by Bo Prosser

Organizations that demonstrate qualities including transparency, responsibility, and reliability are most trusted, according to those surveyed in the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor for 2022 (Johnny Wood, World Economic Forum). 

People join organizations and churches they perceive to be successful. They become dissatisfied when they perceive mismanagement. Transparency means sharing information about the administrative and ministry work of the church without deception or misinformation.   

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary 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.” 

So, does transparency of financial matters apply to churches?  Absolutely! 

Transparency includes, but is not limited to, church finances, church expenditures, and the work of the church. This does not mean that every check that is written must be approved by the body.  Nor does it mean that every item in the budget must be detailed exactly. However, it does mean that we give people enough information to make sound decisions about their support for the church. 

People today give us their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (doing good work for the growth of the church) and ethical behavior (doing the right things that make a difference in the life and relationships of the church). People give us their money for the same reasons. Without trust, we don’t have the ability to forge successful empowering relationships. Without trust, we won’t have the resources to produce effective and quality ministries. 

Frank Newport of the Gallup organization reports that in 1975, 68 percent of Americans believed that organized religion could be trusted. “As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions Gallup tracks” (Newport, 2019, p. 1). By 2019, the church had reached a new low, with only 36 percent having confidence in its leadership. 36 percent. Pastors should be concerned.  

Politics, moral scandals, social issues, social media, and finances are all polarizing for churches across our country and in our congregations. The Covid Pandemic has also been an unexpected source of constant tension within churches. Church leaders must use every tool available to move beyond these sore spots in their congregations.  

And there is nothing worse than conflict arising over money matters in the church. Being transparent not only builds trust but also holds everyone accountable.  Examine the communication patterns of your church. What are the obstacles to transparency? What or who is not allowing the major items in the church ministry and the major events in the church’s calendar to be shared openly and clearly? These are questions that you must deal with in order to communicate transparently and to deepen trust in your congregation. 

Transparency revolves around four areas of the church – people, processes, organization, and technology. It’s about predictability and consistency. Transparency builds trust. Building trust takes a while. The promise itself only builds trust if we are delivering on our promises. If the church leaders say that there is $100,000 in the church budget for doing missions overseas and then the money is diverted for other causes without good cause, trust erodes. If the church leaders don’t represent the causes of Christ to which the church is committed, trust erodes. Strengthening trust means saying what we will do and then doing what we say. Trust may be freely given; yet trust can disappear quickly. 

If members can see their gifts being used for the intended purposes, they tend to be more satisfied and trusting. If members trust those in places of leadership using funds as expected, they will give regularly and perhaps with more enthusiasm. This trust may also lead to members being more involved in the church’s activities. This means a deeper involvement in church ministries, Bible studies, and missions. And most especially, this will lead to the deepening of relationships leading to a more profound sense of community.  

If members feel more at home with their church community, they also tend to give more. Not everyone increases their pledge or tithe; not everyone wants to obligate themselves considering unpredictable financial circumstances. However, greater participation resulting from transparency will lead to an increase in giving overall. Some of your congregants will be happy to engage the administrative processes and participate in leadership activities, financial decision making, and committee responsibilities. Remember, not everyone wants to see how the “sausage” is made, but they do expect quality “sausage”! 

You may have seen the same things happening in your church. You may have many people giving; yet these same people will not commit to a pledge or tithe. Rather than focusing on the tithes and offerings needed by the church, focus on the stories of what the church is doing because of the tithes and offerings. Be more transparent, tell stories, let this become personal.  When we put faces and names to the needs and ministries of the church, people respond.   

As people feel more comfortable, as we are more transparent, God’s Spirit begins to move in ways that we cannot explain. Perhaps trusting one another, loving one another does indeed lead to growing givers into generous givers. Perhaps as relationships grow deeper and enthusiasm builds higher, money in the offering plate increases too

James Jordan contributed to this article.  He is a CPA and professor of Church Finance at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  You can see a presentation by James Jordan, Transparency Leads to Greater Giving.

The communications office of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship contributed to this article. 

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