Congregations and clergy across the country and around the world are navigating uncharted waters as we struggle to deal with the effects of COVID-19. Some are scrambling to implement new technologies related to connecting and giving. Others are advocating for a time of Sabbath rest.
Many congregations’ websites describe the practice of tithing on their giving pages, almost as placeholder text. Sometimes it’s simple and direct:
“The biblical model for giving is to tithe, allocating 10% of one’s income
to the church, so that should be your goal.”
Other descriptions are more subtle:
“We appreciate your support for this church, where our mission to share Christ’s light with the world includes the practice of directing 10% of church gifts to support global charities.”
Thereby implying, we tithe as a church so you should, too!
As congregational leaders of Stewardship, we are aware that many in our congregations give closer to 1% than 10%, so giving invitations might not mention percentages at all. But avoiding the conversation entirely may abandon an important opportunity to nurture disciples in the joy of giving. Whether it’s welcoming a handful of crumpled dollar bills from a single parent, or a retiree’s hefty Qualified Charitable Distribution, we must provide a way for everyone to grow in their generosity and giving.
There are serious limitations if we structure our Stewardship message around the supposed “Biblical Standard” of tithing. Let’s rethink how we invite people to give, inspiring their giving rather than obliging it.
The data indicates that, on average, U.S. individuals give around 2-3% of their after-tax income to charities (including churches). So while there may be some tithers in your congregation, average church-goers will give away 2-3% of their income and probably not to your congregation alone. Given this reality, if our Stewardship pitch focuses on the tithe which may be as much as four times what someone is currently giving, there is a good chance our Stewardship goal is probably not going to make its mark.
A fair reading of scripture does not reinforce any goal or requirement that Christians today should give 10% of their income to their local congregation. If tithing became a key concern of Jesus, he would probably mention it. Instead, while Jesus talks about money all the time, he is nearly always addressing people’s relationship with money, and the injustice associated with the distribution of money. In imagining the Christian life, Paul embraced generosity, cheerful giving, and caring for those in need. But there is never any sense of a 10% catchall expectation in the Gospels, epistles, or elsewhere in the New Testament.
The Old Testament includes several passages that note the practice of giving 10% to the Temple. This money went to support the Levitical priests, temple upkeep, sacrifices, and charity. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 suggests tithing also led to huge parties with good food, strong drink, and great rejoicing.
So, if we don’t use tithing as a rhetorical device to compel giving, what should we do? This path is where we should lean on invitation rather than the obligation. And for Christians, invitation is a key ingredient of discipleship.
As Henri Nouwen famously observes,
“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer
other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”
Stewardship ministry then becomes a way to proclaim what we believe.
One of the best ways to make this proclamation is to tell stories; stories of our ministry, stories of lives changed, stories of the Spirit working through the gifts we give to God in the offering.
- Tell the story of Dave whose life was changed by volunteering at your food shelf.
- Tell the story of Nikkeya who led confirmation classes and is now going to seminary.
- Tell the story of Haden who discovered God on a mission trip.
- Tell the story of Edna who was touched when the pastor visited her last week.
We are made of and moved by story. Stewardship, at its best, invites people to join in the story of God’s work in your midst — an invitation that can truly inspire generosity.
POJ Associate for Stewardship
*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.
In the spring of 2016, Sean Mitchell, Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, was the keynote speaker of our Annual Leadership and Stewardship Event. This past week he and the Rev. Dr. Millie Snyder published a book “Gracious Stewardship: Developing the Church in the Way of Jesus.” Today I share with you a small glimpse into the ideas that Sean and Millie explore in their book.
Sean reminds us, “We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that of gracious forgiveness offered by God to all members of God’s family. Our stewardship ministry is part of our overall proclamation of the gospel, and not a separate fundraising effort to provide the finances for our proclamation. Stewardship must be integrated, both in content and in methodology.”
Let’s reflect with Sean and Millie on Jesus’ parable about a father and his two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it in a distant country. When he had spent everything and found himself working in the fields feeding pigs, he decided to return home in hopes that he might become a hired hand for his father. Instead his father welcomes him home and throws a party for him. The older son who had remained home all along found it hard to understand why his father had never shown that kind of attention to him.
In this story we see a father who enacts grace with both of his sons. This grace was the foundation for his own stewardship.
- The father is a gracious steward of the wealth God has entrusted to him. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, his father was generous and gave it to him.
