One of the recurring congregational stewardship questions concerns the best way to deal with what’s often called “mission giving,” or the part of a congregation’s budget specifically designated for service, mission, and non-profits beyond the congregation’s walls. In a sea of worthy causes, how does a congregation discern where to direct their dollars? What’s the right percentage of budget allocation kept within the congregation compared to that which goes beyond? When facing a budget shortfall, what should be cut first?
Today’s post describes how one congregation, Zumbro Lutheran Church, has developed a new approach to this persistent problem. It may not work in every context, but it sounds like God may just be up to something in Rochester.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Rethinking Mission Giving
Several years ago our congregation decided to try an experiment. In order to meet the demands on our general operating budget, we cut our budgeted giving to mission partners by nearly a third. Our commitment to mission hadn’t declined, but we wondered what might happen if we held specific fundraisers through the year for our mission partners, rather than including all our benevolence in the general budget. It can be, after all, more exciting to give to support organizations fighting issues like food insecurity than it is to pay for the electric bill. Would we be able to encourage regular givers to give above and beyond? Would we inspire those who don’t give regularly to join in our mission?
We’re only a few years into this experiment, but the results have been encouraging. Two years ago we celebrated our 150th anniversary and raised over $90,000 to purchase a food truck to support our mobile food ministry. Last year we raised over $36,000 to purchase supplies and furnishings for the OB department at a small rural hospital in Tanzania. While the total amount for mission giving from our general operating budget has decreased, the actual amount that we have given away has risen significantly.
So how did we do it?
Focus. A decade ago the congregation gave money to over twenty mission organizations throughout the year. I suspect that very few people in the congregation knew anything about the organizations we were supporting. And I suspect that our small gifts here and there weren’t making a significant difference to any single organization. With some hard work and intentionality, we identified six primary mission partners and committed to raising funds outside of our annual budget for one to two of those organizations each year. In an effort to avoid donor fatigue, we carefully determined when these fundraisers would fall throughout the year, making an effort to ensure people wouldn’t feel like we were always asking for money. Today I suspect that the majority of folks in our congregation could identify at least a couple of our primary mission partners. Even better, we do our very best to engage folks in hands-on volunteering for these partners.
Lots of storytelling. People love to hear stories about how their giving makes a tangible difference in the world. With each fundraising campaign, we identify the message we want to communicate and then consistently tell that story in as many ways as possible. At the beginning of each fundraiser, we strategically create a scheduled communication plan that typically includes each of the following: compelling newsletter articles, an invitation to give letter, blog posts, a video, photo displays in the narthex, social media posts, and storytelling during preaching and worship. We also identify a key photo or two for each fundraiser. We’re a visual culture and photos tell powerful stories.
Saying thank you. I’m surprised how often church organizations skip this step. Throughout each fundraising campaign we create thank you notes specifically for the project. Each note includes the theme photo and a personal note from a pastor or one of the mission team members. We regularly lift up our progress in worship and celebrate what we accomplish together. Saying thank you is an excellent opportunity to remind people that their gifts can make a real difference in the world.
There are many creative ways to increase stewardship in congregations. Perhaps by rethinking how your church supports mission partners, you too might find success in engaging stewards both financially and with their hands and feet to make a real difference in the world in the name of Jesus.
Lisa Kipp serves as a pastor at Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester, MN. With mission as her passion and one of her primary areas of responsibility, she can often be found driving their church’s food truck on Thursday evenings. She recently led a team to Tanzania to visit their friends at Iambi Lutheran Hospital.
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