January 2020
Transformative Vestries

The Finance Resource Your Vestry Needs

Finance-related issues are a major topic of discussion for vestries – whether the discussion focuses on this year’s stewardship campaign, the budget, the church treasurer’s monthly balance sheet, or whether or not the church needs a new roof. Those conversations can seem daunting at times for a myriad of reasons, including gaps in knowledge between leaders, differing language and varying experiences with money and finances. ECF’s new Finance Resource Guide (FRG) is here to help, not only to make those conversations less daunting, but also to provide a framework for transformational vestries as they explore financial opportunities and issues together.

So how can the FRG be helpful to you and your vestry today or at your next vestry meeting or retreat? Here are a few ways:

Speaking the same language

It’s a time of year when many vestries are welcoming new members into their midst and taking time to get to know one another as a congregation’s chosen leaders and fiduciaries. While some of these new members may work in finance, there are likely others who have never had to read a balance sheet – and many levels of financial literacy in between.

The FRG invites all church leaders, regardless of their previous finance-related experience, to learn together about how finances work in the particular context of a faith community and – more particularly – your faith community. Every chapter is geared to help a vestry engage together on questions that encourage conversation and greater mutual understanding on a variety of finance-related issues, such as:

  • What story does your balance sheet tell about your congregation?
  • What are your congregation’s assets?
  • How has your congregation prepared for a disaster that might impact your building, your data systems or your leadership?
  • What are the advantages that your congregation enjoys because of its size?

In addition to exploring aspects of church finances together, welcoming and orienting new members is an ideal time to refresh the group’s understanding of the vestry’s responsibilities for the church’s finances, as designated in your congregation’s by-laws, church canons and state and federal laws. While that might sound a bit intimidating – especially to new vestry members or those with no background in finance or non-profit leadership – the FRG provides a brief introduction to this topic in a chapter on “The Vestry and Church Finances.” The support materials in the FRG also provide a guide for engaging in a group study around finances and leadership that can be helpful when a vestry “on-boards” new vestry members at a special meeting or vestry retreat.

To make sure all your vestry members are on the same page, sometimes quite literally, the FRG also includes a glossary of “Essential Financial Terms.” While by no means exhaustive, this list is helpful in ensuring that, for example, vestry members better understand what the church treasurer is talking about when she reports on the variance between budget and actual in her monthly report.

Stewardship and talking about money

Sometime this year, your vestry as a whole or with a committee that includes vestry members is going to begin talking about the year’s “Stewardship Campaign.” And by that, most congregations mean a campaign to invite and encourage the community’s members to make their financial pledge to the church for the coming year. When the leaders of a community of faith ask members to make a pledge or gift to the church, those leaders also need to be ready to share their experiences, personal and institutional, about giving and money.

Chapter 1 of the FRG begins and ends with what Jesus had to say about money. This is a great place to start the conversation amongst vestry members and begin thinking, not just about the fundraising aspect of stewardship, but the formational one, as well. Chapter Two, “Stewardship,” is a helpful guide in looking at stewardship as a whole and learning ways to make it a transformational experience for your entire congregation.

Strategizing your congregation’s future (financial and otherwise)

While “strategic thinking” and “budgeting process” may not, at first glance, sound exciting, these opportunities in your church year are an ideal time to ask each other and your congregation questions that have the power to further energize and transform your community. Questions like, “Is your spending aligned with your mission and vision?” can ignite a new way of looking at your budget for the coming year. The FRG takes you through various ways to look at where money and mission align (or don’t) in your congregation and how to engage in strategic thinking and budgeting that can be adapted to be effective and authentic for your community.

How to afford that new roof for the church building

While the vestry pulls back to look at the larger picture, they also engage in more specific discussions and decisions that affect the finances of the church – such as, when and how to replace the church building’s roof. The FRG can help guide conversation on looking at your financial health and how to begin addressing issues like whether or not you have a capital reserve fund and how those funds can best be built and managed for the long-term good of your community. Conversations about pressing and immediate financial needs are, of course, specific to your community’s context, which is why every chapter of the FRG includes first-person stories and articles from church leaders who are doing this work and wrestling with these issues in congregations of many different sizes and situations.

The Finance Resource Guide is a starting point and a guidebook for church leaders. Every chapter and the supporting materials at the end of the book point to many other resources, both digital and print, that address in more detail the concepts and ideas mentioned throughout the FRG. The best resource – and the one the FRG encourages you to utilize throughout the book – is one another. There are financial leaders and experts in your congregation, your community and your diocese, and the FRG provides suggestions for questions and topics you can use to engage these other leaders in helping you and your vestry chart your congregation’s financial course for many years to come.

Click here to learn more and purchase a copy of the FRG.

Nicole Seiferth is parish administrator for the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, TN. She wrote the Finance Resource Guide, in partnership with Editor Demi Prentiss, for ECF. Nicole has worked with a variety of Episcopal churches and organizations, and other non-profits, as a writer, editor, fundraiser and administrator.


This article is part of the January 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Transformative Vestries