This fall as you begin to draft your letter for the stewardship campaign I’m willing to bet that most you will write something like:
While we have been able to do so much this past year thanks to your incredible generosity please consider giving more, as our budget has increased for next year.
But what do different giving groups in your church read when they read this?
At the bottom of your giving ladder you probably have a pretty good chunk of folks who are giving nothing or maybe a hundred bucks or so for the year. They get to read about their “incredible generosity” from the past year, affirming their minimal giving. I have this vision of Archie and Edith with Edith nagging him to give more to the church. This sentence would be great evidence in his own defense that they are already meeting the church’s expectations.
In the middle are folks whose giving and motivations are pretty diverse. Some give out of guilt, some out of a sense paying either their dues or the cover charge for their club or show. Some have been giving the same amount for a decade or more. I’m reminded of a small group leader I had years ago at our church. He pointed out that we have a nice building, good pastors, effective ministries, we seem to be in good shape. But when he gets the letter from the homeless program they talk about all the things they want to do if they only had the money. So he and his wife have had flat giving to the church but their giving to that mission has increased every year. The two of them read that sentence and realize that once again the church’s sole vision is to pay a slightly higher salary line and the usual increases in utilities and the copier contract but nothing exciting is happening.
At the top are your tithers. These are people who have accepted the challenge to give where their hearts are, who have cleared out some of the financial weeds in their lives and have made the church their top priority in their lives. They know they’re among the top givers and they’re happy to do it. But when they hear that they need to “give just a little more” knowing that others are giving a fraction of what they are they can feel mighty unappreciated.
The solution? You need to send different messages to different groups.
Let’s start at the top. Simply acknowledging the generosity of your tithers will make a huge difference. Let them know the things you were able to accomplish in the church last year because of their work, emphasizing changing lives in the name of God. Go easy on the ask, they’re giving out of a spiritual place, not a transactional place. Seems like the kind of conversation you’d want to have personally with this group, perhaps a dinner or dessert reception.
Your folks in the middle are bought in, but not to the point of tithers. Challenge them to increase their giving and give them a reason to do so. Throw out a vision like “if giving increases 20% we will start an after school tutoring program, send an adult mission team to the Urban Mission, etc. There are two ways to challenge this growth. Herb Miller talks about challenging people who give $10 a week to grow to $20 or $20 a week to give $30. I prefer to talk in terms of moving toward tithing. Have your people figure what percentage of their income they are currently giving, then grow by a percentage point. Two percent grows to 3%, and hopefully that growth continues until they reach a tithe, maybe even beyond!
As for the folks at the bottom, give them a mission project to support. A letter asking them to help purchase the curriculum and crackers for the kids Sunday School or supporting the monthly mission meal is a great beginning. This is the kind of ask they are used to receiving from other nonprofits and it lets you focus on your work in the world, stuff people early on their disciple walk like to hear.
These example may not be a perfect match for your church, but I guarantee that one size fits relatively no one in your church. Get started early both drafting your letters and dividing your congregation into three or more categories. And don’t let perfect be the enemy of very good. Take your best effort at this.
Not sure about moving ahead? As always, let me know how I can help.