That is the question that we church people will have to answer in the years ahead, argues J. Clif Christopher.* In his book, Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, Christopher maintains that religion today is in competition with a growing number of non-profits. Non-profits are growing quickly, and unless we in the Church come to understand why people give, and motivate people appropriately, we are in danger of decreased giving. It is not that people today are giving less … in fact, just the opposite; the trouble is that there are many other places to give today than ever before.
Christopher says that the growing non-profits are aware why people give, and have adjusted their behaviours and campaigns accordingly. We in the Church are, unfortunately, blind to the fact that we must now compete. Friends, it is time to get our act together. I believe that our churches do excellent work – amazing ministry and mission. Now we need to get out there and tell our story - for the sake of our ministries.
The first step to increasing congregational giving is to understand why people give to us in the first place. The following are, according to Christopher, the top three reasons people give:
1. A belief in the Mission: The truth is, people want to make a difference. They are motivated by compassion. They want to make the world a better place. Christopher says it like this, “Please hear me when I say that you are not in the business to balance budgets or manage money. You are in the business to change lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is it.”** If we want to compel people to give to our church, we must show them how we are making a difference. If we cannot show them, they will give to another cause that touches their heart.
In my opinion, we are often making a difference; we are just not doing a good enough job of telling our story. Asking people to share publicly, and in worship, how their congregation made a difference in their life could help … and so could a narrative budget.
2. Regard for Staff Leadership: As hard as it is for me to hear church people say that they “pay the minister,” there is some truth to those words. People give to people. Christopher says that folks “have learned that the church building or program is not what is changing lives; it is the people leading the church and those programs that make a difference. When they have confidence in those people to perform, gifts will follow.”*** Christopher goes on to say something that many of us clergy are going to cringe at – we need to be involved in the finances and we need to be leaders in financial campaigns. Many of us have been taught that the minister should not be involved with the finances, and should not be preaching or talking about money. It appears we may have to re-think that idea!
3. Fiscal Stability of the Institution: People give to what works. Nobody wants to waste their hard earned money. If we appear to be failing (i.e. can’t raise enough money to keep our churches afloat), then people who are not already committed to our ministry and mission will probably look elsewhere to “make a difference.” Christopher writes, “The Church is the only non-profit I know of that seems to believe that the more you cry that you are sinking, the more people will give to you. The exact opposite is true.”**** I would maintain that long time committed members will continue to give, and may even increase their giving if they perceive that the church is in real need; however, for those on the periphery of the church, and for those families who are not yet giving, I agree with him, people will probably not give. What I get from this is that our focus needs to change. Instead of dwelling on what we don’t have, instead of spending our time and energy worrying and trying merely to survive; we need to focus on telling people what good things are happening at our churches, how lives are being changed. If people see our ministry in action, if they witness changed lives, then people will give (and increase giving)!
Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate is an excellent book that challenges the reader to re-think Stewardship, and offers concrete ways in which any congregation can improve its financial giving. I highly recommend it as a resource for Stewardship Committees, clergy, and Governing Board members.
*J. Clif Christopher, Not Your Parents Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008).
** Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, p. 13.
*** Ibid., p. 21.
**** Ibid., p. 28.