Should the differences be this big?

Last week I was chatting with the pastor of a growing church. Not surprisingly the conversation turned to stewardship and he asked me an interesting question: Why are churches so far behind other nonprofit organizations when it comes to raising money.

I took an extra drink of my iced tea. It gave me a chance to think.

The first thing I came up with was that nonprofits have full-time staff dedicated to doing that work. Baldwin-Wallace College has about a dozen professionals on its fund raising staff. This does not include clerical and support staff, public relations people or alumni staff. I know of just a single church in our conference with a staff member for stewardship and he is part time.

The second difference is expectations. This same pastor told me that when he came to his current church he was told that he should not do a stewardship campaign. Keep it low key. Don’t ruffle feathers. People will give. He did, and they give. When a CEO walks into any other nonprofit he or she has a burden of fund raising expectations on the shoulders. Buildings must be erected or remodeled. Endowments must grow. The vision must be funded. Our expectations for the pastor are to not ruffle feathers.

The third, and I think the most important, is that churches do not talk about money. Go to a major theatrical or musical performance and there in the program is the list of donors, sorted by level of giving. We look at the biggest donors and wonder if we recognize any names. Big contributors get to meet backstage, have access to the best seats and have their pictures taken wearing tuxedos.

In the church we have a culture that no one, not even the minister, should ever know what someone gives. I believe that culture is the result of people ashamed of what they give.

Large nonprofits will put a major donor’s name on the front of the building. Churches let small donors teach us to be ashamed of that we give.

OK, enough of my grumbling.  What should we be doing differently? 

First, stewardship cannot be something we only do three weeks every fall.  Ministers should preach about it at least quarterly and have it in front of them all year.  Good fund raising really is about connecting a need with people who can fill that need.  These opportunities happen throughout the year.

Second, we as a church should not breath a sigh of relief when our new minister announces he doesn’t really “do stewardship.”   We need to insist that the financial resources of the church are not an afterthought.  Every church should have an annual goal-setting process.  The staff-parish and stewardship committees should work together to set reasonable but clear goals for the pastor and the church.  Quarterly stewardship sermons, ongong training for key leaders, reading and discussions and, of course, the expectation that the fall stewardship campaign needs to not only happen but be done well and creatively.

Third, we need to talk about money.  If we didn’t have a big enough parking lot, we would talk about it.  If the roof leaked, we would talk about it.  Money is a tool for ministry, just as the physical plant of the church is a tool.  Let’s talk about our needs, our dreams, our vision for ministry and how stronger giving in our congregations can make those visions come to reality.

Those are my thoughts about the differences between churches and other organizations. What are yours?

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