Cheerios & Stewardship

Are you old enough, like me, to remember when there was only one kind of Cheerios? On their website, they now list 18 kinds of Cheerios. It creates a dilemma in the cereal aisle. It also kind of begs the question: which came first, huge grocery stores or 18  kinds of Cheerios?

In the little grocery store where I went as a child with my mom and brother, 18 kinds of Cheerios would have taken up most of one aisle in a ten-aisle (and short aisles at that!) store. We have traded the customer service that we had in that store for the variety that we must crave now. After all, Cheerios would not make 18 kinds if they were not selling. So, my grandchildren do not have the experience of the butcher calling their mother by name, or the checkout clerks knowing them by name and picking up the gumball machine to turn it upside down and shake it so the plastic charms would fall toward the chute before they put their penny in!

It is stewardship time in most churches and the Cheerios phenomenon should be of interest to your session as it encourages generosity. Along with the proliferation of varieties of cereal, there has also been a proliferation of charities asking for people’s money. Gone are the days when the best way to get money to those in need was to give it to your church and expect that the session would make wise decisions about using it to help. Now, people can search online for a specific kind of charitable organization. Or, they can just surf through the Go Fund Me type pages until something strikes their fancy. They can sit on their couch in their jammies and click away until their money has gone to feed starving children or save the whales or fund something that appeals to them that might not have broad appeal at all.

What does that mean for stewardship at church? Perhaps there are a few things to consider. When I have gone to stewardship training, I have heard this: when the zoo asks for your money, they send you a picture of a baby giraffe. When the church asks for your money, they send you their budget. Which is more compelling? In other words, does your stewardship campaign tell the story of how your church is changing people’s lives?

Second, churches sometimes rely on obligation to encourage the giving of their members. At the church my husband serves, I have heard people compare it to the way they are treated by the country club. “ If you want to be a member here and have all of the privileges that go with it, pay up.” Compared to the other worthy causes competing for money, that sense of obligation may not encourage giving among people for very much longer.

Third, how easy is it for people to get their money into your church’s bank account? When I sit next to my millennial daughter in church and the offering plate comes by, I realize that she has no way to contribute. She does not carry cash or a check book. Those places to which people can give online have one click by which they can give. Do you have a similar way for people to pledge and give?

The end of the year seems like a good time for stewardship because people are sometimes more generous around Christmas and they may be thinking about the tax implications of their giving as they look at the year almost past. But it started out as stewardship time in the Northern Hemisphere, in part, because of harvest. In the first parish my husband and I served, there were still a few farmers who set aside a “Lord’s Acre.” When they took their corn or soybeans to market, they would give the church the profit from that acre—either figuratively or literally. When we see the bounty with which we have been blessed, we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing. I hope your stewardship campaign—or your own giving if you work in a place where you do not have to worry about that—will reflect the grace of God in Jesus Christ who gives us all hope.

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago