Create “Effortless” Church Accounting Practices

  • Impacts of financial decisions
  • 9/1/2021

“Effortless” accounting can help bring clarity and efficiency to your organization’s financial practices. Review your church’s accounting process to find ways to reduce complexity and increase automatic workflow.

Key insights

  • To help create an effortless accounting practice, reduce the number of steps involved.
  • Simplification and automation are key concepts to apply to your accounting function.
  • Evaluate the necessity of each step in your accounting process and use technology to your advantage.
  • Using short weekly meetings to review and revise your accounting process can be highly productive.

Are your church accounting practices complex and cumbersome?

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Could you use the word “effortless” to describe your church’s accounting practices? Frequently, we hear just the opposite. Many church accounting departments have cumbersome procedures, delayed monthly reports, and, generally speaking, frustration on the part of those inside and outside the accounting function.

Principles of being effortless

We recently read Greg McKeown’s book, Effortless, and highly recommend it. The premise of Greg’s book is: “What if this could be easy?” We began thinking about church accounting processes and how Greg’s principles could help churches discover easier ways to manage the accounting function, process transactions seamlessly, and deliver reports timely and with accuracy. Of the many principles in Greg’s book, two are significant for church finance departments: simplify and automate.

The principle of simplification is about identifying the absolute minimum number of steps that a process should take. Simplicity, according to Greg, is “maximizing the steps not taken.” Likewise, with the principle of automation we should seek to create a system that reduces complexity and frees up our mental energies for other tasks.

Streamlining the process

Not all processes are bad and need fixing. For example, if your church has developed the practice of paying bills on a certain day of the week, you have embraced the concept of batching in order reduce the time and effort it takes when handling disbursements. It’s likely, however, that many of your processes haven’t been recently reviewed to determine how to make the process simpler — or how to automate them.

For example, let’s look at a typical disbursement process for a church. It might look something like this:

  1. Open and sort mail, route paper invoice to correct department
  2. Invoice is picked up by ministry admin, put into inbox of ministry leader for approval
  3. Invoice is picked up by ministry leader, reviews invoice, writes approval on invoice
  4. Ministry leader routes back to administrative staff
  5. Administrative staff put the invoice in the finance mailbox/inbox
  6. Accounts payable (AP) staff realizes it needs another approval due to size of invoice, so they drop it into executive pastor’s inbox
  7. Executive pastor’s admin retrieves and puts in inbox of executive pastor
  8. Executive pastor initials approval and hands back to admin
  9. Admin drops back into AP inbox
  10. AP staff retrieves from inbox and keys into accounting system
  11. AP staff queues for payment on correct day of the week
  12. Check is printed
  13. Check is delivered to director of finance and/or executive pastor for signing
  14. Signed checks returned to admin team
  15. Admin staff stuffs check in envelope and mails
  16. Check stubs returned to AP staff to attach to check request
  17. AP staff staples stub to supporting documentation and files

Did you find that exhausting? What if you used cloud-based payables processing to significantly reduce the number of steps?

  1. Vendor emails bill directly to custom church email address. If check request, staff preps digital form, routes to custom email address
  2. AP staff pulls invoice from digital inbox and preps basics of bill (vendor name, terms, amount, coding, and due date)
    (Note that current technology allows artificial intelligence to prepopulate many of these fields, reducing the overall burden on the AP team.)
  3. Bill is electronically routed to correct approvers (department leader and automatically to executive pastor based on dollar threshold)
  4. Accounting team is notified automatically by email when bill is fully approved
  5. Accounting team sets up for payment by third-party processor who cuts and mails the check or sends an ACH payment
  6. If the church needs to print the check in house, it is easily selected and sent to the accounting system for printing on digitally signed checks

The principles of simplification and automation are both present in this six-step example (versus the 17 steps of the previous process). Ministry leaders should challenge existing processes and seek to make them uncomplicated by using current technology and automation techniques.

Make the time to get started

There’s no one right way to workshop a map of your current accounting processes. You could put together a PowerPoint presentation, or write each step on a sticky note and put them on the wall during a team meeting. No matter how you start, be sure to ask the following questions about each step

  • Do we need to do this?
  • Can we do it sooner?
  • Can we make it simpler or more automated?

This methodology is helpful for revising your church’s month-end closing process, as well as evaluating the steps for disbursements, payroll, weekly offerings, or really anything else.

Hold a 30-minute team meeting at the start of every week to begin reviewing your processes and exploring ways to simplify and automate them. Tackling these reviews in short, regularly scheduled time periods can quickly generate significant progress toward helping your finance department run more effortlessly.

How we can help

A simple and efficient accounting process can help free up time and energy your staff can use to focus on your church’s goals. Our nonprofit professionals can help you structure your financial systems to wholly support your church’s mission and enhance your overall effectiveness.

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