JEREMY HOLLEY + IMMANUEL BAPTIST CHURCH: Driving better stewardship with managed accounting services


By RaeAnn Slaybaugh

They say change is hard — but sometimes, it’s worth it.
Such is the case at Immanuel Baptist Church, where leaders are discovering the benefits of outsourcing their accounting services: better oversight, increased efficiency, more transparency/accessibility, and cost savings.
It was even instrumental in recovering nearly $200,000 in “lost” online gifts and checks!

Jeremy Holley and his family came to Immanuel Baptist Church in Pace, Fla., at a difficult time for churches across the nation — in the middle of COVID. They knew one family in Florida, but it was a crucial relationship.

“They came from Spain on military orders to Arkansas, where we lived at the time,” Holley says. “For four years, we grew to love them like family.”

When the family friends relocated to Florida, they shared the news with Holley that the pastor at their church had stepped down. “One thing led to another, and here we are,” he says. “The Lord used that connection to get us here.”

On March 8, 2020, Holley delivered his first sermon at Immanuel Baptist Church, to a full congregation. By April 5, he was preaching to 10 people.

“The entire world was shut down,” he recalls. “Within a month, I went from being called to a church with a full congregation on Sunday morning to being online only because of COVID.”

A challenging set of circumstances for the new pastor, for sure. But as Holley explains, Immanuel Baptist bounced back quicker than most churches. “We went through some phases of trying to reopen in a safe manner and balancing health concerns with what we felt like was the greater concern — loss of hope in the gospel.”

The church began to flourish. Now, four years later, Immanuel has doubled in size.

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“We grew from about 400 on campus to 800,” Holley says. “It has been really exciting to be a part of it, and God has really blessed us in some powerful ways through all that growth.”

Of course, with growth comes increased money-management needs, as well as staff transition. Among those who chose to depart was the employee who functioned as the church’s financial representative.

Although she was willing to help Immanuel Baptist get on its feet with its financial management, the church didn’t have a true backup solution. So, the leadership team placed an ad to find her replacement, with no luck either inside or outside the church.

“If I’m having to go to a financial assistant and get her to run reports or collect data and run reports myself using data that I’m inputting, that’s going to cost me time. I’ll have less time to prepare sermons, do strategic planning, cast vision — things that are very important for a lead pastor to do for the church.” 

— Jeremy Holley

For good reason, outsourcing Immanuel Baptist’s accounting functions then became Holley’s preference. The move forced staff to examine their own viewpoints on financial management at the church. After all, this would be an entirely different approach than they were using before.

For instance, the previous pastor focused almost entirely on ministry, leaving business dealings and financials to be overseen by the aforementioned employee functioning as financial representative.

“Some staff felt that’s the way it should be,” Holley says. “But as the pastor, I felt I needed to be involved in the financial decision-making of the church. It’s just a personal conviction.”

Enter third-party accounting services

Ready to make a big change, Holley reached out to WatersEdge Ministry Accounting Services. Happily, getting a managed accounting services relationship up and running proved much simpler than it might sound.

It began with a conversation about the church’s needs, followed by a proposal from WatersEdge. As Holley recalls, the WatersEdge team was able to meet all of Immanuel Baptist’s needs, and then some.

The leadership team understandably still had questions related to taking a far more hands-off approach to their accounting. Fortunately, as Holley explains, there’s full transparency with their new arrangement.

“It was just a question of, ‘Hey, are we still going to be involved?’” he explains. “And of course, we are. We can see what’s being done, and we can always ask questions.

“We’re still ultimately responsible to the Lord to manage the finances in a way that honors Him,” Holley adds. “We’re serving the church, and WatersEdge is supporting us.”

A new approach to accounting takes shape

Holley and a small group of people on the church management team — a facilities/finance administrator and an executive pastor — now have instant access to the financials.

“That’s another thing I love about WatersEdge. Anytime I want to see something, all I have to do is run the report myself,” Holley points out. “Though I’m pretty savvy at that, I tend to be more hands-off and let the others deal with any issues that might come up.”

There was no system previously in place that allowed Holley, as the senior pastor, easy access to financial data.

“If I needed information, I had to go through another party [at the church], and their information was based on their internal spreadsheet and records,” he explains. “It created an unhealthy tension. Anytime I would ask for financial information, it felt like I was asking the person to do more — on top of what they were already doing — to accommodate me.”

