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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Group 3: Your calculations
Do the math and dig a bit deeper in these figures.
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.
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.
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.
In the church tithing is a word kind of like “cancer”, it’s best whispered only in appropriate company. At least that’s the opinion of many folks I talk stewardship with but I think this is wholly inaccurate. I hear the word used lots of times, usually in a sentence like “would the ushers come forward to receive our tithes and our offerings.”
Tithing, of course, is the spiritual discipline of giving 10% of income to the church. Net income or gross income? United Methodists average 1% at this point, so if you’re to the point where you’re debating net or gross, I’ll just get out of your way and let you make that decision on your own.
Many of us in The United Methodist Church are a little squeamish about talking or teaching tithing. We don’t want to be that church that “always talks about money” or scares people away with unrealistic expectations. Instead of teaching the widow’s mite, we are willing to accept the millionaire’s mite.
As you consider your stewardship campaign this fall, I would encourage tithing to be part of the message
Next week we’ll cover the message you should be sending to your tithers (and others) this fall, and all year.
PS, Hamilton’s contentment prayer is part of his book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.
Timing is, they say, everything. Here is the report I gave at Annual Conference in 2015. Looking back, it seems I was a year ahead of my time.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but in the last couple of months things are different in downtown Cleveland. The Cavaliers are good. Really good, and they just might win a Championship.
As I considered this, I thought back to a conversation I had with Bishop Hopkins in May probably six or seven years ago. We were just chatting and at the time the Indians were doing quite well. He asked if I thought they would win the World Series that year. I scoffed and said, “No, of course not.” He pointed out their current record and quality pitching. I told him, “You have to realize that Cleveland has not had a championship since before I was born. Why would I expect that to change?”
And, of course, I was right. Another summer went by without a Tribe victory parade in November, just as every Browns and Cavaliers season has gone by since 1964. Those teams, along with two seasons by the Cleveland Barons Hockey team, have combined for about 150 seasons without a championship. By comparison the City of San Diego is in second place with about 100 seasons.
We have learned to temper our expectations.
The problem that I see with some of the churches I work with is that they have the same defeatist attitude as Cleveland sports fans. I have pastors lamenting that finances are tight So they’re left limping along, shrinking programs, burned out staff, out-of-date facilities. When I ask the laity what they would brag about their church they go back to the glory days and tell me how things used to be, a decade or more ago.
But when I ask them about their stewardship program their eyes drop and they tell me that they don’t do a stewardship campaign. Some say they have never done one, others say they used to… and their voices trail off. They don’t have the resources to do the kind of ministry the community needs them to do, and at the same time refuse to do what is necessary to make those resources happen. We have churches in our conference that can’t claim a ministry victory for a long time.
It’s kind of like I’m talking to Cleveland sports fans.
If this sounds like your church, I offer you a challenge this morning. I challenge you stop looking at Cleveland sports since 1964. Instead, look to this season. A team and a city that have been down accomplished the unthinkable and just might win that championship.
What would winning a championship look like for your church? It would have to start with a vision, a dream, and hopefully that dream isn’t a balanced budget or shorter finance committee meetings, but instead a vision to be as Bishop Hopkins calls us to be, mission outposts to your community.
To do this, you would have to challenge your congregation to see that vision for ministry. You would challenge them to meet that vision through their financial gifts, their volunteer hours. Maybe you have such a huge vision that your congregation can’t pull it off alone and you need to involve that other United Methodist Church in town (let’s face it, almost all of us have another United Methodist Church in town). Or maybe it will be ecumenical project with a number of denominations involved.
Would it be easy? Probably not. Especially if your church hasn’t had a championship in what feels like 150 seasons.
Some of you are still shaking your heads. “Our people don’t give anymore.” Our offering plates are empty. We don’t have enough to pay our bills, let alone go out and do ministry.”
The number one reason why people give money to one organization over another is the mission. What is your mission? If your mission is to keep the lights on, pay the bills, try not to mess the place up, this isn’t a mission that is likely to spark a strong generosity streak in your congregation.
What if you said your mission is to win a championship in ministry this year? What if you set out a plan for a challenging but still attainable program? What if you didn’t let the naysayers stand in the way? What if you and your congregation were all in on this project?
Maybe you win the ministry championship. Or maybe you play hard and wind up just short. But either way your church, your members and you community will be better off because you tried. And I assure you that if you decide to accept this challenge, the Foundation will be there to help you.
I often begin my sermon for stewardship Sunday by saying that it’s my favorite day of the church year, the day that the congregation decides what kind of church it chooses to be next year: a church of scarcity or a church of abundance. It’s not about the money, it’s about the ministry that will be possible. So that’s my favorite Sunday of the year, unless my anniversary, my wife’s birthday or the Browns Super Bowl debut happens to fall on a Sunday.
But today was my favorite Wednesday of the year (see disclaimer above re: anniversary et al). Commissioning and ordination night, much like stewardship Sunday, tells us what kind of church we will be. Will we be a conference comprised solely of follicley challenged older men or will we also have young women to speak the truth if it is so? Will we have both progressive and conservative theologies represented? Will we attract the best and brightest?
On second thought, forget those questions. Only one matters: would I want that person, that ordinand, that provisional member, that elder, that deacon, that man or that woman to lead my church? And by my church I’m talking about the one at the corner of Royalton and Webster but also that one across East Ohio or the one that came together in Portland last month.
You can ask future pastors to write all the papers you want, answer all the questions, jump through the hoops and lie about not being in debt so as to embarrass themselves all you want. But that’s what it boils down to.
Do I want that person leading my church?
While I never miss an ordination service I rarely attend the retirement service. I’ve only had one pastor, one very very dear man retire from a church where I worshiped. And in my Foundation work I’m far more involved in the folks on the way in than the folks on the way out.
I’d rather see the fresh faces of men and women excited to start ministry. They’re weathered a bit from the process and in the case of ordinands from the provisional process. But they’re excited energetic and ready to lead. It’s as if they’re saying “Give me a church to lead, Bishop then get out of the way and let me amaze you.”
I have worked with young clergy enough to know there are two things I am not allowed to say to them. The first is that we’re counting on them to save the church. The second is that they’re the future of the church (they are, afterall, the present of the church as well).
So instead what I will say is what I saw tonight and in preceding Favorite Wednesdays is encouraging. We are, indeed attracting and developing leaders who can lead us to a better place and while they are certainly the present church they represent a very bright future church as well.
For the last month I have reflected a great deal on whether I am optimistic or skeptical about the church a decade or five down the road. My favorite part about Favorite Wednesday is how I am overwhelmed with optimism.
I can’t wait to see where these new leaders take our church.