New Standards for Auditing Congregational Finances Implemented First in Eastern United States
From The Visitor, April 16, 2015: New standards for audits of the finances of local congregations in the Adventist denomination are being implemented for the first time in the Columbia Union Conference. Local conference treasurers and auditors got the first training in the new requirements and procedures last week at the denomination’s office for the eight conferences that stretch from the coastal states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia across Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Ohio.
“The new standards we are using meet national standards for financial reviews,” said Seth Bardu, treasurer of the union conference. “They meet the professional standards for what is called a ‘review.’ We have enhanced the review with some audit procedures to make sure the work done at the local church level is strong and reliable. The wealth of the Adventist Church originates at the local church so we wanted to put more resources into making sure all funds are accounted for.”
The Adventist denomination has a more centralized financial system than any other Protestant body in North America. Members are asked to give ten percent of their income into a Tithe Fund that is the primary source of operating income. It is shared between the local conference that uses about 85 percent of the total fund, paying the salaries and benefits of pastors, faculty in church schools and conference office staff. Another 15 percent goes to the union conference, the world divisions and the General Conference and about half of this pays the salaries and support of international missionaries.
Because so many ministries and institutions depend on tithe and offerings turned in through local congregations, the auditing process is essential to assuring the integrity of the system. In the Adventist denominations the congregations are not incorporated and have no legal standing, so any legal repercussions from financial misconduct come back on the denomination.
Bardu told The Visitor that the union conference executive committee approved the new standards in November. He stated that the Columbia Union Conference is the first organizational unit of the denomination worldwide to create standards for audits of local congregations.
Rodney Brown, an auditor for the Pennsylvania Conference who participated in the training last week, said the standards show increased professionalism in the denomination’s auditing process. “It shows accountability and that we’re all together on one page,” he stated. “It will also show that the [volunteer, local church] treasurers are doing a good job, and they’ll be able to show donors that their money is going where it should go, according to church guidelines.”
The session last week was the first of two training events. The second training session will take place in the fall. The eight local conferences will each be required to be in compliance with the new standards by January 2016.
Similar training and a process for implementing the new auditing requirements will be scheduled in all of the union conferences around the world over the next few years. The international denomination has 125 union conferences in total including those technically classified as “union missions” and “unions of churches” in the bureaucratic nomenclature of the organization.
This story is based on a news bulleting from Beth Michaels, editor of The Visitor newsletter published by the Columbia Union Conference of the Adventist denomination.