By Laura Newbury
No matter how often we say that stewardship is more than money, if the congregation only hears from leaders once a year at budget time, it can feel like just another fundraiser.
God desires so much more for his beloved stewards. The Message translation of Paul’s letter to the Romans describes it this way:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him…Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. (Romans 12:1-2)
In this passage, we are called to embrace stewardship as a way of life. As leaders, what better gift can we give our members than the tools to do this? It may sound daunting to shift from an annual appeal to a year-round stewardship program. I thought so, anyway, when I became stewardship chair last year. There was no committee, and the only notable activity was a fall pledge drive led by the pastor. Where to begin?
After forming a small team, we created a simple strategy to guide our efforts. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were able to lay a good foundation to build from. Our initial steps and lessons learned are summarized below.
Have a plan
The most useful step we took was developing a mini strategic plan. The stewardship team held an afternoon retreat to discuss and agree on priorities, which were incorporated into a modest, two-page plan with objectives, activities, and a timeline for the coming year. Going forward, we will add a few measurable outcomes to help us monitor the success of our efforts.
Build subject matter expertise
Our team has been reading and attending workshops to educate ourselves on good stewardship practices. We would like to add more members but find people are reluctant to join committees these days. To increase participation without requiring a major time commitment, we are looking at ways to involve individuals in short-term projects tailored to their skills and interests.
Leverage available data
We are using our donor database to facilitate more frequent gratitude activities and identify opportunities to increase some giving categories. Next year we would like to do a short survey to gain a better understanding of our members’ motivations for giving.
Encourage support from church leadership
As with any strategic effort, support from the top is critical. We benefit greatly from active participation by our pastor and the church council president. The stewardship plan is integrated into the church-wide strategic plan, making us more accountable and transparent.
Accept that culture change is a long-term process
Despite our efforts to promote a more holistic stewardship culture, we still hear members refer to our work as “fundraising.” When this happens, we have to remind ourselves to be patient and accept that culture change takes time.
We knew our plan had to be flexible, but the pandemic took this to a whole new level. We moved what we could to video (e.g., meetings, workshops, Mission Moments during worship) and postponed activities like our Ministries Fair that would not adapt well to a virtual setting. We’ve also adjusted the tone of our communications to be sensitive to members whose finances have been adversely affected by the pandemic.
You can do this
Every church is unique, so our journey will not be exactly the same as yours. But if our small rookie team can do it, so can you! Take it one step at a time and try a few things to see what works in your context. Your members will appreciate even small efforts to make their stewardship experience more meaningful.
About the Author
Laura Newbury is a Chicago-based writer with a passion for Christian stewardship.
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