Churches would not exist without the generous donations made by tithing members. These financial supporters make sacrifices to give to their church because it is a basic Christian principle. Tithing church members give out of their hearts and pocket books but have an unspoken expectation – for church leadership to manage and safeguard those donations.
Every time I read about fraud and embezzlement in the church I am amazed. I am amazed that a trusted church member could actually steal from their church; I’m amazed that church leadership is naive enough to have little or no financial controls; and I’m amazed at the amount of money that can be stolen without anyone even suspecting.
“Christians” stole $39 billion in church fraud in '14. Shocking? Check out 17 more staggering stats about church fraud > Click To Tweet
Christians tend to be accepting, trusting and forgiving and these basic characteristics can be what would be thieves target and take advantage of.
A church’s insurance company is a great resource that can provide tips, training and resources to help guard against church theft. This list of things that you were probably not aware of is sourced from Brotherhood Mutual and Church Mutual insurance companies and Frank Sommerville, JD, CPA.
- An unbelievable 30 percent of all workers will steal – It is difficult to believe this one, particularly in a church setting. However, if someone has a personal need (or justification), easy access and no controls they are on a slippery slope to embezzling church funds.
- The average church loss due to fraud is $120,000 – and growing every year – This number is frightening and should be a wakeup call for church leadership. What types of things could a church do with that much money?
- An estimated 80% of church fraud cases don’t get reported – Most church fraud is not reported and handled quietly behind the scenes. Part of this is due to a desire to keep the incident private, the forgiving nature of a church and quite frankly church leaders who don’t know how to respond to internal theft.
- Church thieves are creative – Thieves are creative by nature and take advantage of organizations that either have no policies and procedures or those that don’t audit or enforce written policy. Would be thieves know when access is easy and take advantage of haphazard financial oversight.
- Church leaders don’t believe that someone in their midst could steal from them – Many church leaders are naive to the fact that church employees steal and that those thefts are reaching unbelievable high dollars. They (think) they know their members and can’t wrap their head around a trusted member and employee stealing from them.
- Church theft is often from one of the most trusted people of the church – People who steal from a church don’t wear a sign on their back, they are the most trusted and loyal of church members. They are loved by all and gain access to church resources through that trust.
- In the first half of 2014, Christians stole more than $39 billion in church related financial fraud – This is a mind-blowing statistic. One that every church leader should sit up and pay attention to.
- During the same time period churches spent $35 billion on worldwide mission work – How can it be that the church is losing more to theft than it is using for mission work?
- Researchers are expecting church financial fraud to reach $60 billion by 2025 – Churches need to take steps now to slow this trend.
- Churches are targeted for fraud because of the very nature of the church and the counterintuitive nature of suspecting someone of stealing – Churches need to stop being naive and put systems and processes in place to protect the financial resources that God has supplied.
- Church thieves gain access to church funds through the nature of their position – Once an employee is trusted they are given more access to church cash, credit and assets.
- An estimated 60 percent of churches don’t have a process in place to report suspected financial crimes – Because churches are trusting by nature, many neglect the very real need to create structured process for reporting suspected theft. Create a process, write policy and communicate the process to employees, members and volunteers.
- Church thieves are only as successful as the financial controls over church resources – Financial controls are how organizations safeguard against fraud and embezzlement. Contact a CPA or church fraud expert to help you create controls to help safeguard your church’s resources.
- One third of all congregations will fall victim to fraud – If a third of all churches are victims of fraud, what is the chance that this is happening right now at your church?
- Most frauds go on for 18 months before getting caught – Eighteen months seems like a long time for something to go on. Having proper policies, procedures and financial controls in place can greatly reduce this time frame.
- The average tenure of a church thief is 8 years – One would think that the longer someone works somewhere the more they can be trusted. This is clearly not the case in church fraud.
- 40% of frauds are caught through a tip – Annual audits are a great way to catch church fraud but having an open policy on reporting suspected behavior seems to also help identify thieves.
- The number one deterrent of fraud is the fear of getting caught – Create policies, procedures and controls so any would be thief will think twice about stealing God supplied church resources. Talk about the church’s commitment to safeguard resources and put potential thieves on notice that your church is watching.
Safeguarding church resources is an important responsibility of church leadership.
Taking the time to put in policies, procedures and controls for every church financial resource is a great first step in protecting those valuable resources. Contact your insurance company today to see how they can help!
Patricia Lotich is the founder of Smart Church Management, a site devoted to providing free articles, tools and resources for those managing a church operation. Patricia has ten years of Business Administration and Church Operations experience and has a driving passion to help churches fulfill their call by managing the resources God has given them – people, time and money. Follow Patricia on Twitter and Facebook