A Book You Really Must Read

I recently read a book that should be required reading for any good Methonerd like myself.  Reverend Will Cantrell has written Unafraid and Unashamed:  Facing the Future of United Methodism.  It’s a really, really good book discussing the human sexuality issue in the church.

At just 150 or so pages it’s a fairly quick read and brings in what I assume are accurate discussions of scripture, the history of the issue in the church and an honest, accurate summation of the three key sides in the conversation:  traditionalists, progressives and centrists.

He speaks of Nineveh, a broken communion chalice in Pittsburgh, and Moses taking advice from Jethro.

My favorite quote:

if we approach diversity with fear, we will reach a predictable outcome.  We will continue to accuse those who see things differently as ruining our denomination.  We will befriend and dialogue with only those who agree with us.  We will think of those with different viewpoints as something less than Christian, and less than intelligent. We will approach all denomination decisions with the intent to acquire the maximum amount of power for those who share our point of view.  With fear guiding us, a schism is not only probable, it is assured.

Maybe you read that and thought, “Yes, he clearly agrees with my side.”  But in this masterfully written book you will notice that he takes no sides, offers no fodder for proving that WE are right on this issue and THEY are wrong.

Instead he challenges to see through the issue and focus on us remaining united.  You know, like A Way Forward.

At a time in our society when two sides can’t talk about anything Rev. Cantrell calls us to be above that, to be people of faith and courage, to exemplify scriptural holiness.

The battle for the soul of United Methodism will not be fought against other United Methodists of differing perspectives…  It will be a struggle between the power of fear and the power of faith.

You can pick up a copy from Amazon for about $17.  Spend a few hours with it, then a few more discussing with others in your circle.  I ordered it thinking it would be great for a church-wide study but instead think it’s a great conversation starter for those already aware of the issues facing our church.

Reasons to have a capital campaign

I had a call from a pastor friend last week.  He thought we were going to talk about bequests and endowments.  We ended up talking about a capital campaign.  That was my fault.

He called me excited that a member of his church had left a six-figure gift in her will.  This is a church with attendance in the 150 range and up until a few years ago consistently finished the year in the red.  This was a big gift for them.

He said they intended to add most of it to their permanent endowment fund that I had made many trips to his church to help them establish.  He explained that they would need to take about a third of the total to spend on capital improvements.  I often hear this and don’t necessarily think its a horrible idea.   And the he said it:

“We won’t have to have that capital campaign we were planning.”

You know that sound of a needle suddenly being yanked off of a record?  That was my response.

His position was that if they had the money from another source, they need not have the campaign.  Why would they go through that if they didn’t need to.

As we talked I began to develop a list of 3 reasons to have a capital campaign.

  • A capital campaign is a great way to challenge your congregation for their giving to grow.  I have no doubt that many of your members are still giving the same number of dollars they were five years ago, maybe ten or more.  The good news is that they are giving.  The bad news is they are in a rut.  A capital campaign rooted in vision and presented authentically can help your people get out of that rut and, in most cases, have a very visible, tangible benefit of their giving.
  • A capital campaign gift provides a tangible buy-in to the vision.  Church meetings and post meetings in the parking lot are full of folk saying that the church should do this or that. But there is a difference between saying that someone should do something and actually stepping up to the plate and paying for it.  Good stewardship says that if it isn’t important enough for the congregation to pay for, it isn’t important enough for other church funds to be used.
  • A successful capital campaign will preserve the bequest for future ministries.  The bequest the pastor had called about could support the church’s ministry ad infinitum.  It would have been between five and ten thousand dollars each year, if the church used a 5% spending policy.  Under current giving patters, it would been the largest single contribution to the church each year.  But if you lop a third or a half off of the principal that annual gift shrinks along with it.

Unfortunately many churches avoid capital campaigns like the plague.  Lay folk are afraid they’ll be expected to give and many pastors don’t know much about campaigns.  Taking money out of the endowment or using other sources of “found money” is certainly the path of least resistance.

