Generally speaking, a church trustee is a layman who takes care of the secular business of running a church. Trustees manage finances and property, and ensure the church is compliant with any legal requirements.
Acts 2:42 describes the early church: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Verses 44-46 elaborate: "And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart." The apostles, who had traveled with and learned directly from Jesus, were the elders and teachers of the church. But they soon saw the need for help with logistical realities. In Acts 6, the first deacons were chosen to oversee the church’s food disbursement. These first deacons “waited on tables” so the apostles would not “neglect the ministry of the word of God” (Acts 6:2). The deacons’ service set a precedent for some of what trustees do today.
The Bible does not give us specific instructions regarding buildings and equipment owned by a church. The early church met in public spaces (Acts 5:12), personal homes (Colossians 4:15; Acts 12:12), and lecture halls (Acts 19:9). The first known facility dedicated to housing a church was acquired in the AD 240s and destroyed in 256. In the very early 400s, the Roman Catholic Church developed the role of trustee to manage and have legal authority over a church’s property. Whereas a deacon meets the needs of the people, a trustee meets the needs of the property.
The role of trustee varies depending on denomination and congregation. Trustees may be responsible for maintaining buildings and facilities, tracking the church’s equipment and investments, keeping insurance policies up to date, and managing funds. In a large church, a trustee may oversee several different ministries, including a finance department and janitorial staff. In others, the trustee is the janitor. Trustees can be appointed or elected, are occasionally elders or deacons, and may have the authority to serve as signatories for the church. In addition to denominational and congregational requirements, each state has different laws regarding trustees. In some states, churches are required to have trustees.
The position of "trustee" is not a biblically mandated office; rather, it is a practicality to aid the appropriation, maintenance, and disposition of church property. Although trustees are not mentioned in the Bible, their role is biblically appropriate. The New Testament calls us to be good stewards of our blessings, to maintain order in the church, and to use our gifts to benefit the body. First Peter 4:10 says of individuals, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." This applies to churches as well.