Q: We are a small-membership church with a wonderful part-time church secretary. She has gradually been given more and more responsibility as more and more “business” of the church has been handled on the church computer. Keeping track of membership and giving records, she is also taking care of paying the church’s bills and printing checks from the computer. The finance committee has recommended that she be added as a signer of checks to make the office flow more efficiently. Some folks are wondering if this is the proper way to handle money in the church. What do you advise?
A: Doing Q & A like this is always a little tricky. I am wary of making a blanket statement that would apply to the whole range of situations across very different congregations of The United Methodist Church. However, for this question, I will make an exception:
No one person should have authority over all aspects of church finances. Regardless of the size of your congregation and regardless of the skills of the people involved, the language of our Book of Discipline (BOD) is clear about separating the donation side of church finance and the disbursement side. In no case should the full responsibilities of the financial secretary and the church treasurer ever be placed in one person or in one household. (see ¶258.4, 2016 BOD).
Having a wonderful person who is working in your church office is a great blessing to your congregation. She does sounds like an amazing asset to your church, so do not put her in a position where anyone could ever ask the question, “Is this the proper way to handle money in the church?” That is a sure way to lose her and all the gifts she brings.
In the broadest sense, the Discipline lays out a way to keep things segregated, with one person overseeing outflow of money and another person overseeing the income side. They should work cooperatively, with the chair of the finance committee overseeing the process and with the guidance and cooperation of the pastor.
A great, inexpensive resource that can help you is Cokesbury’s Guidelines for Finance. This inexpensive booklet will help all members of your finance team understand what they are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to do.
In addition to what the Discipline says, there is an additional step of segregation, which the Guidelines for Finance outlines clearly: There are three important duties that are not directly assigned to anyone: authorizing bills for payment, signing checks, and reconciling bank statements. You can assign one of these to someone on your finance team (treasurer, financial secretary, or finance chair), but no one should be assigned more than one of these tasks. And if you have the people, it is great to assign these duties to three other people!