Planning a Fall Stewardship Program

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  Isaiah 40:31a

This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.

None of us know exactly how it is all going to turn out, and it would be so easy for us to be afraid and hold tightly to what we have in case things get worse. This is ministry that operates out of our perceived scarcity which keeps us from experiencing abundance and gratitude. It is difficult to predict the short and long-term financial implications for the coming months. The one thing we do know is that we must be able to adapt and change as the circumstances around us continue to change.

In the past few months, I have worked with several churches in our Presbytery to think about the way to approach the fall Stewardship program. I encourage Stewardship and Finance teams to consider the current context of your congregation as you plan for the fall. There are lots of resources I can share with you and help you adapt them to your congregation’s circumstances.

Here are some things that might help you as you move forward:

Focus for Pastoral Care

  • Continue to develop and strengthen your online worship presence. Make sure everyone feels connected.
  • Increase communication with members of your congregation and with the community around you. Include many ways of communicating so everyone stays connected.
  • Develop a survey to discover the needs of the people in your congregation. Some may be struggling and feel insecure and desperate for ways to get through this crisis. Depending on what you hear, you may consider offering online classes, workshops, and/or other learning opportunities.
  • Find colleagues who can share in your concerns and consider ways to be in partnership (prayer, worship, online classes)
  • Explore new ways of doing ministry. This is a great opportunity to use the creativity and special gifts of your congregation to think of new ways of being in ministry under these restricted circumstances.
  • Find ways to share the story of how your congregation is engaged and responding to the needs of others during this unusual season in the life of the church. Include this as part of the offering during your online worship.

Focus for Stewardship

  • Center your Stewardship efforts on communicating the church’s purpose, vision, and mission. Communicate to the congregation how the church has continued to be in ministry through the pandemic.
  • Create an environment that focuses less on the budget and more on our faithful response to God.
  • Be more intentional about thanking people for their faithfulness.
  • Find ways to get the congregation to talk about how they see the church at work in these unusual circumstances. This might be small group conversations over Zoom, one-on-one phone calls with the congregation, or socially distanced coffee groups where feasible.
  • Find ways for everyone to serve while remaining safe at home.
  • Celebrate what the church is doing. Let the community know. Hang a banner in the church lawn to show the church is alive and in ministry.

Focus for Finance Team

  • Develop a recovery plan if your congregation is struggling to meet expenses.
  • Do a ministry assessment and create a strategy for how to do ministry now. Prioritize the things your congregation is mostly focused on during this season.
  • Create a financial plan that allows you to fund current needs for doing ministry (technological needs, online classes, food assistance, community outreach).
  • Audit giving for the past 3-6 months. Base your financial plan on current giving.
  • Be flexible and willing to adjust your financial plan every 3-6 months. A year-long budget should exist only as a preliminary guide.
  • Remain positive. It may take several years for you to completely recover.
  • Clearly communicate the status of your church’s finances so the congregation can respond accordingly.

Remember that relationships matter most. Generosity happens when there is trust and a clear vision for the ministry of the church. Disaster and disease isolate. Financial recession and unemployment compound our crisis. The healing ministry role of our congregations has never been greater than it is today.

We are called to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us: our congregations, our ministries, our pastoral leadership, our individual gifts, our resources, our creativity, and our openness to where God is calling us to be.

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

The Stewardship of White Privilege

One of my favorite definitions of stewardship, generally attributed to Clarence Stoughton, is “stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘I believe.’” Stewardship is love in action—it puts feet to our faith.

What does that really look like? It’s easy for those of us who are white to join the crowd in professing “Black Lives Matter,” make a donation, and return to business as usual without doing the learning, listening, and soul searching required to join the movement for lasting systemic change.

Stewardship in a Liminal Time

Recently I have heard the word “liminal” used many times to describe this season we are experiencing in the life of our churches. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means “limit or threshold.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines liminal time in this way:

“It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Faithful Stewards

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10

So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.

Conversion from Scarcity to Abundance

Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.

Stewarding Congregational Wellness

Some stewardship committees focus most of their attention on the fall Stewardship emphasis. Frankly, that’s plenty of work. But our calling as stewardship leaders is not just to the fall “ask.” We are also called to help shape the identity of stewards among our peers and as a community. We are entrusted with many assets, some of which are physical (like buildings and money) and some of which are relational (like our congregational community or our congregational mission). All of these are inflection points where we can invite others to think and act like stewards.

Christmas Gift Giving

People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.

Practicing Gratitude

Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?

Giving to God

Stewardship is not just a way of life; it is a good way of life. In fact, for many, it is a way to a better life. Stewardship means belonging to God. It means allowing God to rule our lives, putting God in charge of everything, including our time and our money. Surrendering control does not come easily to any of us. But God is good at ruling people’s lives. If we really do belong to God and if we really do put God in charge of everything, we will not be the worse for it.