Because of the generosity of our church family, Houston’s First has been able to support missional endeavors locally and across the globe. Our church has taken measures for years to maintain financial integrity and accountability regarding the funds entrusted to us so we can do our mission work well. We hire outside internal auditors to review our finances, there are public financial reports on our website, and we are a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
Recently, Houston’s First has taken a significant step towards our ongoing efforts to be good stewards of the resources and funds provided by our church members and donors from every campus. Each year, our finance office receives contributions of over $40 million — about $31 million for our budgeted operating expenses and an additional $12 million given toward designated funds, which are primarily Missions-related designations which Houston’s First uses to support its Faith Centers, other like-minded non-profits, missionaries, and mission trips. They process about 500 accounts payable transactions each month, too.
The finance team began discussing new accounting software options last fall as the one that was in use no longer provided the functionality we needed as a church, nor the many options offered by newer systems. There was also a need for an expense management solution that could be integrated with whatever new accounting software was selected.
“The previous financial system that was in use had several limitations. It had been around for many years and wasn’t able to transition to newer technology,” explains Financial Services Director Anne Kemp.
Demos of various system options were done with the staff before the new systems were presented to the Finance Committee, a standing group comprised of church members and deacons. The new accounting system, Sage Intacct, and Nexonia, the expense management solution, were approved in February and implemented in March before the fiscal year began in July.
“Summer is typically really busy with Rush Week, GO Houston and other events. If we had a normal summer, we would have had a lot of reimbursements to do so it has been a huge blessing to do this during COVID-19 where we can transition to this new system gradually,” says Kemp. “It was ideal to do this by the start of our fiscal year so we could close one year with the previous system and start with the new system. It’s also easier for audit purposes.”
The transition to the new systems required Houston’s First staff members from every campus, ministry, and department to be trained on how to use them effectively. The finance team hosted two live training sessions with about 125 staff members, and two online training sessions with over 100 in attendance. Weekly touch-points were offered via Zoom to answer any questions full- and part-time staff members might have. Specific to Nexonia, the expense management solution, four Zoom training sessions were offered, and three departments hosted customized training sessions for their team members.
This new financial system offers a whole system suite. Sage Intacct is cloud-based, is able to integrate with our expense management system, and has built-in audit trails. Also cloud-based, the Nexonia expense management system has built-in audit trails and includes the ability to change the permissions to view, edit, or add an expense. Both systems are integrated with Rock, the church’s relationship management system, as well as Bank of America where the church has their various accounts and credit cards. All of these features allow for easy auditor access and will make the auditing process less expensive.
“The change to this new accounting system was driven by the ongoing desire to be transparent with expenses. We wanted to continue to be accountable and good stewards of the finances entrusted to us,” explains Kemp. She says that in early 2021, a new budgeting platform will also be implemented — the final piece of this new suite of tools.
While there was a change in financial systems, Houston’s First will continue to focus on more than the numbers reflected in data.
“The numbers represent people, lives that are impacted and touched by the Gospel. If we aren’t focusing on that, we are missing out on the kingdom of God,” shares Kemp. “Numbers are here to serve the ministers. The ministers aren’t here to serve the numbers. The numbers provide information. They point us in the direction the ministry needs to go.”