Little Numbers Add Up to Be Big Numbers

Your church’s finances are susceptible to an issue called “little numbers”. Little numbers can plague even the healthiest of local churches’ finances. Little numbers affect the stewardship of big numbers in a way you might not think.

Little numbers usually affect churches when individual staff members are responsible for a ministry budget and perhaps even a church credit card. Sometimes the use of these credit cards leads to discretionary spending in small amounts over a long period. And while these types of spending decisions may not be illegal, immoral, or wrong, they can sometimes lead to overspending that result in big numbers in the red.

Let me be clear: personalized ministry budgets and credit cards are not the problem. Little numbers that add up to be big numbers are an expectation and stewardship problem. The way a church treats little expenses in the long run impact how it treats the big expenses.

In order to avoid overspending in the little numbers, ministry leaders should lead their staff toward healthy expectations in three areas.

  • Define Your Expectations. Both you and your staff need to have good stewardship. Stewardship applies to all things—both little and big. We should honor the little expenses the way Jesus honored the Widow’s Mite. He used the little offering to make a very big point about the widow’s heart. In the same way, Jesus is interested in the heart of the spender. When we are faithful in the little, he gives us more. Defining good stewardship is essential. When you have clear expectations with your staff, they will know what types of purchases are acceptable and which ones are not. For instance, some church staff members need to hear that using the church credit card for just your meal for lunch is unacceptable. Clarify each staff member’s fiscal responsibility.
  • Model Your Expectations. If we were to look at your expenses, would we see good stewardship in your expenditures? If somebody reviewed your expenditures, would they question your choices? The bible tells us to not give people a hint of impropriety (Eph 5:3). As the spiritual leader of your church, you should pay attention to the little numbers because it demonstrates your commitment to avoid any impropriety—big or small. Here’s a rule of thumb: would you care if the church posted your ministry credit card statement or your expense reports on the big screen on Sunday morning? If you would care, even if the spending was sound stewardship, then you are acknowledging that there may be a hint of impropriety in your spending. Remember, if you want your staff to pay attention to little numbers, you need to pay attention to little numbers and your staff needs to see you do it. Ideally, you want your staff to model their actions after your behavior. Have you reviewed your credit cards statement to know which behaviors are acceptable? Do you personally monitor the little numbers on the bank statement to know where and why the money is being spent? As you do these things for yourself, make sure to never do it alone. Bring along junior staff members as much as possible and show them what you’re doing and what you’re looking for. Show them how to look for spending patterns. Guide them through the basics and don’t assume that they know how to do it.
  • Inspect Your Expectations In the church, you or somebody on your staff needs to set time in your calendar to inspect the numbers. The small numbers need to be inspected by somebody other than the spenders. This should be his/her job to check to ensure there is no impropriety among staff spending. Whether it’s once a week or once a month. You need to inspect. You also need to be consistent about what you inspect. Create patterns of inspection to make sure you’re seeing everything. Lastly, let your staff know that you will be periodically inspecting their fiscal decisions. As you inspect what you expect, your staff will develop better spending habits out of recognition that you will be examining their choices.

May you find ways to regularly empower your church staff to spend wisely for God’s Kingdom.

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