Let’s explore whether church finances are public information.
Yes Financial Records For Churches Are Public Information.
Chances are, your local church is not a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. This means that your church’s finances are not exempt from public record requests. If you’re curious about how much money your pastor makes or whether the church has been paying its taxes on time, you can request those records through state and federal freedom of information laws.
The Rules Vary By State.
The rules vary by state. Some states require churches to report financial information; some require them to file with the IRS and some even require them to file with the state.
In many cases, it’s up to individual churches to decide how much and what kind of information they want available to the public. But if your church is part of an organization like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), you may have agreed upon certain guidelines that must be followed.
In California, the law says that church financial records are open to the public unless they fall under one of the exceptions spelled out in the law.
The first exception is pastoral communications such as counseling or commentary given to a member of a congregation and solicitor communications such as soliciting or processing donations, or paying bills. These records are confidential and may not be disclosed without consent from all parties involved.
Those exceptions include pastoral communications such as counseling or commentary given to a member of a congregation and solicitor communications such as soliciting or processing donations, or paying bills.
The exceptions are meant to protect the privacy of individuals, the church, and its pastor. The Freedom of Information Act does not require that information about a pastoral communication or solicitor communication be disclosed.
In other words, any conversations between pastors and their parishioners related to personal matters cannot be disclosed. Likewise, when churches engage in fundraising campaigns or solicit donations from members of their congregation, those communications are protected under this exception as well.
Finally, if a church uses government funds to pay for certain services like highway maintenance or school lunches—and in doing so receives federal funding—that information is also subject to exemption from disclosure by law.
In order to see financial records, your pastor has to determine whether your request falls within one of those exceptions. These exceptions do not include the entire ledger’s worth of expenses such as utility bills or payroll.
Examples of exceptions include:
- A member of a church board requesting information about a specific matter or transaction that occurred during his term on the board
- An individual who is involved in litigation against a church, requesting information relating to that litigation (this does not apply if he is just trying to get his money back)
How do you make requests? Churches are required by law to respond promptly and in writing when they receive a written request from someone who wants access to their finances. The law also says that churches must give the person making the request enough information so that they can understand what was provided in response. If you are denied access and want it reviewed by an attorney, contact us today!
Not all states have the same law about church finances. In Michigan, for example, churches are required to report their income and expenses and may file with the IRS as a tax-exempt “church” or “mission society” organization.
The answer is: not necessarily. The laws governing the disclosure of financial information by churches vary from state to state. In some cases, churches are exempt from reporting if they don’t have unrelated business income (meaning that their revenue does not come from a trade or business unrelated to the church’s religious mission).
In other states, only certain types of organizations are required to report; for example, in Michigan, all tax-exempt organizations must file an annual report with the Secretary of State’s office if they have more than $500 in gross receipts during any year.
Churches that make less than this amount do not need to file with this organization but may still be required to report under another state law or rule. for example, at the federal level through IRS Form 990 (the IRS also requires non-profit organizations like churches that receive more than $25,000 per year in donations).
You Should Be Able To See Church Finances If You Wish To Do So.
It’s up to each church to decide whether they will make their financial records public, and most churches do not. Church financial records are not public record. Church financial records are not available to the public, and they’re often not even open to their own members.
If you want to know more about your church’s finances, talk with the pastor or one of the other leaders on staff at your church. You should be able to see it if you wish to do so!
In the end, it is up to each individual state to determine the level of financial disclosure they will require from their churches. In some states, even these forms may be entirely confidential.
However, most states do have strict financial disclosure laws that apply to churches and other non-profit organizations, and it is always best to determine if your church is subject to such reporting before you proceed.