The Separation of Accounting Duties

Keeping Financial Activities Aboveboard in the Local Church

We greatly value people who can do it all in a local church. These versatile members of the body seem to thrive no matter what responsibility they shoulder. They are precious gifts from God to the local church, but we would be unwise to let them do it all, especially when it comes to matters of church finances. In financial discipline in the local church, there are duties that are incompatible for the same person to do. It is the privilege of the financial administrator or the bookkeeping staff to serve the Lord and the pastor of the local church by helping maintain orderliness in all of these matters.

Romans 14:13 gives us an important principle for handling financial matters in a local church: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” In order to protect God’s resources and the testimony of God’s servants, we must do our best to remove any opportunity for mismanagement or misappropriation of church funds. Without proper separation of accounting duties, we place a potential stumblingblock before our fellow servants and set them up for failure.

There are three functions of the accounting process that should be performed by different individuals: the recording of transactions, the authorization of transactions, and the custody of assets. As an example, when writing a ministry check, the functions of printing the check (recording), signing the check (authorization), and reconciling the bank statement (custody) should be separated. If the same person fulfills all three tasks, the ministry is set up for criticism at best and misappropriation of funds at worst.

The primary reason churches do not separate these duties is because of a lack of manpower. Here are a few strategies to involve more people in the process. First, spread out the duties among the existing church staff. If you have a secretary who primarily answers phones, she could also reconcile the bank statement once a month.

The second strategy is to involve member volunteers. For members with the time, ability, and character, this is a great opportunity to serve. The treasurers in many churches are unpaid volunteers. As part of their responsibility, they could come in a couple times a week to sign checks. It is a great way to move one of those three functions to another person.

Finally, setting up dual control of assets is vital for safeguarding the ministry. This is primarily for liquid assets such as bank accounts and undeposited cash—assets most susceptible to problems.

For bank accounts, there are a couple of ways to exercise dual control. Requiring two signatures on checks is simple. Fill out a form with your bank to require every check to have two approved signatures. Even online banking can be set up with dual controls. One person creates the transaction, and then someone else must separately authorize the transaction.

All of these practices which enhance security and accountability require a willingness to change. This often involves discomfort—waiting for the treasurer to come in the next day to sign checks can be an inconvenience. But the protection it provides is incalculable.

Separate these functions, and remove the stumblingblocks. The policies mentioned in this article help all church personnel to avoid even the appearance of evil.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 edition of The Baptist Voice.

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