Most ministers would tell you that there are three high holy days on the calendar when they expect their sanctuaries to be more full than usual: Christmas Eve, Easter and Mother’s Day.
What message do you send to visitors on those days? I have always sat in the congregation hoping just once that the pastor will mention that we’re here all of the other Sundays of the year and we’d love to have them come back again. But that rarely happens. Evangelism opportunity missed.
But are we missing another opportunity? How do you use the unusually large offerings from these special worship services? And more importantly, what message does that convey to the visitors or CEO Christians (Christmas and Easter Only) who are in your pews that day?
I challenge you to use your special offerings in a way that makes it very clear that yours is a church that is outwardly-focused. Think about what we are celebrating on Easter. Is that really an appropriate time for you to be worried about self? I think it is a better time to lift up selflessness as reflected in Holy Week and the miracle of the empty tomb. Using your holiday offering to pay your copier contract doesn’t really seem to follow that does it?
It may be too late for Easter this year, but find a mission project that makes sense for Mother’s Day. Is there a women’s shelter in your community? How about an organization that is going to provide free lunches for school-aged kids during summer vacation? Is there a nursing home or retirement community full of moms that could use a helping hand?
I realize that many of our churches do count on these offerings to help balance the books. If you are in this situation I urge you to make it part of your shared missions or apportionment income. If you can do so with integrity, tell those in attendance that every penny of this offering will support the United Methodist presence around the world, in areas like Chile, Haiti, Liberia, and right here at home.
As you prepare to take the offering refer to the special holiday and the fact that we are called as a church to serve those outside our walls (if your congregation would argue with that statement you may have more work to do) and invite all of those present to support this project. If possible, tell a short (one minute) story about how that organization changes lives and why you believe it is worthy of financial support.
The money you will collect for this organization is a wonderful thing. You might even want to have a representative come to worship in the following weeks and give a two-minute thank you from the pulpit.
Look this offering from the point of view of one of your visitors that day. How many of them have been turned off by churches that are cold, unwelcoming and only concerned about themselves? What message will they receive from this selfless and unexpected display of mission and generosity?
And please, before the benediction, invite them to come back again. You never know, they just might surprise you.
At the Learning to Turn our Cups Over seminar on Saturday Reverend David Bell offered many wonderful challenges and insights. One of them in particular really resonated with me. He pointed out that if people make donations to help people, we as churches should emphasize that in all of our stewardship communications.
The next time you get a quarterly newsletter from a nonprofit you support financially read it cover to cover. Think about how that organization, based solely on the information in that newsletter, changes people’s lives. Now take the newsletter from your church and do the same analysis. Is there any evidence at all that your church does this work?
Start a file of all of the correspondence you receive from nonprofits. Throw in newsletters, solicitation letters, thank you letters, response envelopes, annual reports, any printed material that seems to come out of the public relations office or fund raising office.
As you begin to plan your stewardship campaign dump the file out on the table and invite your committee to read through the collection.
· What seemed particularly effective?
· Did anything rub you the wrong way?
· What did you read that would make you want to make a donation?
· What is being done to make it easier or more convenient for you to make a gift to that organization?
Then consider what lessons your church can learn from this analysis.
I would never say that church stewardship and other fund raising are or should be the same. But there are certainly lessons that we can learn from what others are doing. And the reality is that many of your members will equate the two.
Nonprofits spend thousands of dollars to research what is working. What should we be learning from them?
I heard someone talk about change last week. He asserted that change happens for one of two reasons. It is either pushed by fear or pulled by vision.
In terms of church finances there has been very little “business as usual” in recent years. Attendance and membership in mainline denominations is already dropping. And the economic situation has decreased many of our members to give less. So we have fewer people making smaller financial gifts.
Would you be surprised to find that many churches have seen their offering income decrease? Probably not. But you may be surprised to find that others have seen their income increase.
Consider the church whose pastor made a plea in the fall of 2007. The stock market had already begun to slide. Unemployment was rising, both locally and across the region. He made it clear that in these times the church would need to be more missional. This was a time when local hunger centers would need more financial support, not less. When mission giving through apportionments would need to go up, not down. And while some in the church would lose their ability to give at their current rates, those in better financial circumstances would need to increase their giving.
This was a courageous request. It would have been easier for this pastor to offer excuses and invite members to retreat back into themselves, to play it safe and focus on the church’s inward survival. But he didn’t. His members responded and that church has offered not only financial resources to local agencies but also volunteer time and expertise.
Giving in that church wasn’t changed based on fear. It changed because of vision. And more importantly the congregation grew stronger during this time, not weaker.
As the economy improves, is the change in your church being pushed or pulled? Are you operating out of vision or fear?