Although there is strong desire among many ELCA congregations to be financially healthy, it is common for congregations to wrestle with financial problems. Due to shrinking attendance in worship, decreased giving, the short tenure of congregational treasurers, a reluctance to apply business practices to the finances of a church, and lack of financial knowledge among pastors and many in the congregation, many congregations struggle with budgets, resource allocation and sustained growth.
Through the Congregational Certificate Program, your congregation has the opportunity to follow a road map to greater financial stability, using healthy behaviors which focus on five key areas: Accounting, Finance, Human Resources, Risk Management and Stewardship.
Each module contains resources related to healthy financial behaviors. Ultimately, by implementing and maintaining a set of financially healthy behaviors, and tracking them through this website, your congregations will receive a certificate, indicating your focus on financial health.
The goal of the program is for your congregation to deepen its financial knowledge and improve its financial behaviors, enabling you to best use the funding available to you.
Recording and reporting the flow of money within a congregation instills confidence in its leaders and constituents that the financial resources needed for mission and vision are being generated and directed according to plan. Financial transparency also feeds a culture of trust that inspires people and motivates future gifts.
Financial and physical resources are tools for ministry that make everything else possible. Planning for and directing these resources appropriately provides a map for how a congregation will act on its mission. This is foundational to having an impact and making a difference in the name of Jesus.
Staff provide support for programmatic offerings and ministry within congregations. In many congregations, staff expenses represent the largest or second largest line items in a congregation’s budget, as well as a significant source of administrative complexity.
Like other organizations and individuals, congregations face a variety of risks that need to be understood and planned for to minimize their potential impact. Managing risk involves thoughtful discernment of these unwanted events as well as the insurance or other backup plans needed to address them when they do.
People’s understanding of their calling to make a difference through their congregation significantly affects their engagement, leadership and financial support. In addition to making meaningful ministry happen, it is vital that congregations continually teach, inspire, challenge, and affirm stewardship principles and generosity.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE CONGREGATIONAL CERTIFICATE PROGRAM
The hope is that every congregation can easily find a way to participate in the Congregational Certificate Program. One of the intended audiences for the program is leaders of ELCA congregations who are interested in improving the financial wellness of the congregation and are not sure where to start. In many congregations, there are fewer and fewer people to take on the responsibilities and challenges of the work of the congregation. Even in congregations where there is an abundance of people willing to serve, issues of congregational finance may be a mystery.
We believe that the Congregational Certificate Program can assist congregational leaders to determine what they know and what they do not know about congregational finance and provide them with a starting point and a road map to greater financial stability. This may enable leaders to step forward and serve with greater confidence and competence.
This program is also intended for congregations that have the basics of congregational finance under control and are looking for ways to think more intentionally about congregational financial wellness, taking a deeper dive into topics beyond those on the surface (e.g., narrative budgeting, online giving).
Finally, this program is intended for congregational leaders who are interested in helping other ELCA congregations improve their financial wellness. Congregational leaders across the church will be able to answer one another’s questions and share resources they have developed or curated.
Share the infographic titled Improve Congregational Financial Wellness with leaders in your congregation to start or enhance a discussion about finances and how the Congregational Certificate Program could help your congregation.
Explore the available resources – The “Congregations” area of is divided into five modules: Accounting, Finance, Human Resources, Risk Management and Stewardship. Each module contains resources related to healthy financial behaviors. Follow the links associated with each healthy congregational behavior to do a deeper dive into the topic.
Log in – Use your congregation’s five-digit identification number to log in to the Congregational Portal. This will allow you to:
• Track behavior – Logging in allows you to track your congregation’s progress toward financially healthy behaviors. You should first indicate your congregation’s current proficiency on each behavior. Your congregation will not likely be proficient at every behavior; it will require behavior change to become proficient. This may be challenging, but the resources will help you on the journey. When you make progress on a behavior, log back in to the website and report the change. Upon indicating proficiency on financially healthy behaviors, your congregation will earn a certificate.