In a capital campaign one goal is certainly enough money to refurbish the bathrooms or fix the roof.  But the three goals above are, in my opinion, far more important.  New carpet and drapes are good things, disciples who have moved further along their journeys are far better.

By the way, if you’re considering a capital campaign in your church but aren’t sure of the details the book,  Extraordinary Money:  Understanding the Church Capital Campaign by Michael Reeves is a great resource.  I have a bunch of copies in my office and I’d be happy to send one your way, just email me.  

Photo credit:  Diocese of Paterson, NJ.

Of Methodists, hurricanes and you

As I watch the news about the impending invasion of Hurricane Matthew on the southeast United States, two memory tracks come to mind.

The earlier of the two was in August of 1995 when we were vacationing in North Carolina and Hurricane Felix was a threat.  We were highly encouraged to evacuate and had every intention of doing so, once the huge traffic jams trying to leave the island waned.  The good news is that Felix headed back out to sea and we were able to stay put, giving us the unusual experience of empty beaches and amazing surf.

The second was far different.  In October of 2005 I led a team of about a dozen of us to Mississippi after Katrina.  We worked well north of the coast, cleaning up downed trees and such.  But we had the chance one day to go to Bay Saint Louis and nearby Waveland, where the eye came ashore.  The destruction was amazing.  But more amazing was to see UMCOR set up in the yard of Main Street  UMC in Bay Saint Louis.  The church was next to the massive county courthouse, which sheltered the church from the wind and largely protected it from damage.

The church was a refuge, a place where volunteers were housed and dispatched; food, water and flood buckets were distributed; prayers were offered and tears were shed.  It was a powerful experience, one that I doubt I shall forget.  You can read more about that experience in this post from a few years ago.

That church was a mission outpost because of the people in the pews across United Methodism.  They donated flood buckets for the clean up.  They donated money to buy food and water.  They offered up prayers that came back down to that community.

Because of that generosity the United Methodist Church offered to hope to a hopeless situation.

It was church.

My prayer for Hurricane Matthew is that it takes a hard right, goes out to sea and leaves those communities on the Atlantic with a Hurricane Felix experience.  Telling stories about evacuating for no good reason.  My second choice is that what I saw in Bay Saint Louis is repeated again and again and again up and down that coastline, that with your support UMCOR is able to minister those facing this disaster.

Matthew, of course is a Biblical name.  The Gospel of Matthew shows us how the early church was grown.  Time after time Jesus reaches out to those in need, ministers to them, they go back and tell their friends and a crowd grows to hear Jesus preach.  Sounds to me like Hurricane Matthew could be a great chance for some Gospel of Matthew experiences.

If you want to help, the good folks in East Ohio Communications make these suggestions:

You may support ongoing training, response, and relief by making a donation payable to your local church. Those donations will be passed from your church treasurer to the annual conference treasurer and then onto the fund of your choosing.

Please include on the memo line of your check the number of the fund below to which you wish to make your donation:

Fund EOC9046 – East Ohio United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

Fund 901375 – North Central Jurisdiction UMVIM

Fund 901670 – UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response

Fund 982450 – UMCOR International Disaster Response

We can’t make the hurricane head back out to sea, but we can make sure that the great folks at UMCOR have what they need to be the hands and feet of God.  Please be part of that.


Why pledging is so very important, and why it’s not at all.

Sometimes I talk about how critically important it is for your members to pledge.  At other meetings I talk about why it’s not important at all, sometimes in the same church.

The difference is which committee I’m talking with.

The stewardship committee should emphasize pledging.  A pledge represents a goal, a decision made in advance.  Any successful business leader will tell you that you must start out with a goal, preferably one that challenges you.

In my stewardship work I often challenge parishioners to determine what percentage of their income they are currently giving to the church, then to increase it one percentage point each year until they reach a tithe.  In spirituality and discipleship conversations pastors often challenge members to grow their giving as their relationship with God has grown.  It is these discussions and journeys that lead to tithing.

