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Churches can get personalized consulting sessions with Conference

Churches can get personalized consulting sessions with Conference

Many Methodists remember a time when weekly offerings were mostly cash, monthly expenses ran in the hundreds of dollars, and church financials were no more complex than the family budget.

But in 2012, times have changed, and today’s congregations often handle hundreds of thousands of dollars using a confusing combination of balance sheets and overlapping accounting methods.

Director of Ministry Protection Mark Thomas consults with local church members on insurance issues.

Issues of concern include personnel, taxes, insurance, liability, investments, loans, electronic management, mission, apportionments and more. All of these issues must be dealt with in the context of faithful stewardship and the priorities of a church with a heart for mission.

“There’s no question that the administrative landscape is more complex,” said Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson. “For example, the IRS just recently passed a ruling in which a pastor was deemed to be personally responsible when withholding taxes were not submitted.

“Every year we see tax law and accounting changes. Several churches are having Internal Revenue issues as we speak.”

To aid churches as they grapple with such financial challenges, the Conference rolled out a new initiative in January designed to help both clergy and laity take advantage of consulting services offered by the financial and administrative staff in Lakeland. (Click here for “Consulting services for local churches launched by finance and administration.)

The idea is to connect churches directly with Conference staff to maximize accessibility, and to custom-design solutions for the unique needs of local congregations.

The first workshop was held on February 22 and was a success that Wilson is anxious to build on.

“I certainly want to do this some more,” he said. “It allows churches to ask questions specific to their needs. I have about 15 speaking engagements a year with Districts and at churches, offering workshops, etc. They are well attended, but the audience is always diverse and the questions are very different.

Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson

“The beauty of FACE (Friendly, Accessible, Conference Employees) is that we work with churches individually,” he said.

One of the three churches which have taken advantage of this unique opportunity is Wacissa UMC near Tallahassee. Pastor Jim Gamble said he found out about the program on the conference web page.

“The day was customized exactly for us,” Gamble said. “My chair of trustees (Clayton Lambert) went with me and we met with both Mark Thomas (Director of Ministry Protection) and Mickey Wilson. They explained (everything) and answered all of our questions.”

Those questions included insurance and liability issues pertaining to new construction and the congregation’s commercial kitchen.

Gamble, who has been in small-church ministry seven years, said both Wacissa and his previous congregation felt vulnerable when it came to reaching out to the community.  He explained that meeting with FACE offered reassurance and understanding that the Conference “had his back.”

“Mickey (Wilson) told me, ‘Don’t limit your ministry because you’re afraid of liability. You don’t have to worry about that.’”

FACE was evidence, Gamble said, that the Florida Conference is actively interested in smaller churches.

That’s exactly the sentiment Wilson wanted to hear. “In the past five to six years we’ve demonstrated we understand that it’s our responsibility to help the local churches, and not the local churches’ responsibility to help us.”

“I’d say it’s well worth taking the time, Gamble said. “We went down the day before and spent the night. It was a long trip but I’m positive it was well worth it.

“I’d like everyone to know that the conference staff--- when you meet them face-to-face and in person--- always pass along the feeling that they are there for the churches.”

All Florida UMC churches should consider taking advantage of this program, but to date, the invitation has not been accepted by as many of the churches which could benefit from a FACE consultation, according to Wilson.

“We have one or two churches coming in April,” Wilson said, “but I’d have thought we’d be full for six months. So many churches need this information. I know churches need it because they call me after the IRS has attached their bank accounts. It would be so much easier if they’d called me two years before.”

For more information, call Cindy Truemper, Assistant to the Treasurer, Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, 863-688-5563 ext. 196.