Annual Reports

Over the years, I have read a lot of church annual reports. There are a lot of ways to tell the story of a church and different congregations place different emphases on different tools of communication. I’ve looked at annual reports of congregations simply out of interest. I’ve found that some congregations don’t even include specific financial data in their reports, while the congregations I have served have always included financial reports.

When considering whether or not a call exists between myself and a congregation, I always tried to do as much research as possible. I would pour over a decade or more statistical reports to the denomination to assess any trends, look for rough spots in the history of the congregation, and look for any challenges or problems that might remain. I would look at what percentages of finances were going to mission and what the trends in compensation for staff were. That interest in annual reports would then continue to the annual reports to the congregation. I would ask for copies of past years’ reports and look over them. After accepting a call to a congregation and beginning to serve the church, I would go through the church’s files and read old annual reports to discern patterns and discover how the history of the congregation informed plans for the future.

As a pastor, I put considerable effort into the annual reports of our congregation. Accurate and accessible reports are essential to keeping open lines of communication with the congregation. Having a background in newspaper production, I was aware of design issues. As congregations made the transition from mimeograph to photocopy machines, new layout options became possible. When we got the ability to include photographs, I was quick to make sure that we integrated them with other visual elements such as type size and style. When color became available, I worked hard to come up with designs that worked both in black and white and in color. When we made the switch to online production, I considered how reports would look on screen and on paper. Later we had to consider screen size, making reports that would be easy to access with a computer, tablet or cell phone.

At our Rapid City Church, I used the production of the annual report to set a visual theme for the year. I would design the annual report and then use its visual appearance to create a new masthead for the monthly newsletter and a new letterhead for the congregation each year. I know that those changes weren’t important to some of the members of the congregation, and were probably a hassle to administrative assistants, but communication is at the heart of a congregation and I put considerable effort and energy into the design of the tools of communication that we used.

I’ve even paid attention to the annual reports of the congregations I served earlier in my career. I continue to peruse the reports of the congregation we served in Idaho 25 years ago. I can still recognize design elements that I introduced to the congregation. The format and layout of the current annual reports is familiar to me.

I suspect that this fixation with annual reports isn’t common. When I would ask colleagues about trends or history of the congregations they serve, they often would seem to not know some things that seemed to me to be important. Reading financial reports can be boring and they only tell part of the story. More interesting to me is the tone of the lay reports. Often a paragraph or less, those reports reveal the spirit of a congregation and reflect the joy of working in a church.

Sorting through the papers in our home, I have ben re-reading a few annual reports as the time has come for us to discard much of the paper we have kept over the years. Cleaning out files, I have thrown out a lot of reports. I did leave a file with the annual reports of the past 35 years for my successor in the church office. I don’t know whether or not the file will interest the interim or future pastors. If nothing else, they show an evolution in design and production.

In the process, I came across what may be my all time favorite report. It was part of the report for the year 1950 at Wright Community Congregational Church in Boise, Idaho. The report was made 35 years before I was called to be pastor of the congregation. I discovered the report as we prepared to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church. The author of the report was still alive when we were called to be pastors of the congregation. In fact, his daughter was the church secretary for several of the years that we served as pastors.

Here is that report:

Ushering Committee - Mr. Carroll Carpenter

“During 1950 the ushers have given out bulletins to and seated approximately 5000 persons, averaging close to 100 per Sunday.

“In seating this multitude, we did very little walking as most of the people like to hunt their own seats. There is some difference of opinion on this point.

“We have tried several ways of taking up the offering and finally settled on the four plate system which takes less time. We have had good success this way and have received no buttons or slugs all year.

“We have tried to control the ventilation to prevent frostbite, chilblains or sunstroking.

“We have developed a new method of seating. This is to fill the front rows first. This way we can easily see how many seats are left and have a place for late comers. It has worked very well in reverse. We understand that Congregationalism stands for independence and this seems to be the case. We tried to steer late comers down front for awhile, but now we just stand back and watch them push whole rows over to make room.”

I know why have kept a copy of that report for all these years. If nothing else, it has given me the topic for a journal entry and a wonderful memory of a faithful member of a wonderful congregation. Who knows what treasures future generations may find in the reports we have written?

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!