It's time to give a financial update to your congregation. What to say? How to frame the numbers? What not to say? And why say anything at all?

Many church leaders feel comfortable giving an effective financial update to the Elder Board or other leadership team, but ask them to give an update to the broader church body and things may not feel so simple. What to say? How to frame the numbers? What not to say? And why say anything at all?

Recently, we learned that Bruce Smith, executive pastor of operations at College Park Church (Indianapolis), delivered a crystal clear and meaningful message to the church family about the financial picture at their church. We asked Bruce these five questions to learn from his experience.

What are your hopes/goals when you're communicating to the church about finances?

Our aim for all financial material is to engage the church family in a way that communicates “this information is important and credible” and to do so in a context that people can relate to easily. 

How do you determine what to share (what numbers/depth)?

Financial data can be difficult for people to follow when presented in a large group setting. To help with that, we consider “what do we want the church family to know, to feel, and to do?”  We work to deliver the information in a way that flows logically and with a sense of simplicity.

There is a spectrum of financial interest in every audience, and it is critical to be certain the data is accurate and builds trust. It is important for the data to substantiate each major point of the update but not be so detailed that people need to do mental math to figure out what we are trying to say. The financial update is successful if the information is received by the church family as clear, concise, and connected to the mission of the church ministry.

How do you translate the numbers for non-financial types?

Our primary audience is the non-financial person, so we try not to use technical terms, industry ratios, mathematical formulas, or number after number. Our goal is to have data as a piece of but not the primary focus of the update. People need to understand the data, but more importantly they need to understand what the financial data means to the church.

We are grateful for the people in our church family who are skilled in the financial arena. To serve these experts, we offer additional financial information on our website and welcome them to meet with staff or leadership for further discussion.

Who else on the leadership team/staff is involved in preparing and presenting the information and what are their roles?

Our team does a fabulous job communicating to the church family on a regular basis via our e-newsletter, month-end reports, and year-end audit results. This has created an environment in which talking about financial matters is not foreign. Other team members give lots of help determining how the financial information is best presented in word, with supporting images, and additional documents. 

What advice would you have for the leader who is tasked with this duty but simply not comfortable doing so?

  1. Pray for wisdom and clarity.
  2. Determine your goal for updating the church family.
  3. Understand the financial facts and how they relate to the ministry.
  4. Define your main point and your sub-points.
  5. Work with a small team to develop the message and supporting documents.
  6. Keep in mind, the primary message is not the data. The primary message is what does the data mean to the ministry.
  7. Practice.
  8. Relax. You are prepared and have a really important message to share with your church family.