Your Annual Financial Report

By MG Rickard

Annual reports not need be dull, dry documents. They are neatly typed and contain the necessary facts and figures, but they also include a message from the pastor, reflecting on the year just passed and expressing hope and expectations for the year ahead. Some reports have elaborate covers, and pictures and poems throughout. Some are thick and some are only a few pages long.

Preparing the Annual Report

Whatever your philosophy about the annual report, it takes organization on your part and cooperation on the part of the congregation to produce it.

The best thing to do is to decide what you want included in your annual report. If you have copies of the church’s previous annual reports, use them as a guide. List the names of all organizations and committees whose reports are to be included in the annual report and the names of the individuals responsible for reporting. Contact these people (a volunteer can do this for you) and give them a deadline for their reports. As the reports come in, check them off the list and eventually, as sure as day follows night, you will find that a number of people have to be reminded again that their reports are due. You can finally go to the homes of the persons who do not turn their reports in on time and beg them for their reports; you might even have them dictate them to you; or you can get tough and, in the annual report, print: “Evangelism Committee: Chairperson, Mrs. Jane Jones. No report submitted.”

Once you have received all the reports, what you will actually have is a pile of papers, some handwritten, some typed, some vague-along with a couple of good reports, typed and complete. You will have to act as editor now and rewrite, cut words, and make them acceptable for the total report.

The Annual Report-Projection of Goals

The annual report is a report not only of what was accomplished during the year past, but also a projection of the goals for the coming year. If a business or an organization or a congregation stands still, does not progress, it falls behind.

A comparison chart is a good thing to include in your annual report so that you and your congregation can look at the progress you are making, or not making, and plan accordingly.

Go through at least five previous annual reports in making your comparison chart. Note how many new members were received each year. Compare. If one year showed a marked upswing, what was the reason for it? Was there a special membership drive that year? If so, perhaps plans should be made for another. What about giving to others? Has this steadily increased along with increased income? If not, why not? And what can be done about it?

Too often an annual report is nothing more than a “Jack Horner” project: a matter of a few people saying, “What a good boy am I!” Actually, annual report time should be a time of serious reflection on what kinds of stewards the people have been. They should look at their successes and say, “That’s great! How can we do better?” And they  should look at their failures and say, “What went wrong? Why? How can we improve?” A comparison chart will bring the truth to light and should challenge everyone to bigger and better things for the coming year.

In other words, the annual report is least of all a look back, but rather a brief look back and a long, hard look ahead.

As a pastor, you must challenge your people. This challenge is based on stewardship. Certainly, some people deserve a pat on the back for a job well done, but everyone needs to be challenged to think about his or her stewardship of time, talent, and money. Every single person of the congregation has a measure of all three of these, abundant in
different areas, and all need to look at the record and ask themselves, “How have we used what God has given us? Have we used what God has given us to God’s glory? Where and in what ways can we do better?”

The pats on the back and the thank-you’s should take a few minutes and then the people should buckle down to the serious business of the annual report: Have we been good stewards?

Getting People Involved in Preparing the Annual Report

Since the annual report is a congregational document, it’s a good idea to include as much congregational activity as possible. Get people involved in it months in advance. Too often the annual report is written by only a few people and printed in the church office; then all the people are expected to receive it with welcome, eager anticipation.
The fact is, they don’t. One way to get persons more interested in their annual report is by involvement. Here are a few suggestions:

Appoint (or ask for volunteers) a committee to take over the production of the annual report. This committee will gather the information, design the cover, type and reproduce the report. The committee will also be responsible for submitting to you for final approval a dummy copy. After you have made changes and additions if necessary, it is ready for final typing and reproduction. The names of the committee should appear in a prominent place in the report.

Have a contest months in advance. Perhaps the church school classes or individuals could submit suggested covers for the annual report. A committee judges the covers and the winner is the one that best depicts what the annual report really means, or depicts what the congregation stands for.

Let individuals or groups sponsor the annual report each year. Sponsorship could include paying all the costs involved in producing the report; choosing the theme of the report (Reflections, A Forward Look, etc.); taking over the production of the report.

Involve the young people of the congregation. Let them have a special page or section and encourage them to include, in addition to their report of stewardship to the congregation, a statement about what they hope to accomplish during the coming year.

The Annual Meeting

The annual report is usually distributed at the annual meeting. While copies are also available for those who are unable to attend, it is a good idea not to distribute the report ahead of time. This may motivate persons to come to the meeting. Some may attend just to see what is in the annual report. At some annual meetings, the chairpersons
are called upon one by one and they read their reports, which have already been printed in the annual report. This can be very boring. In advance, ask each chairperson to summarize his or her report in three sentences or less.

Another way to stimulate attendance at the annual meeting is to make it a special occasion with an ethnic potluck supper preceding it or a catered dinner or barbecue.

In the bulletins and newsletters during the weeks leading up to the annual meeting, create an aura of excitement and expectancy. Let the people know that in this congregation attending the annual meeting is not something that must be done once a year, but a very special event in which everyone will examine what has been done and how improvements can be made. In some cases, carrying out this philosophy could mean a lot of advance work. For example, as you look over the church records, you may realize that the men’s prayer group has steadily declined in membership and enthusiasm. Instead of sadly shaking your head and simply including their embarrassing report, get together with some of the men and brainstorm. Try to come up with an idea for putting some life into the organization. For example, maybe you will decide to try a weekly prayer breakfast group or a dinner meeting once a month with the men acting as chefs. Figure out how your plan can be accomplished and then, at the annual meeting, after the sad report of the men’s prayer group for the year has been presented, give the exciting renewal plans for the coming year.