Church Administrator’s Office

I rearranged the furniture in my office a few years ago. I had the typical setup: desk in the middle of the office with cabinets and shelves behind me and a couple of chairs on the other side of the desk for guests to sit in. When people visited me, there was always a desk between us. When I handed papers across the desk, it was perceived as impersonal and by some even imperial. If I wanted to explain a document, I had to come around the desk and sit in one of the chairs – it was sometimes awkward but it did lend a sense of control and power on my part.

A church administrator, by definition, already has a lot of authority in a church. He or she doesn’t need to have an office that reinforces that. The work the administrator does should demonstrate his or her position in the church, not the office. Many people are intimidated when they go to the administrator’s office just because of the position – some people are even quite fearful. I believe the layout of administrator’s office should help put people at ease. Here’s what I did to my office:

I moved my desk to a corner of the office in a position such that I could see anyone who was at my door (which always remains open).

  • I even downsized my desk because I keep most files electronically and don’t need a big desk to hold files (a lateral file cabinet holds most files).
  • I put a small round table in my office with four chairs. I like round tables because they have no “head” so all chairs are equal.

My office was now set – the round table was the centerpiece (not the desk) and all other furniture was pushed to the sides. Whenever anyone came to my door, I invited them to sit at the table. Most of the time people refused and just asked their question but about once a day, someone did sit and we had a conversation about whatever they needed (I got about 10-15 visitors a day). A couple of times I came to my office only to see others using it because they liked the set up; I took that as a compliment.

Whatever your position in the church, if you have a private office, I encourage you to physically structure your office to eliminate barriers between you and the people you serve. Instead, have a meeting place such as a round table as the main feature which will make your place inviting and less threatening.


Lead On!



Employer References Regarding Employees

What should former employers do?

o   Sometimes a prospective employer will call a former employer regarding a potential employee in an attempt to get a reference. What should the former employer say or do? The answer is very simple: tell the prospective employer ONLY the dates of employment of a former employee.

o   The former employer may know of behavior that is unprofessional, but revealing that to a future employer can be fraught with legal dangers. The information in an employee’s annual evaluation is typically a judgment call by a supervisor. That opinion can be the result of several factors, even emotional reactions to a specific situation. Years later, those emotions and decisions may no longer be valid. Thus, only the facts related to the former employee’s employment dates should be given.

What should a prospective employer do?

o   Always call a former employer of a prospective employee. I suggest calling one or two immediate prior employers to see if there is anything which the prospective employer should be aware of. While a former employer may not give information (see above section), some will.

o   Get information about personal relationships and professional behavior – asking about those two items may lead to knowledge that will affect the hiring decision.

o   If a former employer will not provide any information, then ask the following question: “Would you hire this person back?” The former employer may not give a full verbal answer, but the way they answer that question might provide all the information needed. Listen closely.


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Church Business Meetings (part 3 of 3)

This the third part on church business meetings. In the first section I talked about how to make the membership reports more engaging; the second post was about church programs and reporting how they use their resources, both financial and people, to carry out the church’s vision. This post will be on church decision-making and voting.

Decisions: most decisions should be made at committee levels, since they have more time and information to get into the nuts and bolts of why a decision is necessary. For instance, financial decisions are the realm of the Finance Committee, decisions affecting the church’s staff are the responsibility of the Personnel Committee, etc. It is the duty of each committee to bring to the church a report (see part 2 in this blog series) detailing the actions and reasons. The committee can be asked questions, but the responsibility lies with the committee. If the church body at large disagrees with the committee, then the church body can vote to either replace the committee and/or overturn the committee’s action.

Decisions which affect the entire church body are the ones that should be intentionally brought before the entire church. This requires a lot of education of church members ahead of time. It usually means that information is shared at one meeting, time is built in for members to think about the decision and gain more knowledge, and then everyone comes back to a subsequent meeting for a vote. Asking members to show up at a meeting, get up to speed in 15 to 20 minutes and then vote is not reasonable. If a decision is important enough to be brought before the congregation, then it should be a deliberate decision and not a hasty one. Give people time and you’ll see the “wisdom of the crowds.”

Implementing all or parts of these recommendations will make church business meetings flow more smoothly, be more enjoyable, and lead to better actions by the church. Try to do one of these at a time and incorporate these ideas over a period of months, if not years, and then gauge the attitude toward business meetings.


Lead On!




Church Business Meetings (part 2 of 3)

This the second part on church business meetings and how they should change. The reason for the change is so the members and guests see the church as dynamic, not as static and boring. I believe that business must be engaging and not merely a recitation of fact and figures. Business meetings should consist of stories of people and how the church is helping them. My first post focused on the membership report. This post will focus on the programming reports.

Reports: the church is about the business of helping people see how much God loves them. The most common way churches do this is through their programming and activities. But if you’re not involved in one of those areas, you probably don’t know what is going on. Why not use the church business meeting to share with the entire church all of the successes (and failures) of the past and the exciting things that are planned for the future?

When the church’s financial report is given, the treasurer interviews ministry leaders saying, “The church has given you X dollars; can you tell us how you’ve used that money?” Then, the ministry leader talks about what they did with the money using pictures, music, children and youth, other adults, and any resource he or she has. The treasurer presents financial information about each ministry area and uses that a lead-in to ask what is going on with that money.

By the end of the business meeting, attendees have seen and heard what their church is doing, who is involved, how much money has been spent and for what, and what is going to happen in the next few weeks and months. Everyone leaves the meetings having been informed about events outside their areas of interest.

At every meeting, the reports from the main ministry areas are a must: missions, age-level programming (adults, young adults, youth, and children), pastoral care, administration, fellowship, and worship (the five purposes of the church). Then, reports can be given by other ministry areas as there is need and time.

One caveat: all reports must be engaging and the treasurer/interviewer must be energetic in asking questions and encouraging the presenter to be enthusiastic. Reading dry reports should not be permitted; the church must be an exciting place to be and the reports must reflect that.

Next post: decision-making!


Lead On!


Church Business Meetings (part 1 of 3)

Most church business meetings are boring – at least the ones I’ve attended. They typically consist of three distinct areas:

  • Numbers: someone presents financial numbers (without giving too much detail lest the audience doze off) and someone else reads a list of people who have joined or left the church
  • Reports: occasionally there is a report about some area of the church and usually these reports are read aloud from the information which is in the packet handed out to all attendees
  • Decisions: sometimes there is an item or two on which church members will vote based on a two-minute presentation

Then the meeting ends, and members leave with very little new information about what is going on in their church. I propose a new format which contains much of the same information, but the presentation is completely different.

Numbers: Every business meeting should have the “nickels and noses” reports (how many people and how much money we’ve got). Financial information, which can be very dry, must be presented to the church in a more dynamic way – more on that in the reports blog (part 2).

  • Membership data should be treated with sensitivity. Most people never know what a church does until they actually experience it, good and bad. What if we told members ahead of time how they can expect to be treated? I can also imagine how members might share that knowledge with other people who have a negative impression of the church in general and sometimes your church specifically. Here are ways to change the membership report:

o   For those who leave the church due to death, the business meeting should pause so that the minister or volunteers talk about the ways the church ministers to the dying and their families. This helps those who are hearing the informatlon to know how their church helps families at some of the worst and hardest times.

o   For those who leave the church to go to another church, someone should talk about how the church reached out to these people to ask them why they left and then explain the reasons, even if the reasons are painful and personal.

o   For those who join the church, there should be a celebration and telling of their stories. New members who are willing could be interviewed at the business meeting so that everyone can get to know something about them. A standard set of “get-to-know-you” questions can be created and given to them ahead of time. Caution: new members must not be forced into doing this – it should be optional, not mandatory.

o   Finally, each new member should be paired with a same-gender long-time member for a year in order to guide the new person through the idiosyncrasies of the church. This pairing will help the new member be integrated to the church and help retain them.


Lead On!



One aspect of the life-cycle of churches has to do with their possessions.

