September 2018
Practical Stewardship

Three ways to Perk Up Year-round Stewardship

Stewardship is often considered a routine activity that percolates once a year. Messages for bulletins and pulpits are put into the pot, letters and envelopes are poured in, and up perks financial commitments to support the church for another year. The brew might be weak or strong, but at least it’s over and done with by December.

If that’s your view, then the idea of year-round stewardship might sound a bit over-caffeinated. Who has the energy to steep messages and responses all year long?

Get a cup of decaf, relax and take a few minutes – or an entire Stewardship Committee meeting in January – to consider the word “ministry” as part of stewardship. Ministry seems to be an obvious fit with Worship, Christian Formation, or Outreach. These activities minister to people. They inspire and deepen our faith. They embolden us to be Jesus to each other and to the world.

There are many opportunities for Stewardship to do likewise. In fact, there are so many, that you should take care that you don’t burn out your committee with a plan for engagement 12 months a year. To begin, consider these three ways to perk up a year-round stewardship ministry:

1. Express Gratitude to God. Celebrate what God has provided, without focusing on bank accounts. God’s abundance is not about accumulated wealth. It’s about love, salvation and providing what we need. Activities and messages rooted in scripture will move people to closer relationship with Jesus – a marvelous outcome for any Christian ministry.

  • Idea: Celebrate diversity by utilizing ways other faith traditions and cultures thank God for creating and sustaining us. For instance, beautiful Jewish prayers can be found in Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit’s book, Offerings of the Heart: Money and Values in Faith Communities.
  • Idea: Celebrate Earth Day with a neighborhood walk or planting trees or flowers in neighbors’ yards (with their permission!)

2. Communicate creatively and transparently. As the Earth Day idea demonstrates, stewardship activities can be creative and fun, encouraging learning and participation.

Of course, you could present a lecture on three types of giving, such as: “Annual giving is regular financial support to sustain the ongoing ministry of our congregation”; “Planned giving involves including the church in your estate plans”; and “capital giving is extraordinary giving in addition to annual giving for special growth or property needs of our church”. But wouldn’t these ideas be way more fun if we:

  • Celebrate volunteers by adding up the hours given to make a typical Sunday happen. During a service, have someone hold an offering plate while folks come forward to place symbols of each type of service in the plate while announcing the associated number of hours given – an usher badge, a candle for the acolytes, a linen purificator for Altar Guild, a bulletin for those who fold them faithfully each week, crayons for Sunday School teachers. The plate will be overflowing and the congregation will be delighted with this expression of gratitude.
  • Hold a Legacy Celebration to recognize those who have remembered the church in their estate plans (include a workshop about planned giving during coffee hour).
  • Distribute red hots candies with bulletins one Sunday to celebrate the new furnace.
  • Before the annual campaign begins, publish a narrative booklet that explains how annual gifts/pledges are being spent. Include stories about impact and photos. (Do NOT include a boring line-item budget)

3. Get personal. “Ministry” implies personal service to others. How much ministry is there in a template letter that goes to everyone, using the same language to remind all of their “duty” to give to the church? Not much.

The Stewardship Ministry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, got a bit more personal. They fashioned different letters for people from different generations (Why Do You Give to the Church? – July 23, 2018).

They didn’t stop there. St. John’s Stewardship Chair John Harberts said the experience of communicating differently with people in distinct groupings made their task more personal. Committee members committed to stay in touch with a number of parishioners throughout the entire year. They divided the parish list into smaller lists, at first based on those they knew best. Eventually, they added people they had not met.

One of the first communications was a short note that each committee member sent to those on his/her list in the spring. John Harberts says the basic message was, “Just staying in touch. Let me know if I can help you in any way.” Then a phone call later in the year.

“Suddenly, we all liked our [stewardship] jobs!” John explains. Families that were unacquainted prior to the effort formed relationships. Some folks became social friends, meeting each other for dinner.

John adds that getting personal made the next annual campaign much easier. “We weren’t making ‘cold calls’ anymore. We were just continuing conversations and check-ins with our friends in the parish.”

Year -round stewardship is not about asking people for money twelve months a year. It’s a ministry that invites people to deeper faith and helps transform church membership into discipleship. Keep it percolating all year ’round with plenty of gratitude, creative and transparent communications and building relationships.

Linda Buskirk is an ECF consultant based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In addition to the many successful Episcopal Church capital campaigns she has led for ECF, she brings extensive experience from her own consulting practice specializing in strategic planning, fundraising and board governance for not-for-profit organizations. Linda is also a contributing author for ECF’s Vital Practices/Vital Posts blog. Linda enjoys journeying with clients to help identify where they are being called to serve as a faith community and implementing a plan to ensure their capacity to achieve their goals. Linda is active in her home parish and diocese serving on committees responsible for clergy formation, endowment, stewardship and many other ministries. Linda holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs from Indiana University and is a graduate of the Congregational Development Institute of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana.

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This article is part of the September 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Practical Stewardship