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

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?

A Culture of Thanksgiving

Thanking should be a part of the culture of every congregation. People who give to support the ministry of their congregation should be thanked regularly. People who are active in the life of the congregation, and the life of the community, should expect to be regularly recognized and thanked for the work they do.

Paul regularly uses his letters as opportunities to thank God for his fellow believers. Romans, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon all contact strong statements of thanks to God for Paul’s fellow believers and their faith. Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

There are two important things to notice in Paul’s thanksgiving. First, he seems eager to give thanks. This provides a great model for us. We should be equally eager to give thanks for those with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ. Second, Paul tells people he thanks God for them. Sometimes we need to say thanks directly to people. Sometimes, we may say thanks to God in our prayers for the work of specific people but when we tell that person we have given thanks to God for them, we have taken our thanksgiving to a whole new level.

Charles “Chick” Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation,” suggests there are few things that will build up a congregation more than having a culture of thanksgiving. By this he means a culture in which people feel comfortable and natural expressing their thanks to one another. When people are regularly thanked, they will not only feel appreciated, they will feel valuable, wanted, and needed. They will also be quick to volunteer to help with other projects.

Here are some specific ways you can create a culture of thanksgiving in your congregation:

  • Expand the circle of thanks-givers – don’t expect the pastor or the leaders to be the only ones saying thanks. Find the people in your congregation who have the gift of thanksgiving. Give them a pile of thank-you notes and stamps and help them to know who could use a thank you note.
  • Thank everyone at the same time – sometimes a thank you can be extended in worship or at other congregational gatherings. This is especially good when lots of people have been involved in accomplishing a project, and you don’t want anyone to be left out in receiving thanks.
  • Thank personally – a thank you note from a pastor, a thank you note from a leader of the congregation, a face-to-face thank you…you can’t thank too often. Receiving a thank you note when you least expect it can have a tremendous effect on someone.
  • Thank immediately – the sooner a thank-you is received, the more sincere it will be perceived. Set aside time for thank-you note writing.
  • Pass on a thank you – share with the congregation any thank-you that is received from ministries you support. Post them on the bulletin board or include them in your newsletter or an insert in the bulletin. Make sure everyone knows how their generosity has made a difference.
  • Hold a thank-you trip – if you support a ministry in your community, plan a time to visit that ministry with a group of people from your congregation. This will give your congregation a chance to see the good work that is being done because of your congregation’s financial support.
  • Involve the children and youth in your congregation in saying thanks:
    1. Spend Sunday school time writing “thank you” with chalk on the church sidewalk or parking lot.
    2. Make fridge magnets that express thanks and hand them out as a gift for everyone in worship.
    3. Plant seeds in small cups and allow them to sprout. Write messages on popsicle sticks to put in each cup. Give these to teachers and youth workers on Christian Education Sunday.
    4. Attach gift tags to small gift bows and give everyone one to wear on a special Sunday when you want to thank everyone.

Giving thanks is as important to Stewardship work as asking. Plan to say thanks with as much care as you plan to ask. Watch the amazing results that occur when people feel appreciated and valued.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship

 

 

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

Carols for Year End Stewardship

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:

Grace and Gratitude

Have you ever been notified by an attorney that your presence was requested at the reading of someone’s will because you are going to receive an inheritance? Most people think this is a bittersweet time for obvious reasons. I can only imagine what it would be like because I have not experienced this, but for those who have, I’m told it is an emotional time. Imagine how it must feel to come to the realization that someone thought enough of you to want to leave you something upon their death. With that thought, you start to reminisce on the relationship you had with the person, and this reflection usually reveals one of three different types of relationships.