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This week’s question came from our Facebook group.

What are your rules for counting the offering and handling the money in your congregations? We are having accusations from people unwilling to share actual information, that one of our regular counters, who is a known gossip in the church and power monger, is sharing confidential information. Also, I found out that this person, who is counting every one else’s offering, no longer gives to the church. So,, we are working to try to find the best possible way to get a better policy in place for getting someone else to be a part of the process. In actuality, we need to get this one out of the office, but in a way that shares ownership rather than targeting one person. I’m not sure if I’m making sense here, but I’m looking for advice on how to restructure the offering-handling process. Thanks for any help and advice you can give.

Dear Pastor-

Unless, the accusers give you “actual” information, I think it will be difficult to confront the gossip from a position of strength. Even if you are confident that something is going on, without factual information, it just feels hinky to me. You need a trusted person to be straight with you.

I’m also wondering why this person’s giving has changed? Are they voting with their checkbook? Has something negative happened to their personal finances? Knowing the answers to these questions might help you deal with some of the other pieces to the puzzle.

Your Finance Committee or governing board should be tasked with establishing policies and counter training. However, the presenting issue is probably not going to be resolved by a change in process. You’ve got some detective work to do before having a pastoral conversation with the congregation member.

Good luck!
Heidi aka RevHRod

Our denomination requires us to have two people who are not related to count the money. Our church has taken this a step further and requires three people present to count the money and then our Finance Secretary reviews the deposit. We also send out quarterly statements to every giver to make sure that our records match the givers. Our church practice is that the money must be counted at the church, not taken off site to be counted. Even with these practices in place a creative person could find ways to steal from the church. The larger issue is about trust. What are the larger trust issues which are being called into question through this current issue at the church. How can these issues be identified and named in a safe and open way? Policies and practices will alleviate some of the concerns and are a good starting place.

Shelly McNaughton-Lawrence

My suggestion is to thank them profusely for their dedicated service. And then make your case for how it is unfair to ask only two people to bear the burden of counting every Sunday. It is time for others to share in this task. Most financial professionals talk about segregation of duties in order to provide safety for the organization and for the personnel. You might think about ways you could speak of telling them that you want to protect them from harm or the appearance of mistrust.

We have two people who are not related to each other count the offering after services every Sunday. They rotate monthly. The offering is deposited at the bank on Sunday immediately after the count. At my previous church, they rotated weekly and the counting sometimes didn’t happen until Monday but also was done by two people not related to each other. In both churches, all people who counted were/are not related to the person who cuts the checks. Interestingly to me, at this church, there are less people in worship and they have more people involved in counting than they did at my previous church. Go figure!

Sarah, The Vicar of Hogsmeade

What a difficult position to be in!! The first thing I would do is check denominational policies and resources to see what help they give you. You can also make sure that church officers and even members of the congregation know what those requirements are. Also be sure to incorporate them into the policy you establish. In the Presbyterian Church USA, two counters are required by our constitution, for instance.

In churches I have served, both elders and trustees have served as counters. As I have become more experienced and more familiar with our constitution (especially the recently adopted form!), I think I would suggest that only elders (church officers) serve as counters, though they wouldn’t have to be currently serving on the session. This serves to provide some accountability. Our constitution does not speak specifically about confidentiality regarding giving, though transparency is required with regard to church finances. Churches have different policies regarding giving; in some churches, the specifics of giving are known to the pastor and/or the session (church board).

I think that confidentiality regarding giving is obvious, whether one person, two people, or even an entire church board is privy to that information. Unfortunately, what seems obvious to me is not always that obvious to others! Perhaps confidentiality expectations need to be clearly stated in the policy you are shaping so that there is accountability when confidentiality is not kept.

Does a person’s giving history matter in regards to his/her responsibilities as counter? If so, perhaps that also needs to be incorporated into policy.

Your current situation is sticky. Are those making the accusations willing to come forward with specifics, to the church board or a committee? If so, what are the expectations should that information be substantiated? If no one wishes to come forward or there is no way to substantiate the accusations, then you are in a bind, I think. To act on hearsay is irresponsible and will probably create conflict.

