Changing with the times
Churches now more businesslike
John Myers Jr, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The church has been around for hundreds of years, but like many other entities, it too has been forced to change with the times.
Today, many churches have adopted businesslike principles in terms of structure, administration, accountability to its members and payment of taxes in a quest to further enrich the lives of congregants and the society in general.
Consequently, many churches now seek out members with the skills and experience in management, finance and accounting to assist with running the houses of God.
The Reverend Ellinah Wam-ukoya, Bishop of Swaziland, who strongly believes the church should be "governed like a corporate business", says her background in governance, business and finance has played a vital role in the running of her church in Africa.
"As someone with experience in governance, finance and business, I see where my skills have come in handy and very useful, and I am of the belief that persons who possess these credentials are needed," she told a group of Jamaican church leaders recently at The Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, where she was the guest speaker at a function to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women as deacons and priests in the Diocese of Jamaica and Grand Cayman.
"It should not be seen as a strange phenomenon when persons from the corporate world are included in the Church, as this is an avenue through which the House of God can be enhanced and the people of God can be empowered," said the Swaziland bishop.
The Reverend Dr Devon Dick, pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew, said church leaders here have recognised this fact and have sought to streamline the management of their churches.
According to Dick, the books of his church, as well as that of others, are audited much the same way as businesses and financial statements are issued to members annually.
"The Bible speaks about being accountable to each other and accountable to God. It is better that way and there (should be) nothing to hide," he said.
"You find, too, that people (members) who work in commerce, in business in the private sector where they are accustomed to that are also pushing for more of that in the context of church," added the Right Reverend Dr Howard Gregory, Lord Bishop of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and Grand Cayman.
The administration of church affairs has become more business-oriented also, because of the churches' heavy involvement in the ownership and operation of many commercial ventures, such as training institutions, hospitals, and building societies and credit unions.
Gregory said workers are also subjected to appraisals and are evaluated on performance just as those in the corporate world and government sector.
Importantly, and contrary to popular belief, Gregory said the Church has to pay taxes and pays millions in taxes to the Government annually. He explained that churches have to pay taxes for employees via the compulsory payroll deduction system and taxes on lands owned, with the exception of those on which the church is situated, the residence of the minister of the church and school, up to an acre.
Further, the Anglican Lord Bishop pointed out that businesses that are owned by the church, such as hospitals and other commercial ventures, are subject to taxation like any other business.
"We get audited by the Tax Administrator General ... we have to present our books every year," stressed Gregory.
Another important element to the Church is that of revenue generation to fund its various charitable work, as well as maintenance of edifices.
Many churches, apart from the usual collection of offering from members, stage various fundraising activities in order to generate funds to sustain their operations, especially for those with high operating costs.
Gregory pointed out that the cost of maintenance is especially high for those churches with older edifices.
And with the economic slowdown, many churches are finding it increasingly difficult to fill their coffers. "A lot of our members have retired and they are pensioners, or in rural communities where people were farmers, but they are now too old to continue," said Gregory.