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

An Opportunity to Give

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.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship

 

*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.

Summer Stewardship

Summer is just around the corner. We look forward to warmer weather, being outdoors, and taking time away from our routine work schedule. Busy people and busy families add another layer of activities to an already busy schedule. Children are home from school, and parents spend lots of time taking them to camps, sports, and other summer activities. We are good stewards of our time with friends and family. We are good stewards of exercise and relaxation.