Given his finance and business background, Holley says he always felt it would be much easier if he could pull up that information himself.  Now, he can.

A little distance can be a good thing

For a lot of reasons, going third-party with the church’s accounting made a lot of sense for Immanuel Baptist — but just how “far” were church leaders willing to go?

As it turns out, WatersEdge was chosen, in part, for the fact (not in spite of it) that they’re not just outside the church, not just outside the community — they’re even outside the state.

“They’re an outsider looking in,” Holley explains. “They’re supporting lots of churches, and they see lots of visions and missions and different philosophies of ministry and ways of doing things, so there’s no biased perspective.”

Here, Holley alludes to the possibility of someone in the community knowing exactly how the church spends its resources, and not supporting those expenditures.

“If there’s not buy-in to what we’re doing — the way we’re spending money to accomplish the goals we’ve set as a church — that also creates tension,” Holley adds. “When you have somebody in the community who’s active in another church filling that [accounting] position, what are they going to be most excited about? Their own church’s vision.

“These problems don’t exist when you have somebody who’s totally separate, in a totally different state, handling your finances,” he continues. “WatersEdge is ministry-minded, supportive and cheering us on, not thinking ‘Well, my church does it this way.’”

Moreover, using managed accounting services prevents one or a handful of church members from having intimate knowledge of any individual’s giving and contributions.

“For some, it’s hard to have that intimate knowledge and not look at others with favoritism or judgment,” Holley explains. “If that’s the case, it creates an unhealthy environment and robs us of our unity. We’re supposed to be unified and on the same team.”

Enhanced oversight proves to be priceless

For Immanuel Baptist, embracing third-party oversight of its accounting even resulted in recovering withheld gifts — nearly $200,000 in online gifts and checks!

“Evidently, the online giving company we were dealing with had some software issues, and neither they nor we realized there were multiple deposits that didn’t end up in our bank account,” Holley explains. “They weren’t intentionally withholding the funds, but it was an absolute disaster.”

Meanwhile, the church was spending as usual and trusting the statements provided by the third-party giving provider. These reports detailed tithes and offerings, how much money was coming in and going out, and so on. At least for church leaders, the budget was looking great… until WatersEdge alerted church leaders that Immanuel’s banking account was about to be overdrawn.

“It might not have been below zero, but it was below the threshold where it was supposed to be,” Holley recalls. “Had WatersEdge not been watching closely enough to catch that and call it to our attention, we wouldn’t have known until we went into the negative.”

“They’re not an accounting firm; they’re a ministry”

Although finance and ministry don’t immediately seem to live in the same silo, the managed accounting services relationship between WatersEdge and Immanuel Baptist Church proves otherwise.

“It’s a gospel partnership; it’s being used to grow the Kingdom,” Holley says. “We have good relationships with the people at WatersEdge. I’ve been asked to do a devotion for their team and really enjoyed pouring into them.

“They understand that they’re not an accounting firm; they’re a ministry,” he adds. “I do ministry from a pulpit; they do ministry from a computer helping with bookkeeping and accounting. But it’s all ministry.”

In fact, the arrangement helps Immanuel Baptist do more ministry.

“By[WatersEdge] providing the services they provide, it allows the pastors to spend more time on the things God has called them primarily to focus on,” Holley explains. “If I’m having to go to a financial assistant and get her to run reports or collect data and run reports myself using data I’m inputting, it’s going to cost me time. I’ll have less time to prepare sermons, do strategic planning, cast vision — things that are very important for a lead pastor to do for the church.” 

Finally, outsourcing Immanuel’s accounting has proven more cost-effective than the church’s previous setup. This, too, frees up resources for more ministry.

“In fact, it was actually cheaper to use WatersEdge than to pay the person we had,” Holley points out. “And really, I felt like it was a better solution anyway. Overall, the more you save, the more you must spend elsewhere.

“As the church grows, we continue to do more missions, have more maintenance issues, and need more personnel,” he adds. “God is working wherever you apply those resources.

“At the end of the day, we’re all working together using the gifts, skills and talents that God has given us to advance the gospel and watch the Kingdom grow together,” he concludes. “That’s the main thing.”


Year established: 1960
Number of staff — full- and part-time: 12 / 16 + 20 at a preschool
Combined weekly attendance: 1,000 (800 on campus + 200 online)
2024 budget: $2.3 million


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