Understanding Church Accounting

Could you list the four supporting qualifications that officially classify clergy for payroll purposes? Depending on your individual experience with church accounting, you might easily blurt out the answer or perhaps you are at the other end of the spectrum and didn’t even know there was a clergy tax classification.

One church’s accountant may come from a for-profit background. Another could be a minister’s sister who was decent with numbers in high school. With such a wide range of personal backgrounds at play, the need for a definitive resource about church accounting–one that’s accessible to everyone–became clear.

Getting your church’s accounting right matters…a lot…because church accounting is not about profitability, it is about accountability and stewardship. When done correctly, it can propel the church forward in the eyes of the community, earning trust in the church and a reputation of integrity and transparency.

Church accounting poses several challenges because of regulations and practices that require industry-specific knowledge. As a tax-exempt entity, your church must adhere to a unique set of regulations and processes to avoid fiscal backlash. There are guidelines governing your federal tax-exempt status and state and local requirements to navigate. 

In for-profit accounting, a typical business has a single general ledger. Your church likely has multiple. The funds tracked within can be separated into differing accounts to show how they’re used.

Solid church accounting increases confidence, provides transparency, and contributes to the growth of your church. Prioritizing accountability clears the way for instilling parishioners’ trust that their donations, gifts, and tithes are used appropriately. In theory, you could show any congregation member where their money goes at any time. Your growth depends on their trust. Trust is earned by doing things the right way, not hiding details.

Whether you are new or experienced, there is always something to learn about church accounting because regulations shift, technology advances, and changes happen in the church.  

Our goal with this new blog series is to help you:

1.     Fill in the blanks to make sure you understand the nuances of church accounting and your accounting staff is ready to handle your finances.  

2.     Increase stewardship as good accounting helps you maximize your resources for the work of the ministry.

3.     Take things seriously so you can account for every dollar donated/raised.

4.     Improve compliance to help expand your knowledge of regulations and the best practices to follow for compliance.

5.     Clarify and simplify navigating your general ledger, payables, receivables, bank reconciliations, payroll, and core financial reporting.

Follow our blog series, Church Accounting Explained, focused on the absolute essentials anyone in charge of a church’s finances should know.