Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Indianapolis at the annual spring Ecumenical Stewardship Center conference. The theme for the conference was Generosity Transformed! The keynote speakers addressed transformation in three main topics: Mission, Ministry and Money.
In addition, the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy presented some preliminary data from a recent study they conducted on Congregational Economic Practices. Here are some of the take-aways from the conference:
The Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey of Ottawa, Canada, opened the conference by taking us through the Bible showing us examples of God’s diverse generosity for all people. God’s generosity is both collaborative and subversive, he said, and it’s for all nations and all people. We are all part of God’s plan of generosity.
He concluded by asking, what does it mean to be fully generous? It’s more than abundance; instead, it’s abounding. God’s generosity is abounding – always moving, always including. We need to stand up against what seems impossible because if we don’t do it, God will find someone who will. We must be willing to be changed, to push against the status quo, to be transformed in a way that welcomes all into the conversation, just as God planned from the beginning.
Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, conference minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ, acknowledged that church giving is antiquated, but it is also functional. Although the methods may have changed, there are still three key skills to stewardship in congregations today: Ask for Money, Receive Money and Say Thank You. Transformation requires adapting to new methods of giving and new ways of engaging. Whether checks are dropped in an offering plate or sent in the mail or electronic giving via the church website, the skills remain the same.
First, one must ask for money: very few organizations have the opportunity to ask donors for money each week. Many congregations have a clear advantage here with weekly offering moments in services. Second, how do you receive the money: congregations need to adapt to the multitudes of ways that people manage their money, making digital giving options easy and accessible. Finally, saying thank you is a must: there is still a place for form letters, but handwritten notes or a quick ‘thank you’ on social media platforms go a long way in appreciating donors.
Rev. Lee Hull Moses, author of More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess convicted us to talk about the role of money in our whole lives, not just in relation to the stewardship campaign. She urged us to talk about money, actually talk about it. Maybe that means offering financial literacy classes based on life stage or providing information on estate planning or incorporating prayers about financial stress in worship. Rev. Hull Moses went on to say that after talking about money we need to talk about justice, which includes acknowledging that for certain parts of the population, money has been earned on the backs of the mistreated and devalued in our society.
Moses wanted us to understand that “self-sufficiency” is not beneficial to anyone because all of us require help in some form or another. Instead, we should be aiming for community – how can we live together, gather together, listen together in a way that we find sufficiency in the whole, not the individual? Rev. Hull Moses called us to learn the difference between excess and abundance – where we are seeking an abundant life, one in which our resources are put to good use, we build community and we trust one another. Imagine the kind of transformations we’d begin to see in our families, the country and the world!
Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, wrapped up the conference by helping us understand that pledging is challenging for people because income isn’t always consistent. How can we expect people to pledge a certain amount each week, month or year if they don’t know what amount they will earn in a week, month or year? How can we transform our view of giving?
Rev. Baskerville-Burrows asked: Do we believe we are enough or not? Do we believe God created us as enough? Do we truly know what it means to be loved? In order to answer yes to any of those questions, we must be grounded in gratitude and generosity; we must believe and trust in the faith we profess.
Conferences like this one remind me that we are each capable and up to the challenge of stewardship and generosity. We are not alone in this work. We have many conversation partners ready to help us through the next obstacle we’re facing. As the Associate for Stewardship, I am here to be a conversation partner with you. Let me know how I can support you in your stewardship ministry.
POJ Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts by Anne Brock, Program Manager of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving.