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

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.”

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.

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.

Tithed and Tired v. Storied and Inspired

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.

Tithing 

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.

Stories

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.

 

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

 

*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

 

Telling Our Story

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.

Ask, Thank, Tell

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

Stewarding the Church

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

We spend a lot of time during the fall Stewardship programs of our church helping our congregations understand what Stewardship is and what God is calling them to do as good stewards of all that God has given to them. We challenge them to consider their response to God for all that they have and all that they are. We plan programs to inspire and encourage them in their personal journey of faith and specifically in their giving.

As pastors and leaders in the congregations where we serve, I think we too are called to be good stewards of the resources we have been given, to serve our congregations with whatever gift each of us has received. We have been given both a responsibility and an opportunity to steward the congregations in our care. How is God calling us, as leaders, to be good stewards of the church? What are some of the gifts we have received?

We are stewards of God’s Word.  In First Corinthians 4, Paul describes the ministry of the apostles in this way, “We are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” That message is just as important to us today. In all that we do, we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. God has entrusted us with something precious to submit our lives to Christ and to proclaim the Word of God. Every leadership decision or action we take is first and foremost spiritual in nature and should focus on connecting persons to God.

You and I have been called to steward the amazing mysteries of God revealed to us in Scripture. That’s part of our stewarding of the church, being good stewards of the gospel so that it is God for whom we bring glory.

We are stewards of God’s vision. We are called to listen deeply to the heart-songs of God’s people and articulate the vision God is imparting to them. The vision for a church answers the question, “What does God want us to do?” We are called to help our congregations embrace a clear vision of God’s call. Every congregation is unique, and every congregation has its own unique vision for what God is calling them to do and be.

We are stewards of trust. We are called to develop and nurture authentic relationships that cultivate trust. As stewards of trust, we serve one another in an open transparent way. We keep the lines of communication open, avoid judgement, become vulnerable, offer and receive forgiveness, and model Christ’s love and sense of welcome to all.

We are stewards of administration. This involves coming alongside our congregations to help them fulfill their vision and mission. The most essential ingredient in this area of stewardship is identifying and equipping new leaders. Most of the issues that plague churches – giving, attendance, evangelism, leadership, and mission – are minimized when church leaders focus on equipping the saints. The process of equipping and empowering people is what helps someone move from simply believing in Christ to being a true disciple. When people are growing spiritually, they will give, attend, tell others, volunteer, and serve.

Finally we are stewards of financial resources. At the core of being financial stewardship leaders is creating a culture of extravagant generosity. Generosity is a spiritual attribute that extends beyond merely the use of money. There are people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity is something people acquire in the actual practice of giving.

In Second Corinthians, we read, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Churches that practice extravagant generosity don’t talk in general terms about stewardship. They speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ and in the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.

Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity. Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission. People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.

As you make your way through this particular season of Stewardship, consider how well you as leaders are stewarding your churches and your congregations. Be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching and teaching and leading your congregations to become faithful disciples who know what it means to be stewards of all that God has entrusted into their care.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James