These are times with a pledge is critically important to reaching that goal.

But the group that I tell not to emphasize written pledges is the Finance Committee.  In my years at the Foundation I have only known of a single church that added up all the pledges in November and used that as their income number for the following year.  A balanced budget meant that they could never plan to spend more than the total of the pledges.  Incidentally this led the church to a very tight budget each year, which always ended in a significant surplus around Christmas time.

Nearly all of the churches I have worked with base the income on some historical figure.  Often it is last year’s total giving number, or an average of the last several years.    Sometimes to make the budget work they fudge a little, the previous year plus three or five percent.  All of these can be effective approaches to a number that is always uncertain.

Cleveland weatherman Dick Goddard once compared predicting lake effect snow to “stapling Jell-o to a wall.”  That analogy fits here as well.

So why should Finance Committees nag members to complete a pledge?  Younger generations don’t like to pledge, and generally don’t.  Folks whose jobs are uncertain, or are predicting other significant changes in their lives may hesitate to write down a number as well.  So why don’t we just show them some grace?  If Bob and Mary give $X per year, we can reasonably expect that they will continue to do so, or something close, whether they give us a pledge card or not.

While I think it is imperative that we teach all generations, especially young generations, about giving and tithing, this should come from a generosity point of view, not a church-needs-the-money place.

So in your stewardship campaign, continue to offer pledge cards as a way for your members to set a goal for themselves, or even make that commitment to the finances of the church.  But don’t clobber anyone over the head if they’re not willing to do so.  Keep them engaged, keep them on a discipleship path and let them reach that place as part of a greater journey in their lives.

A few more stories to tell

So you’ve read that the pastor should tell his giving story and you read Bishop Tracy S. Malone’s giving story.  Let’s talk stories for one more week, because there are other stories to tell (see page 569 in the hymnal if you’re so inclined).

When it comes to having people testify in worship or witness in worship, it can get a bit dicey.  A 90 second announcement quickly becomes a five-minute soliloquy.  Lots of experts suggest having these videotaped and put on the screen on Sunday morning.  While it’s certainly true that this gives greater control over the story it adds a whole lot of logistical work.  If you’re staffed to do this, by all means record it.  If not the pastor or worship leader interviewing the volunteer can help as well.  But don’t get bogged down, personal stories are so very effective and should be used more often.

I imagine that after the pastor told her story, others in the congregation began offering their own stories in response.  Has your congregation heard those stories?  Pick out one or two and have them told in worship.  My preference would be someone whose story mirrors the behavior you want to see from others.  A casual giver who has a spiritual awakening and begins to tithe is great.  If you’re a prosperity gospel church and you have a member who was richly blessed after discovering generosity, then by all means tell that story.

I want to hear the story of the church member whose life was changed by the church.  I heard one several years ago from a lifelong member of the church.  A closet alcoholic, he had gone out to drink his lunch and when he came back to work the boss met him at the door and confronted him.  The boss delivered him to the church where he began counseling with the pastor, the wife was brought into the pastor’s office and was made aware of the situation.  The pastor did a great deal of counseling and referred them both for additional help. The man testified that without the church he probably would have lost his marriage, his job and their home.  That’s powerful.

One that is tougher to find is the non-church person whose life has been changed by your congregation.  Who has your mission team served?  Who is a regular client at your food pantry, clothing program or hot meal ministry?  What wayward teenager was brought to church by a friend and was redirected to the right path?  How about a single mom who was afraid and alone but found peace and community under your steeple?

As you plan your campaign I suggest one of these each week leading up to Commitment Sunday.  Alternatively you could put all of them together as the message one week.

Your church is changing lives, thanks to what is going into the offering plate.  Make sure your people hear these stories, and after they hear them be sure you are making the connection back to their giving.

Bishop Malone’s Giving Story

Last week I encouraged pastors to tell their giving stories as they kick off stewardship season.  We are grateful to Bishop Tracy S. Malone for sharing her own giving story.  Joining her in the  photo above are her husband, Derrick, and daughters, Ashley and Alexis.


