In all my years in seminary, I never once was told how to handle the finances of the church. Even in my previous position as a staff member, I never had to worry about budgets, financials or annual business meeting reports. I did enjoy looking at them but never quite knew what they were saying. So when it came time to do my first annual report, I was simply going to put together a report that looked like all the others I had seen. It would have numbers no one understand, a balance sheet that only accountants can read and all on white paper to make it look as boring as it could possibly be. And thats what we did. I didn’t know what they were saying and neither did the people. But it didn’t matter. For many average pastors, its not that we don’t care, its that we don’t know what else to do. And sadly, sometimes a complicated report makes it easier to hide the problems. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I decided that a boring report was not good enough for this important work of the Kingdom of God. To tell a story you need more than a balance sheet. You need context. You need graphs. You need color. I decided for my second year, no more boring reports. My annual report is now something I enjoy putting together. Instead of depreciation and equity as sanitized numbers on a page my report tells the story through putting numbers in context and in color. I enjoy making it and people enjoy looking at it.
As you prepare your annual report I encourage you to make it something special that tells a story as well as give information. Google “infographic annual report” and you will see how people are painting simple pictures with the results of their year. Here are a couple things that people want to see in your report:
1. Numbers in Context: Total income or totals spent on utilities are numbers without context. Instead, put those numbers in perspective by comparing and contrasting with other years. How was this years expenses in relation to the past few years? What percentage of your total expenses was used on utilities, ministry, outreach? This is what people want to know.
2. Trends: So you had 2 salvations this year. Is that good or bad? Showing graphics in trends help people understand what is “normal.” When they see last year you had zero, they will think 2 is awesome! Or if they see there were no baptisms this year, they can be encouraged to pray. Even if your trends aren’t going up, it helps people see the big picture.
3. Color: I am not an accountant. Numbers hurt my eyes. Colors and pie charts make me want to look at. In the days of media and graphics, put some important info you want people to know in a graph and they will look at it.
4. Other Numbers: What you did as a church is just as important as the money you spent. Include in your report graphics of what you did as well as what you spent. Include a graphic about your outreach or the number of people fed in your benevolence ministry. Those numbers are important as a whole, people don’t care about insurance or utilities. They want to know thier church is doing something.
Most of our annual reports are strictly for internal reporting. That means that although they are important to give accurate numbers, the way in which you give them is totally up to you. Why not make it something that people will want to look and will understand when they do? Paint a picture for your members of your financial year that will make them proud to have been part of it.
If you would like to see a copy of our 2014 report, you can download it here.