It seems to me that your best bet is to create a policy with clear expectations and consequences should policy be violated. Then you can evaluate who your counters are in light of that policy. It isn’t a quick fix.

I hope this is helpful, and that it gives some help in dealing with a sticky situation.

Tracy at Daily Grace

Dear Concerned One,

Practices surrounding counting the offering are always a delicate but important issue. Thank you for sharing your concern. The policy at our church regarding money counting is a set practice that has been in effect for many years and seems to work well.

Our part-time financial secretary counts the money on the Monday following the Sunday the offering was received. The Financial Secretary is not a member of the church. One of our Trustees counts the money with the financial secretary but the Trustee never sees the names associated with the offering money or checks. This ensures that there are two people counting money and allows for safekeeping of the money as well as the money counters. But only a non-church member sees the names associated with the offering money.

Blessings on your process of discerning what next to do.

Rev Kelley

Design a simple written policy for the church then get your money handlers together for a workshop, doesn’t have to be long but don’t do it after worship because people are rushed and hungry. Talk about confidentiality until you are blue in the face. Can you find out more about the why the person counting money isn’t giving now? If he or she is withholding funds as a comment that’s one thing; if he or she is having financial problems, that’s another. You need more information. 

Have you considered a sermon which includes information on how to give to the church? Not everyone knows about regular giving or even how to give.

You can do this! Take your time.
St.Casserole

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Thank you to all the Matriarchs who answered this week. If you have a question for our panel, please send it to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

4 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Counting Complications

  1. I think you have two separate issues here. You can’t really deal with how much this person gives, although it begs the question for me, how do they know s/he is not giving?

    Our parishioners have envelopes with numbers, not names. The only person who knows which name goes with which number is the envelope secretary who is elected annually.

    Here is a more direct approach. Sit down with the person, with a warden, and say (with some cushioning of course), “We have had several complaints that you have been sharing giving information. There has been nothing specific, but we have heard it enough that we thought we should give you a chance to respond.” Listen, converse, then end with a thank you and a reminder that this is a position of great trust and any doubt creates mistrust in the whole church, so please be extra vigilant.

    If s/he asks who and what was said, you can say it has been vague, you are not accusing anything, you just want to have a conversation about it.

    It’s just a place to start. Increased security is good, but something like this, I think you may need to bring this person into a conversation, not just let policies be built around him/her without holding him/her responsible.

    And one more thing to think about. Gossip does not happen in a vacuum. One gossip doesn’t have much traction. If gossip is spreading, s/he may be the source, but it requires other spreading the gossip to cause a problem.

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  2. You might want to check with your insurance provider. They may have some caveats in place which might help (or hinder). I attended a ConEd event last summer and heard the Jamison’s presentation. They are UMC. She is a CPA and he is a pastor. Excellent information on the theology/power of money as well as horror stories and practical tips. They also have a book out.

    I just moved from a community of 3000. Two churches, mainline denominations, had money embezzled due to lack of accountability. One was $30,000 and the other was $75,000!

    ~~Elaine

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  3. Some very good advice has been given already. But my experience has been it’s easier to put policies in place in a large congregation than in a small one. Especially a close knit community where everyone knows everyone and thinks that they don’t need to worry about it. And it can be hard to find two non-related people to count the money because everyone is related! It makes a delicate situation even more perilous!

    I just talked with our council about our money handling policies because our synod,requested it of everyone. This was in response to two large embezzlement situation in our denomination, outside our synod. It was a good opportunity to talk about our procedures and for me to familiarize myself with how money is handled. Nothing changed in the way they do things and I still think we need more division of labor, but the seed has been sown.

    Elaine’s suggestion to check with the insurance provider can also be good leverage – it’s an easy way to make needed changes without implying that someone isn’t trustworthy. I used it at another congregation when there was resistance to having 2 unrelated adults in the nursery. Very effective.

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