I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught to thank God for everything. I was taught to never take life for granted because tomorrow is not promised.  I would pray and thank God for everything. I learned to have a grateful heart.

I was taught to give God my best. I was reminded that God loved us so much that He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, and he came into the world so we may have life and have it more abundantly. Therefore, I should offer God nothing less than my very best of who I am and what I have.

As I grew into my teen years I developed a deeper understanding of my faith, learned about what it meant to be a good steward and learned the importance of tithing.

My parents expected me to be a good steward by being active in the church. When I became of age I got a job and this is when I learned about tithing.  When I received my paychecks, my parents made me give 10% of my total check to the church. The remaining half went in the bank and the other half I could keep. What a challenge! It was one thing to understand stewardship and tithing but putting it into practice was more than a notion. I learned to find joy in giving.

When I got married I wanted to continue being a tither. My husband was not raised in the church and tithing was a new concept for him. I knew I would need to be patient and give him time to make such a commitment. We did make a commitment to give tithing a try. It was a step of faith!  All things were going well and then we found ourselves being tested. My husband’s employer closed his business. This impacted our income drastically until my husband found other work. But by the grace of God, remained faithful and God provided just as God promised. We are living witnesses that tithing is both an act of stewardship and an act of faith. We have been tithing ever since.

We have two daughters and have taught them the importance of stewardship and tithing. Whatever the source of their income, allowance or other earned money, they are expected to give a tithe to the church. When they were younger we gave them money to put in church to give them the practice of giving. But now they’re older and have their own source of income, it gives me great joy to see the joy in them as they place their offering in the plate. It is my hope and prayer that our daughters will always have joy in giving, serving and leading in the church.

Sometimes, as a people of faith, we forget that all we have belongs to God. We fall into the temptation of feeling entitled to have it all and keep it all. I have learned that the more you give away the more you make room to receive. And blessings come in many forms.

We are all called to be faithful stewards. A faithful steward is one who recognizes everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). A faithful steward is one who gives a portion of their money, possessions, time and talents to God.  A faithful steward is one who is intentional in giving their best and their first to God.

Stewardship is a matter of faith. Generosity is an act of faith. Tithing is a journey of faith.


What’s this for, anyway?

A few weeks ago I was in an investment seminar and the speaker suggested starting every meeting with account holders by asking each person in the meeting to write down an answer to a simple question:

“What is the purpose of this pool of money?”

At home that’s an easy question, many of us have funds to pay for college, retirement or just in case.  And if we can choose those funds can change purposes as needed.  But church funds aren’t always that clear cut.

I have seen lots of accounts with clear-cut policies, names like “organ repair fund” and committees with a common vision for how the money can be used.

But I have also seen “Rainy Day Funds” that haven’t been touched in a decade or more.  I guess it just doesn’t rain at that church.  Or funds whose purposes don’t seem all that relevant any more as the church has evolved but the fund hasn’t.

Understanding the purpose is significant for a couple of reasons.

First, it may guide investment decisions.  A fund that will be needed six months from now to pay for a renovation should be invested conservatively, protecting it from usual market fluctuations that Murphy’s Law dictates the market will be in a slump when the money is needed, then recover fully just a day or two after the withdrawal.  But a rainy day fund that may sit in the market for another decade would be able to swallow several market cycles, perhaps suggesting that it can be invested more aggressively.

Second, it is critical to know what a fund should be spent on.  The donor or church leaders developed a fund to serve a purpose, like supporting missions or repairing the church building.  We need to know that this money is available for such purposes.  It would be a shame for a fund to go unused while the church is struggling to pay for things that the fund was intended to support.  I know, this sounds strange, but I have seen it happen.

Third, it is equally critical to know what a fund should not be spent on.  If the music fund policy says it can only be spent on sacred, traditional music then you cannot buy a new drum set with it, no matter how badly Ringo needs new ones.  Endowments should not be used to pay salaries, utilities and other normal operating expenses.