- The father is a gracious steward of his relationships. When the younger son was seen far off, his father saw him and ran to embrace him. This father was willing to accept his son without condition. He also went into the fields to reassure his older son that he had always been a part of the family and had always had a share of the father’s blessings.
- The father is a grateful steward. He offered grace freely to both sons. He did not put conditions on their role in the family, and he didn’t withhold blessings from either son. He celebrates and forgives because he is a thankful soul and takes nothing for granted. His gratitude keeps him centered in gracious generosity.
Sean and Millie begin with this biblical story to lay out what they see as the three core values of a grace-based stewardship ministry.
- Transforming Fellowship – relationships are vital to our formation as stewards. What would that mean in your congregation? It would mean:
➢ moving toward one another in community
➢ sharing our stewardship stories and listening to one another
➢ hearing the stories of people who are taking steps toward contented lifestyles
➢ hearing the stories of people whose lives and wallets are over-leveraged
➢ nurturing an environment of trust where it is safe to listen and challenge one another
➢ creating relational communities where we discuss and embrace the gifts of God and discern what gifts we might each share in response to God’s amazing grace
- Gratitude – embracing God’s abundant grace fosters peace, trust, and celebration. Stewardship teams need gratitude as a core value. Without gratitude, stewardship ministry is merely a string of tasks with no acknowledgement of grace. Learning to regularly acknowledge and thank God for provision and resource is a spiritual discipline. Creating special occasions where you can lead the entire congregation in practices of gratitude are appropriate responses to God’s generous grace.
- Equipping the Saints – encouraging the church to share, practice hospitality, and live generously. Gracious stewardship teams are encouraging and equipping. They join with the mission of other ministry teams to build up the body of Christ. Their work presents faith-formation opportunities for members to learn how to practice stewardship in real life. They expand the understanding of stewardship to be more than giving and finances. Equipping the body of Christ to embrace stewardship of all of life and creation gives them joy and purpose.
If this grace-filled message from Sean and Millie resonates with you in your Stewardship ministry, I encourage to get a copy of the book to read, invite your Stewardship Ministry team to study the book with you, share a copy of the book with the session, and most importantly consider the values of grace-based stewardship in your own life and ministry!
Associate for Stewardship
Regularly ask yourself the most basic stewardship leadership question, “What can we do to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through their stewardship?” A constant temptation faced by leaders in a congregation is to focus on what meets the needs of the leaders, rather than what meets the needs of the members of the congregation. Focus on the giver’s need to give rather than on the church’s need to receive.
In many congregations, the “model giver” is over fifty years of age, highly committed to the church, and understands giving as a “duty.” Often, we direct our efforts to this person. Studies have shown that givers under fifty are different from those over fifty. Younger generations are not as committed to institutions, and certainly do not understand financial support of an institution to be their duty. Younger generations are much more inclined to give where they can see their giving making a difference.
Ways to Ask
What is the most effective way to ask someone to give? In the church we seldom ask ourselves if we are using the most effective means to ask people to give.
Recently we had an opportunity to hear Charles “Chick” Lane discuss his book, “Ask Thank Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation.” He discusses the various ways that we often use to ask someone to give. It might be face-to-face or a personal letter. It might be a telephone call or an “ask” at an event.
Which of these methods has your congregation used? Which method was the most effective? Chick suggests that you analyze your past asking and possibly choose other ways to ask to find the most effective method for your congregation. What he has found is that the more personal you are, the more effective the “ask.”
Motivations to Give
Another important piece of research that has been done is to ask people why they give. What are the top motivators for people who give financial support to non-profits? Here are the responses in order of importance from most to least:
- Being asked by someone you know well
- You volunteer at the organization
- Being asked by clergy to give
- Reading or hearing a news story
- Being asked to give at work
- Receiving a letter asking you to give
- Receiving a telephone call asking you to give
As congregations, there is some insight to be gained from this list.
- Get people involved. Almost all of your congregation who gives will also be involved in some way in the life of the congregation. Some will sing in the choir, some will be a part of the men’s or women’s organization, some will serve on a committee or the session. Most will be regular worshippers.
- Get the pastor involved. Sometimes pastors are reluctant to be actively involved in the stewardship ministry, and sometimes the congregation wants the pastor to be on the sidelines when it comes to stewardship. Don’t let this happen. The pastor preaches, teaches, and talks to the congregation about all sorts of spiritual issues – let stewardship be one those issues.
