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Church Office Basics

General Assembly 2000 Event 210

Presenters: Rebecca Birnie, Administrator, River Road Unitarian Church, Bethesda, MD; and Bill Peters, Administrator, Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Arlington, VA. 

"Who's minding the church office while others preach and teach?" Although the paid office staffs are working behind the scene, a lot of volunteers are also involved. This is attested by the more than 50 workshop attendees who consisted of a small number of paid office staffs, with the majority made up of church board members, ministers, DREs, office volunteers and district consultants. The numerous workshop handouts and information are applicable to all size churches.

Presenters took turns discussing the following issues:

  • Office Organization
  • Information
  • Communications
  • Money
  • Building
  • Resources

The importance of job descriptions cannot be overlooked. A clear job description is essential in order to define lines of duties, particularly if the office has more than one staff members, and especially if any of the office staffs is also a church member. Having a job description for every one of the varied office tasks is very helpful when someone must fill in for the administrator. Job descriptions for volunteers are also important for recruiting and providing clear guidelines and expectations for volunteers. Sample job descriptions from the newly-revised Association of UU Administrators (AUUA) handbook were amongst the information-packed packet handed out to participants.

An efficient office requires creative management and close adherence to deadlines. It also requires close cooperation between staffs and volunteers. A sample of guidelines for committee chairs provides a template for other churches to develop their own guidelines. A sample for policies and procedures on how to run the office effectively is also provided.

Church offices are centralized locations for database maintenance. The most recent issue of InterConnections contains a detailed article about church database programs with testimonials from different churches. An important function of the office is to facilitate the welcoming of newcomers, tracking of visitors, and organizing and nurturing volunteers. In order to create a more inviting and welcoming atmosphere in the church office, we need to consider using tasteful décor, address accessibility issues and make the office a pleasant place for everyone to work and to visit.

The church office is also a place to store archives and records. Although some churches are beginning to upload portions of these records on websites in searchable archives, the majority of our records are still in file cabinets stashed away in dusty corners. The AUUA handbook addresses the question of how long various types of records should be kept. A suggestion was made that some of the records for each year could be organized together in one easy-to-access bound book, one for each year. For example: a copy of the membership directory, a copy of the Annual Report, a copy of the budget and all of the financial reports and minutes of council/board/congregational meetings for that year. These books are NOT to be taken out of the office on pain of death.

In addition to the normal channels of communication, web sites and email as new means of electronic communication were discussed. These new avenues have created some problems with regards to confidentiality and list behavior issues. Some churches have established guidelines of behavior on email lists while others restrict who can or cannot post on email lists or limit postings to announcements only, posting only facts without opinion. Many churches have newsletter policies. A sample was provided in the packet. For putting church newsletters online, please refer to the guidelines written by the UUA's Electronic Communication Committee. An email support and discussion list called uu-editors exists for UU Newsletter editors.

On the subject of handling cash, accountability is of primary concern. Neither staff nor volunteers should be placed under the burden of trust and as such, it is recommended that there be two people counting cash intake.

With membership growth comes the problem of creative use of building space. Maintaining the building use calendar involves juggling the needs of many groups, including renters. Some churches limit their rentals to non-profit organizations only. There was a concern on whether a church would lose its non-profit status if it were to rent out to profit-making groups.

If a church chooses to serve food to the general public, as in a bazaar, it is advisable to look into liability issues and getting the proper food serving guidelines from the county. If a caterer is responsible for the food preparation, this person should have the proper insurance and food serving certification.

Many resources exist for church administrator, including the new AUUA Handbook , available from AUUA for $42.50, the Church Secretaries Communiques (newsletter published by the Christian Ministry Resources for $15/year), the Treasurer's Alert, and Church and Clergy Tax Guide. Other resources are available from the UUA Bookstore, the UUA Office of Church Staff Finances, and the email support and resource list for church administrators: church-admin-uu.

Reported by Kok-Heong McNaughton.

Workshop Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Office Organization
    1. Job Descriptions
      1. Start with yourself. Don't wait for Personnel Committee.
      2. Look at all the other jobs—even if you don't have a person for each.
        1. Receptionist
        2. Phone answerer/message retrieval
        3. Secretary (for the Church, for the Minister, for the Board ?)
        4. Mail sorter/sender (bulk mail etc.)
        5. Data Base manager
        6. Publications (newsletter, order of service)
    2. Lo and behold, when you've got your job descriptions together, you've got a good start on a Manual of Office Procedures
    3. Information Center—where in the world do you keep the notices about what's going on? table/ rack/ bulletin board D. Personnel Records 1-9; W-4; State requirement for deadbeat dads; Leave, medical benefits;
  3. Information
    1. Membership lists
    2. Visitors/ Newcomers
    3. Volunteers
    4. Record Keeping—How long? Archives
  4. Communications
    1. Sunday bulletin
    2. Newsletter
    3. Brochures & Fliers
    4. Bulletin Boards
    5. Website
    6. email (personal use—privacy) (inappropriate jokes)
    7. Minutes from Board and Committee meetings
  5. Money
    1. Budget
    2. Requests for reimbursement
    3. Internal controls !!!
    4. Legal issues (ugh)
      Fiduciary responsibility of Board
      Payment of Withholding taxes
    5. Annual tax statements IRS rule re $250 contributions
    6. Member giving statements
    7. Insurance & Bonding
  6. Building
    1. Calendar for space & equipment
    2. Rentals
    3. Maintenance & Cleaning
    4. Reserve Funds (Rust happens!)
    5. Inventory
    6. Security & Keys
  7. Resources
    1. AUUA—other church administrators and secretaries
    2. Christian Ministry Resources: Church Secretaries Communique, Treasurer's Alert ; Church and Clergy Tax Guide
    3. UUA bookstore
    4. UUA Office of Church Staff Finances—Rev. Ralph Mero
    5. Bibliography
  8. Questions & Discussion period
  9. Evaluation

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.

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