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Why is merging membership information with financial data important for churches?

Financial data is important, but so is operational data

In order to help us build and shape our church, we must track membership activity both in giving and participation. Creating a healthy community of believers is a primary goal for any church. As we grow the church, our analytics produce different results than those in the business world but our ability to evaluate the health of both our members and our finances is paramount to the success of the church.

It is common knowledge, for those running businesses, that tracking and measuring performance is essential for growing a company. The same holds true for churches. 

Metrics are an objective way to measure the health of a church. However, isolating one metric, such as attendance is like calculating your height and declaring yourself healthy. The best way to get an overall view of a church’s financial health is connecting the dots between the church membership system and the financial data. By applying operational data and non-financial performance metrics to the financial information, you broaden the view for the decision makers.

Forecasting has become much more popular amongst growing churches. When it comes to collecting contributions, there is the ebb and flow (ups and downs) during weeks of the month and months of the year. Identifying these trends is one step in the right direction. But more importantly, creating benchmarks, like average gift per attendee, brings more credence to the forecast.   

Most, if not all churches, have a “scorecard” or “record log” of all attendance and weekly giving from the beginning of the church to current day. Dollars collected, membership growth and number of visitors are a few key elements of this document, usually stored inside a huge Excel workbook. What if you took the counts of the total dollars, total members or total visitors and combed it with budgetary commitments? By showing a correlation between your mission effectiveness and your financial stewardship, your overall view expands. Let’s take it one step further: By gathering the data and creating trends over time, you are able to develop cash flows and project initiatives that match your future visionary goals.

How important is it for a church to analyze the data? Don’t get me wrong, faith decisions are made all the time in church. But I am reminded of the parable found in Luke 12:35-48. In this parable of the faithful steward, Jesus teaches on the important of being prepared and watchful.

The list below contains some of the most common metrics used to keep a finger on the pulse of your church's stability.

People metrics

  • Members/attendees
  • Volunteers
  • Small group involvement
  • First-time guests
  • Baptisms
  • Turnover
  • Headcounts
  • By age
  • Volunteer to staff ratio

Financial metrics

  • Attendance vs. Giving
  • Is your back door wide open?
  • Seasoned givers
  • Staff cost ratio to over-all budget
  • Debt service percentage of total giving
  • Forecast based on new attendees against seasoned givers
  • Average gift per attendee per week
  • Donor churn rate
  • Last gift received date
  • Has there been an increase in giving per household year over year?
  • By department or ministry

Managing data should not consume all of your time. At the end of the day, we are about growing the church and changing lives. We cannot do this if we are buried in Excel spreadsheets. Some key suggestions:

  • Make sure you have the proper tools to streamline data tracking and enable current, accurate data
  • Take advantage of today's technology
  • Choose accounting and financial management tools that allow you to automate reports and set up tailored dashboards with simple data visualization to quickly identify trends
  • Make sure your church management software and your accounting software can integrate or combine data so that you don't have to be a wizard in Excel

Don’t let the frustration of data management prevent you from tracking important visionary planning metrics.

Allison Webb
Director, CPA
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