Good Stewardship Practices

A few weeks ago, Ken Hockenberry and I hosted a gathering online of Church Treasurers and others who have responsibility for the finances of a local congregation. (If you missed it, you can ask Dennis Cobb for the recording or watch for a date for another gathering in the late summer.) My part of the evening was to talk about Stewardship in the local congregation.

As I shared these thoughts, I imagined that I was reiterating for people what they already knew—just reinforcing for them some good stewardship practices. But I saw that people were furiously writing, so I decided to share the ideas here as well. I hope you will find them helpful as you plan for your year round efforts at stewardship that often culminate in a yearly emphasis on pledges and other offerings.

  • Set an expectation. Have you ever been to an auction? I used to go to auctions when I lived in a rural area. I noticed a piece of behavioral economics at these events. The auctioneer would hold up an item and say, “Who will give me $100 (or another amount) for this?” No one ever opened with the amount named. But, the auctioneer was setting an expectation of what this item is worth. It helped the crowd to know about what they should pay. Just so, we need to set expectations for church members when it comes to their contributions to congregations. Many church members have no idea what they should be giving. Churches can name a percentage of income that the church encourages members to give. Remember, a tithe is the Biblical standard, and that means 10%. Most Presbyterians give somewhere in the neighborhood of 2%. Or, you can publish a list of what people give to your congregation. You can do this not by name, but by amount. For instance, “three giving units give $10,000 annually; 10 giving units give $5000 annually” and so on. Or, you can ask people to increase what they gave last year by a certain percentage. Set an expectation.
  • Sell the benefits not the features. I guess this is what car salespersons are taught to do. Think about an ad you have seen for a car. It does not go into the details of the engine. It shows you what you will feel like if you own this car. Just so, when you contribute to a not for profit besides the church, they tell you a moving story. The zoo does not send you their budget to encourage you to give. They send you a picture of a baby giraffe. Tell people how lives are changed because of the contributions they make to the church.
  • Use the offering time during worship well. Two things to think about here. This is the perfect place to tell the kinds of stories we talked about above. Have a child talk about why they love Sunday School. Have a member of the mission committee talk about how their heart was moved by hosting people experiencing homelessness. Have a longtime member tell a story about how they made a different decision about something at work because of their deep faith. (The organist and choir will be the hardest to convince that they should give up this time J) Secondly, have a way for everyone who is present to give. When I sit next to my daughter and son-in-law in church and the offering plate comes by, I realize they have nothing to put in it. They do not carry cash and they have no idea when they last wrote a check. Have a QR-code in the bulletin or on a paper in the pew so that someone can scan and go immediately to a “donate here” button.
  • Write thank you notes. These are most impactful if they come from the pastor and if they include the actual amount. “Thank you for your pledge of $10,000 for 2021. Countless lives will be changed and many people’s faith will be deepened because of your generosity.” Or, at the end of the year, a similar thank you for money contributed. Yes, this means that the pastor will know this information. I have never understood why people do not want their pastor to know what they give. The pastor knows how often you are in church, whether you ever show up for Bible study, etc. This is part of your spiritual life. And, if you contribute at a certain level for the zoo, your name is on a brick for all to see. Or if you do so to the symphony, your name appears in the program as a certain level of donor. I once had a woman who was an elder and close to my age tell me she was not sure she was comfortable with me knowing what she gave. I told her that the only suggestion I had was that she could give more. Jesus talks more about money in the gospels than he does about prayer. We need to be brave in doing the same.

As we discover what the church is in this new world into which we are moving, there will be many challenges. Money will not solve them all. But having adequate funds removes some of the barriers for your session so that they can be creative in their response to the call to bring hope in the name of Jesus.