Don’t Waste your precious time and energy
The single best advice I give to pastoral charges wanting to improve their financial stewardship is this: forget about the money and focus on your mission. It may seem counter intuitive, but it really works. The truth is no amount of worry is going to change our financial situation. Indeed, more often than not, worry and a focus on the “bottom line”, is leading us to inaction. If we are “frozen” and doing nothing new to change the situation, or if we are focused on merely surviving another year, or find ourselves annually ramping up our fundraising efforts to make ends meet, then we may be on a path to even more serious financial distress. Further, we are probably wearing ourselves out in the process – body and soul! How can we attract new folks to our Church and involve them in ministry if they see us as overworked, frustrated and despairing Christians? Who wants to join this church?
Getting back to the basics
I sincerely believe that I am Christian today, over 2,000 years after Jesus death and resurrection, in a place far away from Israel, because of the passion, energy and mission focus of those early Christians. They not only had faith, but they lived out their faith with such passion and commitment that others took notice. People of their day thought, “These people are willing to give up all they own to follow this Jesus. They are willing to even die for this faith. How can I be a part of something that incredible?” Those early followers focused not on building and maintaining structures and property, their goal was to make a difference in people’s lives, in Jesus’ name. This, I think, needs to be our starting place.
Focus on Your Mission
In his book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, author and Stewardship Consultant J. Clif Christopher shares the number one reason people give to the Church – Belief in the Mission. People contribute to the Church because they believe that we make a difference in the lives of others in Jesus’ name. They could give to other charities that also try to make a difference, but they give to us because the Church has a good reputation, and because they see giving as a part of living their faith. Therefore, to maintain and grow givings we have to focus on our mission. We need to stop spending so much time and energy on finances and fundraising, and concentrate on clarifying, communicating and living out our mission.
Barb Fullerton, in her doctoral research on best Stewardship practices within the United Church of Canada, confirms Christopher’s assertion. Those pastoral charges that have a clear statement of Mission, and update it regularly, have higher per-capita givings than those who do not.
Recently I read a book by John Pentland called Fishing Tips. John is a United Church minister at Hillhurst United in Calgary. Here is a congregation that has an incredible and ever expanding ministry. They are seen from the outside, and the inside, as a vibrant place of ministry where people are daily given opportunities to live out their faith. They have no problem with finances and are growing their ministry all the time. For instance, in 1994 they had a budget of $120,000. Eleven years later their budget was $857,000!! That is more than a seven-fold increase!! We in Atlantic Canada could discount this story and say, sure but they are in a prosperous big city! The truth is we too can grow our ministry and our givings. You see, Hillhurst’s success comes from their openness to creativity and change, and their incredible focus on mission. Their members know what their mission is. So does the neighbourhood and surrounding city. It is simply this: “radical hospitality, spiritual nurture and social justice”. These three values inform, give focus, and challenge everything they do as a congregation. It is this vision and mission that motivates people to participate and give generously.
What is Our Mission?
So what is your congregation’s mission? Do the members of your congregation know what it is? Do you discuss and pray about it regularly? Does your mission inform your ministry and future vision? Do people from the surrounding community know what it is you are about? If the answer to any of these questions is no … maybe that is a starting place.
There is truth to the idea that our mission is that which we spend our time, energy and focus on. In our congregations today what is our focus? Is it on the budget? If so then maybe we have been unintentionally communicating to people that our Vision as a congregation is to meet the budget!! Unfortunately, meeting a budget is probably only motivating to the small circle of very committed members of our congregations. Everyone else may be giving their extra, and living out their faith, by giving to another charity!!
Don’t be Afraid to Ask!
Once we focus on the mission, and come to really get excited about it, we should have a lot less trouble asking our members for money to support that mission. Friends we are doing God’s work. God is calling us to make a difference. We need support to grow that mission. We need to ask. We can’t assume that people feel that they are being asked unless our ask is clear and direct. Research indicates that 8 out of 10 people who are asked give.
These days the United Church is producing good resources on how to motivate people to participate more fully in your congregation's ministry. We are teaching one another how to focus on mission and how to ask for money and volunteers for that mission. The Congregational Resource, “Salt & Light” is a good place to start. Talk to me about resources. Or invite me to do a workshop in your area.