By Karl Vaters
Do what you love and the money will take care of itself.
That’s been a popular phrase for as long as I can remember.
Wouldn’t it be great if it was true?
I’ve also heard this related phrase for as long as I can remember: just preach the gospel, love people, reach out to your neighbors, and the money will take care of itself.
It would be even better if that was true. But it’s not. In even the healthiest and strongest of churches and ministries, finances are never automatic.
In a previous post, 4 Assumptions Pastors Can No Longer Make About Church Giving Patterns, I wrote about how a downturn in church giving is no longer the early and accurate indicator of a problem in the church. Giving patterns have changed. Even people who love the church and are fully committed to its mission are not giving as much as they once did.
In this post, I’d like to walk you through some of the steps our church has discovered by trial-and-error in the last couple of years that have helped us slow down, then reverse a downward giving trend in our church.
1. Emphasize generosity, not just giving
Giving is like any other skill. Very few people are born with an inbred desire and ability to give. Everyone needs to be taught how and why giving matters. And that’s up to us, pastors.
Thankfully, the Bible is full of great teaching about stewardship and generosity, but we must always remember that God’s Word is not as concerned with our money as with our hearts. Which is why we need to teach more about generosity than giving.
The size of the heart matters more than the size of the gift.
It’s possible to give without being generous, but no one can be generous without giving.
The size of the heart matters more than the size of the gift. If Jesus’ teachings about generosity tell us anything, they tell us that.
2. Teach stewardship, not just giving
We must never limit our financial teaching to trying to get more money out of people’s pockets. That always ends badly. Because that’s not what generosity is about.
Actually, I’ve met very few pastors who fit the stereotype of the smooth-talking, money-grubbing preacher. Instead, most of us are so concerned with not coming across that way that we swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and don’t talk about finances enough.
As pastors, we have an obligation to God and the church to teach a balanced, biblical view of stewardship, not just giving.
In general, people want to be generous. Church members want to support the church ministries financially. What’s stopping them isn’t a lack of desire, but a lack of ability. They want to give, but they don’t know how to do it without taking an already paper-thin financial margin and breaking it totally.
Biblical stewardship gives them those tools.
3. Assume good intentions
We need to start with the assumption that the people who voluntarily show up at church week after week are wanting the church and its ministries to succeed.
When I mention our church’s financial needs, I’ll often use a phrase like “this is not about guilting anyone into giving. I’m assuming you’re here because you want to help, so I’m letting you know about one of the ways you can help, if you’re able.”
4. Teach them how the church is funded
As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, there’s a growing group of people who are so unaware of the realities of church life that they assume the church is financed by an outside entity, and that their donations are just a supplement to that.
At minimum, we need to tell people about the realities of church finances in the membership class. But it’s also helpful to give an occasional reminder during a Sunday service that their financial donations are how the church and its ministries are funded.
6. Practice good stewardship of what is given
People are less likely to donate to a church that isn’t demonstrating good stewardship of what they give. For most churches and pastors, poor stewardship is not a matter of extravagance, but of unseen waste.
People are less likely to give to a church that isn’t demonstrating good stewardship of what they give.
Over the last few years, our church has taken a hard look at all our expenses, and we found we were wasting money without knowing it. Here are just a few of the ways we’ve saved money, along with a few ideas other churches have used.
Share a copier lease with other churches or ministries: We share a machine and its expenses with our preschool.
Talk to your power company: Southern California Edison replaced every light in our building with energy-efficient bulbs for free, and they supplemented the cost of replacing single-pane windows with energy-efficient (and much nicer-looking) double-pane windows. Many, maybe most of your power companies have similar offers.
Go low- or no-maintenance on landscaping: For us, in drought-stricken California, that meant replacing our real grass with fake grass.
Lose your desktop phones: With cell phones, we haven’t used them for anything but incoming calls for years, anyway.
Share or rent your facility, if you have one
Don’t be in a hurry to buy a facility, if you don’t have one
If you’re interested in more info about how to think about cost-saving, check out Episode 317 of the Thom Rainer podcast with Tim Cool of Cool Solutions Group. Most of his experience is in bigger churches, but there are a lot of helpful ideas in the podcast that can be transposed to smaller situations, too.
6. Hold special giving celebrations
New generations are less likely to give in a steady stream, and more likely to give in single doses. So let’s provide opportunities that match the way they are most likely to give.
New generations are less likely to give in a steady stream, and more likely to give in single doses.
In addition to asking for monthly pledges for missions, facility upgrades and so on, we’ve added two Sundays every year to take a special offering for those needs. We call them Heart for the House Sunday (a special offering for facility maintenance and upgrades) and Heart for the World Sunday (for missions and outreach).
Doing these special days has almost doubled what we receive in a given year for these projects. And when church members see a facility upgrade or hear about a ministry need that was met, they’re more excited to give the next time.
7. Give quarterly updates
I used to only talk about the church budget once a year at the annual membership meeting. But by then, the year had passed. We debated having a weekly or monthly bulletin update, but rejected that for our church for two reasons: 1) it was too often, 2) it was better coming from the pastor’s voice than reading it as a cold number on paper.
So what we do now is take a minute or two on a Sunday four times a year to bring them up to date. After sharing where we are compared to our anticipated budget, we always see a giving spike.
People want to give when their gifts can be helpful. Sharing the need before the year ends allows them to do this.
8. Break down the need into doable bites
Last year, we came in at $8,000 under our expected income. That seems like a lot of money to make up all at once – and it is.
So I broke it down for the congregation this way. At an average attendance of 150 people per Sunday, that $8,000 shortfall could have disappeared if every attender had given just $1 more each week ($150 x 52 = $7,800).
If our church averaged 75 people, it would have meant $2 more per Sunday, and so on.
Obviously, not everyone is going to give exactly $1 every week, but when the need is broken down that way, people can see that every little extra thing they do can add up to a significant impact.
9. Do the kinds of ministries people want to fund
Keeping the lights on in the building won’t get anyone excited about giving. Unless they can see a direct connection from keeping the lights on to doing ministry that matters to them, that is.
As pastors, we see that direct connection regularly. But the average church attender doesn’t. So we need to make it obvious for them.
If your church isn’t doing ministry that meets obvious needs, people won’t give – and they probably shouldn’t.
If your church isn’t doing ministry that meets obvious needs, people won’t give – and they probably shouldn’t. If you are, you need to draw the connection from the church offering to the meeting of the need as clearly as possible.
(Bonus) 10. Encourage and support giving to other causes
If the only time we teach people about the value of generosity is when we want them to give to the church, it will seem self-serving and greedy. It will seem that way, because it is that way.
If generosity really matters, our churches need to demonstrate it, not just ask for it.
We need to encourage generosity in all forms, including encouraging and celebrating when people in our churches volunteer, give and support good causes outside the church walls.
When the church is in financial need, it seems counter-intuitive to encourage people to give to causes other than the church. But when we help people, not just give more to us, but live a more generous life, everyone wins.
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