• Receive resources – The first 50 congregations that log in to the Resourceful Servants site will receive a copy of “Church Finance: The Complete Guide to Managing Ministry Resources” by Michael Batts and Richard Hammar.
Provide feedback – This program is currently in the pilot phase. If there is a resource that is particularly helpful to you, or one that is not helpful, or if you believe a healthy congregational behavior is missing from our list, we want to know about it. Use the Congregational Certificate Feedback Survey to guide your specific feedback to us. We will take all this feedback into account as we enhance this site.
To achieve a Congregational Certificate, your congregation must use the Congregational Portal under the “Track Your Progress” heading on the bottom of each page in this section to report its proficiency on each of the 21 healthy congregational behaviors.
Practically, your congregation must provide one of the two following answers through the portal for each behavior:
• “We do this quite well, with little need for development/improvement,” or
• “We do this very well, with no need for development/improvement.”
Resourceful Servants will monitor the portal data on a regular basis to determine:
• which congregations have logged in,
• their reported proficiency on each healthy financial behavior, and
• which congregations have achieved a Congregational Certificate.
Congregational Certificates will be awarded to congregations at synod assemblies.
Beyond the intrinsic motivation of improving the financial health of your congregation, a Congregational Certificate may benefit your congregation in the following ways:
Ease of knowledge transition – Congregations that track their healthy financial behaviors through the Congregational Portal should have an easier time transferring knowledge and practices from one person (e.g., a finance chair or treasurer) to another within the congregation. Record keeping will inform new officers of the congregation’s financial behaviors and prepare them for further actions.
Notation on congregational profile – When a congregation is in the call process, pastors seeking a call with that congregation will be able to see this notation. Having a certificate may indicate to a potential pastor that financial health is valued by the leadership and the congregation.
Recognition at a synod assembly – Lifting up congregations who have completed the Congregational Certificate process among their peers at a synod assembly reinforces the importance of the accomplishment and the work associated with it.
Preferred interest rates through lending institutions – Receiving a congregational certificate may allow your congregation to receive a preferred interest rate on a loan through the Mission Investment Fund or similar institutions. This is a natural consequence of improved financial practices at the congregational level. Congregations with good financial practices are judged to be less of a financial risk and are thus better positioned to lock in a lower interest rate.
It may initially take your congregation some time before it is able to achieve a Congregational Certificate. You may need to research, understand and track your current behaviors before they can be improved. Because of congregational situations, and as staff and volunteers change over time, the self-reported proficiency on a behavior lasts 18 months. At that time, your congregation will need to reassess its rating on the behavior. If all behavior ratings are still valid, the Congregational Certificate will be renewed.
Do all ELCA congregations have access to the "Congregations" area of the Resourceful Servants website?
Yes. All ELCA congregations can access the “Congregations” area of this website. However, the website is being promoted and piloted with congregations in four synods: New Jersey, North Carolina, Rocky Mountain and Southwestern Minnesota.
As congregations in these synods examine the content and structure of the pilot site, we will gather their feedback and enhance the website based on that feedback. The timeframe for the pilot period is 2018.
PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO RESOURCEFUL SERVANTS
The Congregational Certificate Program is currently in the pilot phase. If there is a resource that is particularly helpful to you, or one that is not helpful, or if you believe a healthy congregational behavior is missing from our list, we want to know about it.
Use the Congregational Certificate Feedback Survey to guide your specific feedback to us. We will take all this feedback into account as we enhance this site.
TRACK YOUR PROGRESS
Track your congregation’s improvement on healthy financial behaviors using the Congregational Portal. Start by indicating your congregation’s current proficiency on the behaviors associated with each of the 5 modules included on this website: Accounting, Finance, Human Resources, Risk Management and Stewardship.
As your congregation implements new behaviors, log in to the portal, find the behavior and indicate your improved proficiency.
To log in, you will need your five-digit congregational ID and the password provided to you to complete your 2016 Annual Report. If you need this information, contact Resourceful Servants at firstname.lastname@example.org.