The key to all of this, of course, is a good fund policy.  You need one for each fund and they need to be updated.  If you don’t have policies, shoot me an email and I will be happy to send you a sample to help get you started.


Kicking off your campaign with a good story

There are about 750 churches in the East Ohio Annual Conference and if all 750 did a stewardship campaign, all 750 would be different.  And I think that’s how it should be.  Churches have different cultures, serve different demographics, are in different places in their discipling.  But in my opinion each and every campaign should start off the same way.

The pastor needs to tell his giving story.

I think this is best done during the sermon, largely replacing the traditional model with an honest, spiritual discussion.  I think the pastor should come out from behind the pulpit, sit on a stool perhaps and just talk.

This is an easy assignment for a pastor who came out of seminary in a healthy place financially.  Easy if the spouse had a good job and there was at least adequate income flowing into the checking account.  The pastor saying that she and her family have tithed since day one is an effective message and a great example.

But I have learned that life, especially a life lived in a parsonage, is rarely that simple.

What happens if the pastor has struggled with giving?   If there have been years where finances have been tight or the spiritual commitment has been weak?   Then by all means tell that story!  This is the message your people need to hear, not that the pastor is perfect (psst, they already know that he’s not) but that she has had the same struggles as the person in the pew and come out of the other side.

I think it’s healthy for the pastor to speak candidly about things like student and credit card debt.  Whining is bad, but sincere struggle will resonate with your people.

Part of this conversation should include what you are giving to the church.  In a perfect world, this could be simple.  “My cash compensation from the church is $35,000 per year, my family and I are tithing $3,500 next year.”

Alternatively, “My family and I last year contributed 3% of our income last year.  We are committed to grow into tithers, so we intend to grow to 4% this coming year, 5% the following year and so on until we have met our goal for tithing.  So on my $35,000 salary we will be pledging $1,400 this year.”

I think it’s important to include the dollar figures for both the pastor’s salary and giving.  As the congregation hears the first half of the sentence, they may think, “How does he make it on that salary?” then when they hear that his contribution is larger than theirs, it may help them rethink their own level of commitment.

It gets dicier as it gets more complicated.

While the pastor’s salary is public information (and arguably the only thing most people look at during your fall charge conference) the question also arises about announcing the spouse’s income.  I suggest after disclosing the pastor’s salary and tithe amount, “And we also tithe on my husband’s income.”

Obviously the pastor should never divulge any family financial information unless the spouse is on board.

Don’t get caught up in the minutiae (like this blog post ended up).  Tell your story.  Be honest, be vulnerable, show that you are leading in your giving.

Nine numbers you need to know

As you continue to plan your campaign, it is important to know where you want the campaign to get you.  And to know that you need to know where you are.

There are some figures you need to have a handle on to figure that out.

Group 1:  Congregation numbers

These are the basics and while key leaders sometimes have a handle on them, your entire stewardship crew should as well.

  1.  Average attendance in worship.  This remains the standard measurement in church vitality and one that is readily available for your congregation on the UM Data website.  The website goes back 10 years and is readily available.  Present that entire time period.  If attendance has significant drops or gains, consider what may have prompted it, a pastoral change, divisiveness in the church, a strong discipling program, etc.
  2. Number of identified givers.  I believe that while the average worship attendance shows fewer people coming to church it does not factor in that fewer active members of your church are coming 52 Sundays each year.  If you track the number of IDed givers each year this will give you a better feel for how many families are still active in your congregation even if they’re coming less often.  You’ll find this in column 61 of the statistical tables in the Conference Journal.


Group 2:  Money numbers

To the extent that you can, go back 3-5 years, 10 is even better on these trends.  Hopefully the church office has a file of all of those year-end reports you have to submit.

