Giving patterns and practices evolve from one generation to another. Clif Christopher, in his book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, discusses relevant information for those involved in congregational leadership who are looking to keep the vision for giving alive. Some of his ideas may seem edgy. But as he describes early on in his book, society, the church and the 21st century church offering plate have seen dramatic changes. As a result of these changes, the ways the church addressed generosity and stewardship issues 50 years ago may not work today. We see a diminished loyalty to the local church as well as an increased sophistication in fund raising efforts by para-church and civic organizations which, like it or not, are competing for our members hearts and dollars.
Following are 10 suggestions Christopher offers as ways for the church to step up and become more intentional when addressing some of the taboos concerning talking about money. If you are looking for fresh ideas as it relates to congregational stewardship concerns, this may be a resource to consider adding to your reading list. Christopher challenges us to reflect on what we have been doing and to ask ourselves if we think it will keep us financially solvent in maintaining current ministry needs and adding new initiatives for future outreach.
1. Pray, study and get your act together
The goal of a pastor (steward leader) is not only to teach biblical practices but to model these same practices in their life. One of the problems today is that many pastors struggle to live up to the stewardship principles they preach from the pulpit. Denominational and conference leadership needs to be more engaged in making sure our pastors are properly compensated and are exercising good stewardship principles in their own lives.
2. Build a high expectation culture
We have become too complacent in general about the expectations for our members. Leadership needs to be more assertive with challenging church members towards greater stewardship faithfulness in the ways we earn, save, spend and share with our financial resources. Christopher notes that the churches that are growing today are those who have raised the expectations about giving and regular church attendance.
3. Have weekly testimonies
Allow time within our corporate congregational life to talk about how a life of generosity brings joy and fulfillment. We have been far too quiet about embodying the benefits of faithful stewardship practices. Breaking the taboo of talking about money happens best with storytelling. Written stewardship testimonials in church newsletters by respected members of the church or short spoken reflections on Sunday morning before the offering is received are two avenues where this can take place.
4. Offer regular financial training courses
Churches must acknowledge that people in their congregations are struggling with basic issues of personal finance management. We need to learn how to manage the 90% before we will be freed-up financially to give to the level we are instructed to by scripture. There are several excellent biblically based financial training courses available and Everence can help in getting these established in congregations.
5. Preach directly on money four times per year
As a former pastor, Christopher preached stewardship messages four times a year. He encourages leadership to get beyond a once a year sermon on Sunday and look at one sermon per quarter. Yes – it’s that important. We know that the only subject that gets more attention in scripture than money and possessions is the Kingdom of God. Christopher recommends that we don’t speak more or less about money than what scripture itself commits to the subject!
6. Target your correspondence
Recognize that stage of life and age factor in significantly to our ability to give. Local congregations tend to treat all members the same by sending generic letters to members and making verbal announcements that are so general that they make no real challenge or impact on the reader and listener. Young adults need to be met where they are and nudged to consider regular giving to the church, whereas persons in the prime of their earning years need to be challenged in different ways.
7. Spend more time with major donors
We DO treat members differently based on a person’s talents and levels of involvement in the church. Get over the fact that the gift of entrepreneurship and wealth should be any different than gifts of helps, administration, music, leadership, etc. Persons in the hospital get significantly more attention than healthy members of the church body. Members with means are being approached on a regular basis by development personnel of large community institutions and broader church organizations. Leaders of the local church need to keep their wealthier members informed about the needs that exist at home. Congregational leaders should develop a list of ministries and initiatives they would like to establish IF the resources were available. Not to have a vision for future mission and outreach will project the impression that we are only about maintaining a status quo – which can become the beginning of the end for church growth – both spiritually and numerically.
8. Write thank you notes
Only in the church can we get away with not saying thank you for the generosity of our donors. CEOs of many not for profits soliciting funds from our members willingly and eagerly write thank you notes to those who give generously to their ministry. Pastors need to do the same.
9. Review the individual giving of your members
Being able to say “thank you,” means being in the know of who gives how much. Giving practices are one of several spiritual barometers that help the shepherd know how his or her members are feeling about their level of connection to the local body. Just as attendance and participation in the broader life of the congregation are barometers of our members spiritual health and connection, giving patterns are equally telling. Not to know individual giving practices limits a pastor’s ability to intervene pastorally when changes occur in the household giving. Generosity is first and foremost a spiritual discipline that can be a major indicator of an individual member’s commitment to the local church, as well as their commitment to spiritual growth.
10. Never send out a line item budget again
Financial reports that only give the numbers without identifying our mission and the narrative of our work reinforce the wrong message about our purpose as a Body of Christ. Narrative or missional budgets are more easily understood and are framed as a celebration of what God is doing through the financial generosity of our members.
Even if you don’t agree with some or all of the ten points presented by the author, an examination of what he says may help trigger new strategies to help you better encourage and promote generosity within your congregation. If you are interested in hearing how Everence can partner with you in promoting financial literacy and planning, will preparation, youth and young adult financial training, etc, be in touch with your local Everence representative, check out our website and review the resources in our new online bookstore.