October 27, 2019 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/IAD
The fulfillment of the mission of the church in Inter-America rests in the hands of the church members, at the local church level and at the local field level. This was the main point Pastor Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer of the church in Inter-America, drove home to dozens of top church union administrators and local field presidents, during a recent meeting held in Cancun, Mexico.
“There are more than 3.7 million members, 22,816 local churches and congregations organized into 152 local fields and there’s no doubt that these three elements are key in growing the church,” said Verduzco. “Church members are the ones who make baptisms happen, deliver tithes and offerings as an act of worship to the Lord, and make the local church move to the rhythm of the mission, so there’s nothing more important in the IAD territory than the church member.”
To effectively and successfully run the fast growing church organization at the local level, stewardship principles need to be integrated in the life of the church, the financial system needs to be strengthened, and transparency and accountability must be ongoing, expressed Verduzco. Church administrators were presented with priority actions that need to take place during the next five years as top leadership continues to focus on defining the future of Inter-America for the 2020-2025 period and beyond.
Greater stewardship focus
Greater stewardship focus in local congregations is among the top priorities, church leaders said. It’s about doubling efforts to create the kind of environment that contributes to the spiritual growth and spiritual health of the church member.
“With a church of more than 22,000 congregations, the potential of the church in the IAD is much greater,” said Pastor Roberto Herrera, stewardship director for the church in Inter-America. “The IAD is currently operating with about 65 percent of its potential, which means that out of the 22,000 plus congregations only about 15,000 can be considered healthy and growing.”
There is no doubt the church must be the focus, explained Herrera. “If congregations are healthy and satisfied, we can expect the other levels of the church to be radiant and healthy,” said Herrera. “Unfortunately, stewardship has not been understood properly among church members so we will focus more on that.”
Pastor Joel Hernández, who leads as stewardship director in the Dominican Union, said that after conducting a study in 2015 among all of the churches on the island they found something alarming. For example, he said, “one church had 600 members but only 220 take part in giving tithes and offerings every month. So we figured that 38 out of 100 members regularly contribute to the church, that means 62 percent were not actively giving.” That moved church leaders to create video, printed resources for men, women, young people, the elderly, boys and girls, on biblical principles on stewardship to be distributed throughout the churches along with a budget plan for churches and its districts, as well as quarterly reports on how funds are being use.
“The difference was remarkable, and just last year we voted two additional tithing envelops for children and young people along with quarterly materials that emphasize stewardship principles,” said Hernández.
As a result, in one church that had 26 children, 23 of them were taking part filling those envelopes to further the work of the church, said Hernández. “It’s not about collecting money, it’s about educating from early and to all members why we give from the heart consistently.” Currently, the union moved from 38 percent to 56 percent of its membership actively contributing to further the mission of the church. “The church has expanded not only in strengthening schools and planting churches but in all sorts of missionary projects for the community since we conducted the study.”
It is clear that stewardship has a role in evaluating the financial system, create a environment of trust in communicating to the church member, said Verduzco. “Tithe measures the way I accept what the Lord has given me and return that one part that belongs to Him,” he said. “Offerings measure the level of maturity or generosity of the church member in the advancement of the mission.”
Remittance system software
One of the biggest priorities and challenges Inter-America’s financial system is facing is getting all churches and organizations on board to adopt its Ecclesia 7– an electronic remittance system software that allows the accurately account for tithes and offerings submitted at the local church and to higher organizations and distributed accordingly.
“Ecclesia 7 will facilitate the transfer of tithes and offerings from each church member in real time, at the level of the church, the local field, union and division,” said Verduzco. Voted last year during Inter-America’s Year-End Executive Committee, Ecclesia 7 has been in implemented in most all of the 24 unions. So far, 18 union have received training with over 8,100 trained in local churches and most are actively using it. The software works as an effective tool that provides control of income and expenses, allows budget management for each department at the local church, transfers and accurate registry of donors, receipts and a vast number of reports, and more.
The goal is to have all the churches and congregations enrolled in the Ecclesia 7 by 2021. “This will also allow us to do all forms of actuarial studies so it will be a new era for the Division, in accurately handling all the currencies flowing and accurately accounted throughout all the levels of the church.”
In the Panama Union, 77 percent of the 633 churches and congregations are using the Ecclesia 7 software already, said Jose Smith, treasurer of the church in Panama. It took months of training and continual coordination to switch from an older system to the new software but the benefits are already evident.
“Our goal is to have all the churches running on Ecclesia 7 by January 2020,” said Smith. “It is urgent for us to keep all the financial information accurate for the auditing that comes our way as well so once everything is running completely for our union’s local fields, we will be able to get all kinds of data at our fingertips to better report to the church members how funds are being managed and processed.”
Juan Prestol-Puesan, treasurer of the Adventist World Church, spoke to administrators and reminded them of their role in managing and strengthening the financial system of the church at all times. “God owns this work and He will guide His servants into the fulfillment of His mission,” said Prestol. “Open your eyes treasurers, presidents and secretaries, do your job, be honest, be transparent and remember that God owns the work.”
Financial Inspection Oversight Service
The church is also looking to intensify efforts to audit all churches and institutions through the Financial Inspection Oversight Service (FIOS) to strengthen the financial system.
Already approximately 12,000 churches out of more than 22,000 undergo auditing services, yet more needs to be done to ensure that churches and smaller entities that are left for church divisions to oversee can ensure that internal control at every level is done correctly said Verduzco. “Auditing is more than simply checking the accounts, it’s about accounting for how every penny is registered and spent because God’s eyes are watching how we manage the funds,” he said.
Leaders reviewed reports on pending churches and organizations to audit and plans and objectives to be followed as the new year begins.
“The plan is to show transparency, responsibility, and accountability as we manage the funds that will continue to advance the mission in a healthy growing motion,” Verduzco said.
Church leaders will vote on financial system procedures as well as new resources that will be available and distributed to the church membership across the Inter-American Division.
To learn more about Inter-America’s initiatives, strategies and resources, visit us at interamerica.org