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Transparent Church


Because Christianity Is More Than Being a Spectator!

"Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the Lord.  Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the Lord.  I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.  I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the Lord. - Jer. 23:1-4 (NIV)

Meaningful transparency is crucial to the vibrancy and health of any church.  Fortunantly, implementing church transparency is simple.  The  challenge is knowing how much and what kind of transparency is needed because, just like people, every church is different.  However, there is one thing to keep in mind - a church is not a business and should not be treated as one.  Using membership numbers and financial goals to evaluate church health and staff effectiveness is unbiblical and not based on the early church model but on modern secular business practice.  The only way to know if a church staff is effective is to evaluate the spiritual growth of the congregation.  Are church members becoming more like Jesus (a disciple) each day or are they no different than their unchurched friends?  Are church members growing spiritually year over year or are they on the same spiritual level as when they first arrived?  Do church members demonstrate love for one another or is envy and jealousy present?  While no fixed set of rules exist to implement church transparency, here are six basic strategies every congregation should demand and expect from their church leadership as a minimum.

1. Disclose staff compensation annually.  The best time to do this is during the budget planning process and should include the salaries and all church-paid staff expenses for the previous year (cell phones, computers, Internet, books, travel, vehicle reimbursements, clothing and dry cleaning allowances, mission trip allowances, etc.) along with the budget recommendations for the next fiscal year.  At minimum, the pastor's salary and church-paid expenses should be disclosed as these are usually the highest on staff and provide a reference for the congregation to better understand church leadership priorities.  Experience has shown staff compensation to be the most difficult and most important disclosure a church can make because once this is done, all other disclosures seem easier.  NOTE: All church credit card transactions should also be available for the congregation to view.

2. Disclose staff family members who are on the church payroll along with their salaries.  This may seem obvious but it is an increasingly common practice for the pastor's wife and children (sometimes even parents, cousins, and in-laws) to be on the church payroll without the congregation's knowledge.  Nepotism knows no bounds but is reduced and even prevented if transparency is part of the church culture. 

3. Every church should file an IRS Form 990 annually and then post it for members to view.  This is not an unreasonable request for an organization granted the government privilege of tax-exempt status to comply with.  For instance, the ECFA sets the example by posting theirs at http://www.ecfa.org/PDF/990_2009.pdf.

4. Audit church assets and financials annually.  This should be done by an independent accounting firm and the results, along with any recommendations, should be fully disclosed to the congregation.  The congregation should then vote whether or not to accept the results and whether or not to implement the recommendations.  Important decisions such as these should not be left for a board and/or the pastor to decide on behalf of the congregation.

5. Implement church staff and employee independence.  In many cases, a church secretary or staff member knew of church corruption but would not say anything for fear of being fired by the pastor, especially if the pastor was involved.  No one person should be the final authority on someone's dismissal in a church.  The reason is simple - if the church hired them (most hirings are done by church vote), the church should dismiss them, too.  All staff and employee dismissals, even voluntary resignations, should be brought before, discussed, and voted on by the congregation to insure transparency and integrity are in the process.

6. Provide every member access to the church constitution and by-laws.  This can either be done by providing hard copies or by being accessible on the church web site via a 'Members Only' log-in portal, which could also post other relevant member information such as staff, committe, and board members names along with their voting record, up-coming votes and decisions, the church vision and mission statements, etc.  Any details excluded should be mutually agreed to by both church leaders and the congregation.

7. Host an informal, come-and-go as you please 'Coffee with the Staff' each month.  This event should be open to all church members and provide an opportunity for them to talk and the staff to listen.  This is also a great time for the congregation to ask the church staff any tough questions.