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Shift Ministry Models

Stewardship 2030: We’ve Never Done It That Way!

Reimagining Ways To Cultivate Generosity
by Melissa Spas | January 18, 2022

The new year is a good time to dream about the future, and from my perspective, that often means considering changes we might make in our habits, practices, or ways of thinking. Stewardship ministry might benefit from a similar treatment now and then! 

Many congregations have inherited particular models and practices for stewardship and fundraising. It is worthwhile to note that “the way we’ve always done things” is relative. Congregations across traditions thrive with a wide variety of stewardship models.  

  • One congregation runs a fall pledge campaign with 90% of members committing to giving for the coming year, and the same proportion of dollars anticipated through that pledging model.  
  • Across town, weekly revenues are reported in the church bulletin, and a second collection is regularly taken if tithes and offerings don’t meet the budgeted goal, without an annual campaign.  

Both of these are contextual and particular ways of funding the mission and ministry of the church, and they can both be successful.  

Examining Assumptions

Different cultural assumptions and expectations shape stewardship ministry, and this diversity contributes vitality to the church. Recognizing racial, cultural, and generational differences, there are some real opportunities to imagine a different future for our institutions’ relationship to money and generosity, which might allow for deeper engagement around questions of equity and justice. Perhaps that can begin with examining the assumptions we hold when it comes to stewardship.

  • Congregations may find that the model of stewardship that worked for previous generations is no longer meeting the needs of today’s church.
  • Perhaps people are less willing to make a commitment in the fall prior to the next year’s budget planning.
  • Maybe most members no longer carry cash or checkbooks with them to respond to an appeal in the context of worship.  

Always Innovating

It may be helpful to keep in mind that the church has always innovated when it comes to models for fundraising and sustaining mission.  

  • Many of Paul’s letters to the early church thank patrons and donors; the early church in Acts shared a common purse, enabling all to contribute and have their needs met. 
  • Even today, some congregations publish a membership fee, others make a tithe the primary measure of faithful giving, and many more seek to cultivate and invite the generosity of members as part of discipleship.  

There is not a single “right way” for stewardship to be conducted, but leaders can strive to invite giving in a way that reinforces spiritual values and develops the faith of members, rather than emphasizing a strictly transactional model focused on funding the budget.

Examining Pandemic Shifts

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting change in congregational patterns of gathering also have had a significant effect. The resilience and commitment of people of faith to their congregations is reflected in the transition to livestream broadcasts or remote, digital gatherings, and in the relatively small decline in giving that congregations, in the aggregate, reported in 2020. Time will tell what the longer-term financial impact will be, but we do know that the effect on congregations is uneven. While some congregations benefited from the increased commitment and generosity of members who were relatively unaffected financially, even seeing a growth in giving, other congregations experienced precipitous drops in giving, as members and donors struggled with high rates of unemployment and economic distress. This inequity provides another occasion for examination of the value we find in “how we’ve always done things.” 

  • Do our habits and practices reflect the struggles and injustices of the past?  
  • Is there a way that we can imagine a different future, and live into through brave consideration of new ways of relating to money and inviting generosity? 

That openness to innovation and imagination will result in stewardship ministry that reflects deeper discipleship. 

About the Author

Melissa Spas

Melissa Spas is the Managing Director of Education and Engagement for the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is a teacher, speaker, and proud to be a member of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana where she lives with her husband and son.

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