become more involved in the organization’s activities. In the church, this can mean a deeper involvement in Sunday school, missions, or the development of a more profound sense of community.
When members feel more at home with their church community, they tend to also give more. Not everyone increases their pledge or tithe. Some do, but greater participation resulting from transparency does lead to an increase in giving overall.
I received the following email from Florida after conducting one of my webinars on the subject.
“Mr. Jordan, Thank you for your presentation, Transparency Leads to Greater Giving.
I found it online this morning and am sharing your webinar link with my Board and Stewardship Chair. We’ve been without a pastor since Pentecost, 2020, and had gone through 15 years of no transparency. Since May, 2021, transparency has been our ongoing approach, and low and behold, our Pledge Sunday brought in 55 of 79 pledges. We figured if everyone increased their pledge by 5% we’d make our financial goal for the annual budget. They are up by 12%. Thank you for affirming what we’ve done! I just love it when God does these things! See you in Heaven if not before!” I keep striving for the latter; at least I may have a cheerleader on my side up there one day helping plead my case for admittance!“
My own church’s experience is similar. We had many people who gave but would not commit to a pledge or tithe. With the uncertainty of income, budgeting was always more conservative than would otherwise have been.
As a result, we focused on what we were doing that was inhibiting transparency and turned that into enabling transparency. Our results were similar to those in the email from Florida. Our pledging units went up 40% year over year. Our contributions went up 20%, and we paid off our 15-year mortgage in two years. The next year we attracted and retained 50 new families, and we continue to grow.
Transparency revolves around four areas of the church – people, processes, organization and technology. At the CBF General Assembly in late June, I will go into detail regarding what inhibits transparency and how to enable transparency in all four areas. It is a wholistic approach. It is not about another program, event, fundraiser or putting financial information in the bulletin. It is about building a community that lets its light shine for all to see. I hope to see you in Dallas.
James Jordan is a CPA & Professor of Church Finance at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.