  1.  Your bottom line last year.  Did income exceed expenses?  How much was covered by giving?  Did you take more than 5% out of any of your endowment or reserve funds?  Did you finish in the black but only because you didn’t pay apportionments?  Did you have a one-time cash infusion that saved your bacon?  Or was it a one-time expense that put your in the red?
  2. Total amount received from identified givers.  This is the core of your stewardship program.  Forget the day care rent, the wedding rentals, income from the Swiss Steak Supper, just giving.  Add columns 62a and 62b in the Conference Journal.
  3. What you have in the bank.  Beyond your checking account, what do you have?  Endowment funds?  Reserve funds?  Savings accounts?  CDs making less than 1%?  What has that trend been over the years?  You’ll find this in column 32 in the Conference Journal.
  4. Giving by decades.  This one is pretty tricky, will make your Financial Secretary nervous, and will be more of an art than a science.  But to the best of your ability group your donors into age groups, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, all the way up to 90+.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you found a tither or two in the younger groups but I would not expect each age group to “pay their fair share.”  Empty nesters will likely pay more than a young family with day care and a mortgage.  But while these numbers will skew to the older groups if you are receiving more than two-thirds of your income from folks are over age 80 that is predicting a huge problem for you five to ten years down the road.


Group 3:  Your calculations

Do the math and dig a bit deeper in these figures.

  1.  Average giving per identified giver.  Nationally this trend is going up, a smaller group of donors is giving larger per capita gifts.  This is unsustainable.  Just for fun divide your total giving by the number of attendees as well.  Any interesting trends show up?
  2. When you figured your bottom line were there endowment withdrawals factored in?  Take a look at all that you have in the bank and divide that by the amount you used last year.  How long does that project out?  Will you run out of money in the foreseeable future?  If so, you need both an income and an expense strategy.
  3. Consider the two numbers above against the giving by decade number.  Is the consumption of assets likely to remain steady or will you be likely to lose some income and accelerate raiding your reserves?


Context for your numbers

Numbers like we have discussed are worthless without a context.  The first context is your trend.  Is giving up or down over the last five years?  How about average giving and the rate at which we raid our funds?

But another context is how your numbers compare to others.  Ask others in your Compass Group to do the same math and compare your results (most are published in the Journal anyway, they’re no secret).  How do you compare with the other mainline churches in your community?

Take these numbers, see where you are and figure out how your campaign this fall and stewardship teaching and discipling all year need to address them.

As always, let me know how I can help.

Yes, you should know

Based on the calls and emails from last week’s post there was a part of it that many of you were uncomfortable with.

As I’m sure you will recall I suggested that you send different stewardship messages to different folks, with tithers, your middle donors and your nongiving or barely giving folks.

But ministers aren’t supposed to know what people give, right?  In fact that Book of Discipline says they’re not allowed to know (not that I can find it in the Discipline but a church volunteer swears that it’s in there.)

Actually, the opposite is true.  General Conference 2016 added to the Discipline that pastors shall have access to this information.  You can read more here.  But don’t go looking for that information because the Discipline says you’re allowed, go looking to strengthen your ministry.

You need to know because different groups in your church should be asked to support the church in different ways.  We covered this last week.  I assure you that the other nonprofits in town aren’t sending all of their donors the exact same solicitation letters.  Major donors, first time donors, growing donors all receive custom communications.  You can’t send these if you don’t know.

You can make the argument that the pastor shouldn’t know what people give (although I’ll disagree with you) but you will never be able to argue that the chair of your Nominating Committee doesn’t need to know.  Pastors, take a second and think about who that committee chair is.  That’s right, it’s you.  You wouldn’t have a Worship Committee Chair who never comes on Sunday, so why would you have a Finance or Stewardship Chair who doesn’t give?

Start a conversation in your church about why the pastor should know and ask the Finance Secretary for the information.  This is where lay volunteers can really help advocate on behalf of the pastor.  But I would warn you not to let this get in the way of your ministry.  This may be one that requires some finesse and some time to make happen.  And look for ways you can compromise to get the information the pastor really needs perhaps without the details that folk may be uncomfortable with.


%d bloggers like this: