I recently attended a superb four-day workshop on religious fundraising. While the leaders did well to include thoughtful theology and emphasize the power of relationships over monetary transaction, some sessions could not avoid focusing on the nuts and bolts of asking for money. Surely the Spirit can work through a Case Statement, but it’s also a very practical means for asking for money. (Or, put another way: a Case Statement is a compelling invitation that ignites passion.) Along these lines, Sean Mitchell’s fine essay suggests several data-driven strategies that both grow gifts and grow disciples. I’m grateful for his holistic vision for inspiring gifts.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Other Reasons People Give to Church Communities
by Sean Mitchell
What inspires people to give to church communities? For decades, many have searched to find answers to this question. The good news is there is information to be found. Studies are providing data. We are now in the presence of a variety of helpful resources. Action items appearing on such lists include, “preach on stewardship more than once a year” and “produce quarterly statements as a way to remind members of their commitments and inform them of how the church is spending the money.” These lists can be helpful, and I encourage implementing several of the best practices found in them.
An alternative practice is to think of a different type of list. This list involves the systemic items influencing the giving habits of the average church member. These items are not on the agenda of most stewardship or generosity committees, but they do shape generous members in churches and need attention.
Consider this visual: Imagine a circle with the words financial stewardship and giving in the center. Now around the circle are the standard best practices, but outside this concentric ring is an additional ring. This outer orbiting ring of items has items in it that have as much to do with stewardship and generosity as the inner ring. The other ring is both financial and holistic. Here is the short list of those:
1. Develop membership involvement. Asking people to give money is a best practice for developing generosity. But almost everyone agrees, and studies back this up, that the members who give of their money are also the members who give of their time. Some statistics suggest that the likelihood for giving jumps even higher if the member is involved in more than one church ministry. The takeaway for churches is to formulate strategic and thoughtful ways to ask members to give their financial resources. However, be as strategic with asking members to give their time as well. For example, which members have not served in a ministry in the last year or two? Who knows them? Where might they be a good fit to serve if invited? Develop this ask. Pour time into it. This ask is just as important as the ask for money.
2. Gift people with community. We are made to belong, contribute, give, and receive. Focus on ways to connect members within smaller communities of your community. Some churches have Sunday school, while others have similar communities called small groups that meet in homes. Insure every member is invited in to one of these communities and experiences the relationships and caring these communities provide. Emerging findings suggest people who are participating in one of these communities of belonging are more likely to give money to their church communities.
3. The discipline of reading. We have heard it said again and again that the Bible talks about money more than any other subject. Yet, what does it actually say? We need to read, interpret, discuss, and respond to the Scriptures. Congregational leaders should be regularly challenging congregants to practice regular reading and re-reading of the Scriptures. Again, and there is no surprise here, but we are freshly learning that those who engage the Scriptures on a regular basis are more likely to give to their churches.
More influencers of generosity reside in this concentric. Each of these items demands the attention of congregational leaders. They are key to the development of a person maturing in the ways of Jesus, one such way being generosity.
What other disciple-making influencers do you think are in this concentric? How can your leadership pay more attention to these actions and engage them with deeper intention? Remember, this list is as important to the development of stewardship ministry as are the best practices.
Sean Mitchell is the Director of Stewardship Development at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition, through his speaking and consulting venture Generosity Development, he equips leaders of church communities to foster generosity through initiatives ranging from planning giving to annual stewardship. To contact Sean about his work, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Online ELCA stewardCast
Saturday, February 27, 11:30 EST, join ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and others via livestream for an event on the power of embracing stewardship. Register by February 12.
Upcoming Learning Experiences
Hybrid Ministry in a Post-Pandemic Church
Understanding, Exploring, & Managing Bias and Burnout
Rooted: Innovators Planting Seeds for the Harvest — A Panel Discussion
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