Publication Details

This conference paper was orignally published as Irvine, HJ, Pass the Plate Around Again: A Study of Budgeting in a Local Church, Proceedings of the Fourth Critical Perspectives on Accounting (CPA) Symposium, New York City, April 1996.


Is there a contradiction between the spiritual aims of a religious organization and its need to gather resources in order to fulfill these aims? This is a study of budgeting in a local church. It considers the tension between the “sacred” agenda of the church and the often-perceived “secular” nature of accounting. There was potential for this difference to lead to resistance to accounting as it was practised within the church, and this has been considered from the point of view of the church’s religious belief system. The study was based on a consideration of accounting reports, meetings, financial techniques, and interviews with people involved in the development, implementation and resourcing of the budget. The religious beliefs of this particular church were found to have a significant bearing on attitudes to accounting. Because the church was responsible for providing its own resources, and this resourcing was perceived as being spiritual in nature, resistance to accounting in principle was minimal. While it was not permitted to dominate the activities of the church, it was actually used to objectify the goals of the church, and also to legitimate or justify certain actions. The formulation of the budget was seen as an outworking of the sacred aims of the church, and it played a particularly strong role in an assessment of the success of the church in achieving these aims. Studies of the use and significance of budgeting in other churches (or non-profit organizations), different in their size or denominational affiliations, could provide further insights into a potential sacred/secular dilemma in religious organizations.