I don’t have a crystal ball. I have no certainty regarding church life this November, when many churches will be asking people to indicate their giving plan for 2021, and when most churches will begin the process of planning their 2021 budgets. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m expecting church life to look pretty much like it does right now.
This raises the question—how in the world are we supposed to do a stewardship emphasis when we can hardly gather in-person for worship? Each congregation is different, but I’d encourage you to consider three things for this November.
Planning for November
Ask people to indicate their giving plan for 2021.
I recently asked a pastor if he plans to ask people to estimate their 2021 giving. His response was simple, “Yes. We always do and this is not the year to stop.” If you regularly ask people to indicate their giving for the coming year, I’d encourage you to do that this year. If you don’t ask people to indicate their giving plan, this might be the year to start. A simple statement like this might help, “Due to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, it will help our congregation accurately plan our ministry for 2021 if you can indicate what you plan to give next year.” My experience is that people are much more likely to stay with their giving plan if they have announced it to their congregation. That might be even more important next year.
If you do ask people to indicate their giving plan for 2021, consider the following:
- Focus on scripture. How about II Corinthians 8:1-7? The example of the Macedonians giving generously in their “severe ordeal of affliction” might have much to say to us.
- Focus on your ministry. Tell stories of what you are doing to bear witness to God’s love in these challenging days. Don’t talk about bills that need paying. Talk about ministry that needs doing.
- Ask boldly, yet sensitively. Certainly, some people are hurting financially in these times. Others have more money available—they are travelling less, they are spending less. Ask in such a way that you don’t guilt those who are hurting even as you challenge those who can give more.
- Consider carefully how you communicate. Many congregations have relied on in-person communication and electronic communication. In-person communication is probably greatly reduced for you. Electronic may be so overused that your message will be ignored. How about going back to the good old days of paper in an envelope? The congregation I serve is planning to create a brochure that highlights stories of ministry, especially stories of ministry in the midst of the pandemic. Which media will be most effective for you?
Promote electronic giving
If ever there was a time to encourage people to sign up for regular electronic giving, this is the time. As I talk with pastors, congregations with a greater percentage of electronic givers seem to be weathering the pandemic storm better than those with a smaller percentage. Make sure your sign-up process is simple and straightforward. Tell stories of people who appreciate electronic giving. Promote it as good for the giver and good for the congregation.
Promote Qualified Charitable Distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts
For many members over 70 ½ who have a traditional IRA, this may be the only way they can experience a tax benefit from their giving to the congregation. Encourage these people to check this out. Again, tell stories of people who are already doing this. My experience is that people who give from their IRAs often give more than they have previously given. (Note the CARES Act may have an impact on this giving option.)
Focus and Direction
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think if you focus on these three topics between now and November, your congregation will have taken three steps in the right direction, even in these very confusing times.
About the Author
Charles Lane is the former director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary and currently serves as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, MN.