- Tell a compelling stewardship story. People don’t give to their congregation because they read or hear about what their congregation is doing but knowing what the congregation is doing and knowing that their gifts are making a difference in people’s lives will encourage people to grow in their giving.
- Consider the most effective way to ask. What are some ways that you can ensure that people are asked to give by someone they know well? Some churches use an every member visiting program. Others use telephone calls. Encourage people to visit or call people they know to invite them to give.
A Positive Approach
When you ask people to financially support your congregation and its ministries, focus on what will happen when they give, rather than what won’t happen if they don’t give. People are motivated to give when they hear how the church is making a positive difference in the world.
Overall, remember that the goal of our stewardship ministry is to help God’s people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through the use of the time, talents, and finances God has entrusted to them.
Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.
What is the importance of telling our congregation’s story? First, and foremost, we tell our story so that others can hear the message of God’s love. We are called to “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” This is the mission God calls us to in our congregations.
December is just around the corner. From a stewardship perspective, December is typically the biggest giving month of the year in churches and also for many non-profits. So, what can we do as church leaders to provide an opportunity for our members to give to the ministries of our churches as part of their end-of-the-year giving?
Charles Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation” reminds us that the focus of biblical stewardship is on the fact that generous giving is one of the basic acts of discipleship. Charles suggests that there are three foundational verbs that help us to focus on this aspect of stewardship:
- Ask. If you want people to give more as year-end approaches, you need to ask them. You can communicate this message in whatever way works for your people: letter, from the pulpit, video, whatever social media platform works for you. We are often far too hesitant to ask people to give. The message can, and should, come from the pastor as well as from leaders of the congregation.
- Thank. As you ask, be sure you clearly thank people for their giving so far this year and for their commitments to give next year. If you didn’t send out thank you letters or notes for pledges, do it now. You can’t thank people too much. Most churches do it far too little.
- Tell. There are two ways you called to tell the story.
Tell the story of your ministry this year and your vision for the next year. Hopefully you already did this as part of your fall stewardship emphasis. Don’t worry about repeating it. And if you didn’t, do it now! Share with people the difference their giving has made. Whether or not they make an additional gift, it further reinforces their commitment to give to your ministry in 2019.
Tell the truth about your financial situation. If you are facing a real shortfall, be honest about it. Do it clearly and calmly, without a “sky is falling” panicky message. It’s not helpful for leaders to protect the congregation from financial challenges. They can’t step up to help if they don’t know about it.
If you have an abundance of resources, be honest about that. Some leaders think, “We don’t want to let people know because then they will stop giving.” People will keep giving if you give them a reason to give. Make your Christmas offering something significant that will benefit the wider community, and invite people to give generously.
Charles concludes his book with this wonderful vision of Stewardship ministry:
“One of my favorite novels is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Each year at Christmas I try to see either a play or movie version of A Christmas Carol, or to read the original. A big part of the appeal of the story is the incredible contrast between Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story and Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.
Notice Dickens’ description of Scrooge from the first pages of his novel, ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’ Many, many pages and three Christmas ghosts later, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. To say the least, he is a changed man. He sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit’s that is twice the size of Tiny Tim.
And then Dickens writes, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”
I don’t wish for any of God’s children to be scared to their senses by night visits from past, present, or future ghosts. However,
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation so enjoying their generous giving that they chuckle until they cry.
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation who discover the radical truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
- I do have a vision of people in your congregation whose generosity grows by leaps and bounds, and who discover that this generosity has indeed led their heart to Jesus.
- I do have a vision of people chuckling, or at least smiling as they drop their offering into the plate on Sunday morning.”
If you have a special story to share about your fall Stewardship program, I would love to hear it! What’s been special about your celebration of stewardship this year? You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 434-996-6032.
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James
As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do:
In their recent book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson claim that generosity is a practice, not a “haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life.” In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul talks about generosity as a virtue, a habit of the heart, and a character trait. Generosity as both virtue and practice connects attitude to action.
There are many important things for us to remember about stewardship. Today, I want to talk about a couple of the “T’s” of Stewardship.
letr1 – Stewardship is a Year-Long Ministry
Every Sunday is an opportunity to preach and teach about stewardship. Seize that opportunity whenever you can. Listen for God’s messages on Stewardship in the scriptures. One good Stewardship sermon in the fall during the annual stewardship campaign is not enough. Think about the people who might miss that Sunday or even avoid that sermon.