In last week’s article, we discussed the Traditional and Emerging Paradigms for religious giving. Most congregations exist with both Traditional Paradigm and Emerging Paradigm givers—and many congregations could offer more meaningful invitations to give to one (or both) types of givers, as well as people who find themselves somewhere along the spectrum between them. Congregational leaders often feel pulled to be all things to all people—but there are ways to approach both sets of values and practices around generosity within the same congregation.
First, and perhaps most important, is that the congregational leaders need to recognize their own approach(es) to giving. Do the clergy leadership and the lay leadership differ in their values and practices around generosity? Is the whole stewardship team of one mind about how and why people give? The recognition of differences or similarities in approach could shed light on either unresolved conflicts among leadership or why the group is challenged in reaching segments of the congregation. Inviting thoughtful, faithful, giving people into leadership who have different approaches to generosity—and naming those differences as valuable—is an important part of reaching givers within both the Traditional and Emerging Paradigm.
Second, a careful review of all the ways that the congregation invites people to give can be a way to recognize what values and practices of generosity are being celebrated or encouraged. Does everything center on members “doing their fair share”? Do the stewardship letters all assume that people aren’t giving sufficiently? Those messages may be inadvertently communicating that some approaches to giving are better or more valued than others—and that some would-be givers’ inclination toward generosity isn’t valued. For example, in a congregation that emphasizes only pledged, general-fund giving, there are most likely significant potential gifts being overlooked that would be made to more project-focused/outcome-based special efforts, or highlighting the ministry impact that pledged giving will have. While congregations are often wary of unsolicited and unadvised designated giving, inviting designated gifts that are firmly within the core mission and vision of the congregation can be extremely effective in connecting with an Emerging Paradigm giver’s generosity.
With self-recognition on the part of leaders and organizational review in hand, opportunities open up for the congregation to expand its invitations to give and to expand how it teaches and celebrates generosity. Segmented stewardship approaches are one key way to multiply the kinds of invitations offered and the kinds of generosity that are valued; at the very least regular givers and sporadic/non-givers could receive different communication from the congregation—with regular givers receiving thanks for the ways that their commitment to contributing to the mission makes a difference, and with sporadic/non-givers hearing an emphasis on the positive impacts that gifts through the congregation have had and what specific outcomes could be achieved with their partnership. In addition to how a congregation invites contributions, it matters how a congregation celebrates contributions: If giving testimonies or stories of generosity—written, live, or video—are a part of the congregation’s stewardship efforts, an intentionality in lifting up people who give from quite different motivations within the Traditional and Emerging Paradigms offers a breadth of models for people to see themselves as givers and to grow in their generosity.
Congregations have a dual role in considering issues of giving: they are themselves nonprofit organizations inviting contributions to support their own mission and vision as a faith community—but they are also places of moral formation, where the virtue of generosity is taught through the community’s theological lens. Many congregations have habitually only lifted up limited aspects of the values and practices of generosity—most often the Traditional Paradigm alone—but givers and would-be givers have a wider variety of faithful approaches to giving. Fostering, inviting, and celebrating all the expressions of faithful generosity is best practice for the organization and for individual givers.
In such a time as this present season with the coronavirus, congregations are already experimenting with how to communicate with their members and friends about giving: expanding one’s assumptions about why givers may be motivated to give will help to connect a broader constellation of those givers with the opportunities to live out their faith through their giving and to make a positive impact even in a difficult time.