About a decade ago, Jerry Panas wrote the book Mega Gifts. The book is the result of many, many interviews he conducted with people who had given huge gifts to charity. Wouldn’t you love to sit down with those folk and ask them why they made the gift? Panas did, and the results may surprise you.
According to his research, there were three main criteria for why the gift was made:
- a belief in the mission
- regard for staff leadership
- the financial stability of the organization
What implication do those three have for church giving?
You probably read the first one and figured you were in good shape. After all, anyone who is a member of the church and shows up on a regular basis on Sunday mornings has to believe in the mission, right? If you asked your members to state the mission of your congregation, what would they say? Many would say it is to make disciples and be God’s witness in the world, externally-focused causes. Others would say it is to provide meaningful worship and give their kids good Christian education, essentially an internal focus.
I am not going to take sides (although most readers of this blog can figure out my leaning on their own) but I will ask how you reconcile these two camps. And what does this mean for their belief in the mission of your church as it relates to financial support?
When it comes to staff leadership we as United Methodists have some unique challenges. Pastors don’t lead local churches forever. Our itinerant system moves pastors, which if you don’t like your minister is a good thing but not so much if the minister is well-loved. It also takes time for a new pastor to come up to speed and understand the dynamics of his congregation.
But the minister must be the leader. He or she must be aware of all that is going on in the church and in the members’ relationship with Christ and the church. And yes, that includes having access to members’ giving information. I have written before about how we let members who are embarrassed by what they give drive the culture around money.
Financial stability is a tricky one, isn’t it? I once worked for the VP of a small college who was fond of saying “we spare no expense to look austere.” People won’t give to a sinking ship but there must be a need. I believe donors want to support organizations that have a need but also get results. In my years at the Foundation I have watched a church drain hundreds of thousands of dollars from its endowment to keep the lights on as the congregation slowly dies. But I have also seen a church “invest” some of its endowment into a rebirth.
Stop writing letters to your members bragging about how much money you managed not to spend last year. Start telling them about the kingdom work that was possible because of their investment and how there is more kingdom work to be done.
I challenge you to look at these three criteria through the eyes of the people sitting in the pew. But not the eyes of the Finance Chair or the lay leader. Look through the eyes of the first time visitor or the member who is serving his first stint on the finance committee and for the first time is starting to see how ministry happens.
Is your congregation worthy of a megagift? Most members would say no, can we prove them wrong?