New resource provides help with understanding church finances

July 24, 2020 by Sally Scherer

If terms like “principles of financial reporting,” “narrative budgets” and “e-giving” leave your head spinning – or at least a little foggy – you are not alone.

But now, thanks to a new online resource from the Presbyterian Foundation, there's help for those who find knowledge and understanding of church finances to be a challenge.

The Church Financial Leadership Academy, which debuted in early June, is designed to help improve financial literacy for Presbyterian pastors and church leaders. It is offered free of charge.

Through a series of short videos on a variety of topics, the e-learning platform helps explain organizational financial terms and concepts.

The tool also offers additional resources, a short quiz to test what you've learned and a page where you can get help from a Presbyterian Foundation Ministry Relations Officer.

Rev. David Loleng, director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership for the Presbyterian Foundation, guided the creation of the Church Financial Leadership Academy.

“In the opening video, we explain that you're not on your own when it comes to church finances. We have a whole cadre of people who you can contact who can answer questions, help talk things through,” Loleng explained.

And that's a good thing because even Loleng, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, said he didn't learn about church financial literacy in seminary.

“We had elective courses on a variety of topics, but financial literacy wasn't something that was required or offered,” he said.

Financial and gift professionals shaped the curriculum

The Academy format is simple, easy to use and easily shareable so session members, church leaders and pastors can watch independently. And the format is based on the learner, rather than linear learning, explained Loleng.

“It's based on the idea that the learner knows what they want to learn,” he said.

With the help of Presbyterian Foundation's financial and gift planning professionals – Ministry Relations Officers – and others from the foundation, Loleng wrote the academy's curriculum. He had previous curriculum writing experience while working with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Mission Agency as Associate for Evangelism. He also has more than 20 years of ministry experience in Presbyterian churches in California.

“The short-form videos are easy to learn from, and then we also offer resources if people want to dig deeper into each topic,” he explained.

The Ministry Relations Officers wrote video scripts on 20 topics in which they have expertise. For example, Lisa Longo explains Planned Giving and Endowments, Olanda Carr talks about Year-Round Stewardship and Generosity Teams and Robert Hay discusses Narrative Budgets.

In addition, Melissa Spas, managing director of education and engagement with the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, is featured in two videos about The Changing Landscape of Religious Giving. And the Rev. Jihyon Oh, a teaching elder with the Greater Atlanta Presbytery, and Director of Mid-Council Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) discusses the touchy subject of Should Pastors Know What People Give?

“This is a topic that lots of folks want guidance in,” Loleng explained. “We're not suggesting what churches do, but rather we're hoping by bringing up the topic, we can help start the conversation if there's hesitancy.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. funded development

Funding for the online tool came from the Lilly Endowment Inc., which supports religious, educational and community development causes.

The Presbyterian Foundation received an initial $1 million grant from the Lily Foundation in December 2015 to develop pilot programs that provided tools and grants to assist a small group of churches and pastors in discovering new ways to fund their ministries.

After successes during the initial phase, an additional $1 million grant was received in 2019 to allow the Presbyterian Foundation to offer financial leadership training and tools.

So far, reviews of the Church Financial Leadership Academy have been good, Loleng said.

Now, work is underway to create a financial coaching network and to provide training in Spanish and Korean. Then, 20 more topics will be added, he said.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for the Foundation to advance our work in offering stewardship education and real-life tools that provide truly meaningful help for our congregations and ministries to fund their vital ministries,” says Tom Taylor, President and CEO of the Presbyterian Foundation. “Lilly Endowment has a keen vision for what the church can be in the future and how to support pastors and church leaders in their work. We are so honored to have received this funding for a second time from Lilly Endowment and are so excited about working nationally with pastors and congregations to shape the future of Christ's church.”

Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment's religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.

Sally Scherer is a writer and communications consultant based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a member of Second Presbyterian Church, where she is an elder and a member of the choir.