An update for the old Pony Express

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a stewardship chair quite like the phrase “Pony Express.” 

The once popular stewardship program is now distinctly out of style.  It worked kind of like several concurrent chain letters that would be delivered in person.  A chain had a list of members; the one at the top of the list would read the information, complete his pledge, and then pass the information on to the next person on the list.  By the end each member had been personally contacted and each had completed a pledge card.

Not that it ever went that smoothly.

But have you seen mailboxes lately?  When I grew up we had a black metal mailbox on our front porch.  The mail man (yes they were mail men back then) would walk to each house and deliver the mail.  But now a neighborhood will have a single location with perhaps hundreds of mailboxes.  The letter carrier makes one stop, drops off all the mail and moves on.

There are implications for a modern-day pony express stewardship program.

The Pony Express had some great features.  Each member was personally reached out to by another member.  Sometimes this was a drive by visit, but other times they might have shared a cup of coffee and visited. In church we call that fellowship, don’t we?

This year consider a Mail Stop campaign.  Find the cohort groups in your church, small groups that members fit into.  These may be obvious, like Sunday School classes or the bell choir.  How about the ladies who work together in the kitchen or the men who do fix-it chores around the church (the gender stereotypes are hereby acknowledged and apologized for).  Stay at home moms, the softball team or kids’ Sunday School teachers may click together as well.

Downtown churches that serve a large geographic area may be inclined to group people by zip codes or neighborhoods.  I encourage you to resist this urge, if all they have in common is an address, they are not likely to feel comfortable together.

Get each of these groups together for an hour or so to discuss the vision of the church and what their financial gifts support (no, I did not say review the budget).  Give them time to ask questions and provide their feedback.  For some, especially younger or newer members, it may be the first time they even meet the financial leaders of the church or have the opportunity to voice their questions or concerns.

Make the meetings comfortable for the group.  Sunday school classes can meet during class time.  Others may do an evening dessert.  Young families may opt for a play date at a home with a backyard swing set.  Make sure there is plenty of time for fellowship.  A group that feels comfortable will be more likely to ask questions.

Many church members will tell you they want more small-group time in general.  This may be a great format for church leaders to reach out to all of their constituents and talk money is an open, nonthreatening way. 

Give this a try this fall and let me know how it goes.

P.S., I’d love to take credit for this as a “new” idea, but it was actually the first stewardship campaign I was ever involved with, nearly 20 years ago at a church in Rochester, NY where my wife and I were members.  Bob Remington chaired the effort and I was pleased to run into Bob this past spring.  He and his wife are now members of Westlake UMC near Cleveland.

2 Comments on “An update for the old Pony Express

  1. I was googling Pony Express Stewardship and your article popped up. How do you propose to reach members that attend service but aren’t involved in small groups? I’m sure you have them in the big city. (We are in rural Missouri).
    Thanks.

    • Kent,

      I suggest you start with existing small groups, then see who is left. My guess is that some of the remaining have unofficial small groups, clatches you see talking after worship, for instance. For these folks I suggest one of two options. First, if there is a small group that they would seem to be appropriate for (similar age, interests, etc) encourage them to drop by that group for this conversation. You not only get the information to them but they get to “test drive” the group. The second is to have “at-large” meetings for the folks who are not in groups. These may be held after worship or during the Sunday School hour. No matter how hard you try you will not get to meet with every single member. But I think there is great pastoral care in helping to connect them the best you can and good stewardship work in making it clear that you want to be open and transparent about finances even if they don’t want to attend.

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