26 Lessons from 15 Church Annual Reports
Churches use their annual report as a tool to communicate with leaders, volunteers, donors and the general community about what happened over the past year. Done well, annual reports engage people in the mission … done poorly, they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on (or the hard drive space they are stored on)!
I asked the unSeminary community to share their annual reports, to see what I could learn from them. I received a lot of reports! Here’s what I discovered from studying them:
Why Focus on a Good Annual Report?
- Review accomplishments // Take time to talk with your community about the amazing things God is doing at your church. “IFTBUM!” It’s a fun to be us moment! Celebrate the positive momentum your church is experiencing.
- Recognize people // Your church “happens” because people give time, effort and energy to it! Annual reports are a great way to thank and honor people who have gone above and beyond to make a difference in the past year.
- Retell stories // Organizations become the sum total of the stories we tell one another. At its core an annual report is a codification of the “big story” that was written over the last year. Amplify the story you want your church to become.
- Record for history // If annual reports are done well, they become handy tools in the future, helping you to look back at what took place at your church. As you write your church’s report, ask yourself if this is the content you want to recall 10 years from now.
- Refocus on mission // Like a “state of the union” address, an annual report is an opportunity for the leadership of the church to focus on broader themes and direction. Use this opportunity to point people toward the kind of church you want to be.
11 Best Practices in Annual Reports
- Make it visual! // 65% of people are visual learners. Show them … don’t just tell them! Use images and graphics to tell the story you want to convey to your audience. [Download Christ Community Church’s annual report for an excellent example of visuals that tell a story.] [I love how West Side drives its core message of “Everyone” with great visuals throughout its annual report.]
- Connect it to your ministry model // You have a specific way you talk about “how” your ministry is done … make sure your annual report also uses that model. Express the information, including stories, numbers and finances, through the framework of the way you usually communicate your mission. [Community Christian Church does a stellar job of framing their annual report around their approach to ministry.]
- Showcase people // Use your annual report to help people connect with leaders and others in your community. Help connect “faces with names” by providing images of the people who are important to your community. As your church grows, it can be tempting to become a “faceless organization” … resist this! Use your annual report to help people get to know others in your community. [Check out how Cornerstone goes out of its way to connect the reader with people in the church.]
- Connect money to mission // Please don’t just display where your money is being spent … go out of the way to connect those numbers to the mission of your church. Show people how you are investing in what God is calling your church to do. Give examples of how that money is helping your church move forward. [I love what Dogwood Church did to cast vision for its 5 areas of spending in their report!]
- Count more than noses & nickels! // What if you went out of your way to tell the story of your church through numbers that weren’t just attendance and donations? Get creative and express your ministry in a precise way through other numbers! [Fort Wayne UUC gave a catalog of what was received in their food pantry.] [Shelter Rock reported on which songs were sung the most in their services.]
- Report what is happening online // Your church has some sort of digital outreach … even if it’s just a website and a Facebook page. Tell people about these future-oriented online channels. [Check out Open Door’s straightforward reporting of its impact online.]
- Fit the medium // If you’re creating a PDF version with the intention of it being accessed on a computer, format it for a screen that is wider than taller. [Orillia Community Church nailed this! Bonus: Their whole annual report is under 2 megs … super small for all those graphics!] Or an even more advanced strategy is to make a fully online version with images, infographics and videos to tell the story. Make it a piece that people can easily share with their friends. [NewSpring’s annual report is an all-time favorite of mine.]
- Honor your history // I love it when churches take time to honor the leaders that have gone before us. We all want to cast a vision for a compelling future, but I think God lifts up churches that honor the people led the way. [Parkview has an elegant way of honoring the past and casting vision for the future.]
- Brevity // Avoid writing long reports just to fill pages. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t say more than you need to say. [Providence Road did it with a two-page document!]
- Hear from “normal” people // How can you integrate the voices of people who are impacted by your ministry? Integrate testimonies and quotations from people within your church. Adding the voices of “normal” people to an annual report grounds it and helps it not feel too corporate. [Southbridge Fellowship does a great job of integrating quotes from people within their church.]
- Be transparent & thoughtful // How do you convey not-so-great news in an annual report? You need to acknowledge the “elephant in the room.” Don’t ignore the thing people are wondering about … but don’t let the past define your outlook for the future. Address issues in the context of plans for the future and the momentum that you are experiencing. [Westwood went through some pastoral staff transition and they dealt with it truthfully and kindly while giving hope for the future.]
Download FREE Annual Report Infographic Templates
Just plug in your numbers and stories and then share with your community. These fully editable Adobe Illustrator files are worth $250 apiece, but we’re giving them to you free because we want to help your church communicate better.
10 Quick Tips for Annual Reports
- Gather ideas, photos and stories all year long. It’s a lot simpler than scrambling to get them when it’s time to pull the report together!
- Don’t use more than 5 elements in pie charts … more than that is useless to read!
- Do the “quick flip test.” What is the “big message” you get by just glancing over the report and not actually reading it?
- Choose photos of people actually “doing stuff” at your church, not just “stand and smile” poses!
- Include “calls to action” in every section. What do you want people to “do” once they are done reading the report? Give, volunteer, invite … ?
- Get a copy editor to go over the text. Everyone can use a little help spotting errors!
- Triple-check the spelling of everyone’s names. (Ouch … it can hurt if you get those wrong.)
- You must make a “digital” version of the report for easy sharing.
- Give your report to someone who you trust but doesn’t know much about your church. Ask him or her what key messages come through.
- After you release the report, contact a dozen people who received it and ask them for pointed feedback on what could be better for next year’s edition.