  • Early on the church has almost nothing. The church is typically pretty open about sharing its resources (loaning chairs and tables for instance) with others.
  • When the church gets buildings and even more possessions, the church develops policies which guide when and how the building can be rented and items loaned. The ultimate goal is to protect the church from litigation, but these procedures usually evolve to protect the church from outside groups or non-members who might damage the building or items.
  • Finally, a church shrinks so that eventually everything it has is given away in its last act of generosity. Its possessions and buildings are sold or handed to another church.

All churches struggle with providing a balance between being generous with what it has to help its own members, its community, and other churches—being cautious so that what it has accrued over the years is not lost or damaged. That is a fine line to walk, and it requires a lot of active decisions.

I can’t offer an easy answer to this. I can ask churches to share as much as possible with others just as others shared with them when they were a young church. Don’t give everything away, but don’t be stingy either. Develop a balance by asking one question: What is the motive or reason someone wants to borrow or use something your church owns?

If it is meant to help one person have personal profit and it isn’t church related, then the church should walk away from that. But if the goal is to help the community or another church, then the church should seriously consider (but not rubber stamp) that opportunity. Be generous, but don’t give away everything. Don’t be greedy, but seek times when you can genuinely help others and other organizations.

Lead On!



Top 10 Ways to Help the Finance Office (part 3 of 3)

A colleague asked me how staff and lay members can help the church’s Finance Office. Here is my top ten list; yours may be different – let me know what I left out.

8. Forms are not evil

  • Most forms from the Finance Office are required by a Federal or State agency (IRS, Dept. of Labor, etc.) or by good accounting principles adopted by the Finance Committee.
  • If you don’t know how to read a form, the Finance Office staff can help you since we deal with these forms every day and you probably don’t see them very often. Please ask for help.
  • Turn in your paid time off (sick, vacation, etc.) forms regularly. Do NOT wait till the end of the year or quarter to do that.

9. Learn to read financial statements and read them regularly

  • You need to know what is being spent from your budget.
  • Some expenses are charged to your budget without your prior knowledge such as expenses for the copiers and postage meter – that’s another good reason to read financial statements.
  • Knowing the financial status of your ministry area will help you lead your lay member teams better, too.

10. Consider all payments you make to be open for others to see

  • When you spend church money, always ask yourself “Can I explain this expense to the average church member?”
  • All expenses should be for things that advance the cause and mission of the church. Anything less is poor stewardship.

A concluding note: The Finance Office does make mistakes, but we try to keep these to a minimum. Please help us by reviewing your pay stubs to ensure you’re getting paid correctly, reading your financial statements, and meticulously doing anything and everything related to finances.


Lead On!


Top 10 Ways to Help the Finance Office (part 2 of 3)

A colleague asked me how staff and lay members can help the church’s Finance Office. Here is my top ten list; yours may be different – let me know what I left out.

4. Paying speakers more than $600 in a year requires paperwork

  • If a person is paid $600 or more, the church must get his/her social security number and address so we can send him/her a 1099.
  • Because one person may be used by different departments in a year, anyone who is paid $300 or more in one check must complete a W-9 (which captures a person’s Social Security Number).
  • This is an IRS requirement. Don’t blame the Finance Office for this.

5. Account properly for any money you receive

  • NEVER keep money at your desk/office overnight. Please place it with the Finance Office for safekeeping and get it back the next day.
  • Use the deposit envelopes and fill them out completely.
  • Really, really, really look for ways to accept payments online (for registering for an event or payment for an activity or donations). Online payments are safer and you have a record of who paid what.

6. Fundraising is okay but there are steps

  • All fundraising must be pre-approved by the Finance Committee. NO exceptions.
  • This is to ensure coordination of fundraising, eliminate any timing conflicts, and avoid fundraising for activities not in keeping with our faith principles

7. Budget is a strategic exercise – and that is a good thing

  • ALWAYS be thinking about your budget for the next year in the current year. Ask questions such as what lines have too much or too little money; what lines can be consolidated or even eliminated.
  • Plan next year’s budget NOW (that means anytime during the year). Work with your lay leaders now asking them about their dreams and how they can be implemented.

Lead On!