Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant. The people stand while the offerings are presented and placed on the Altar.
Book of Common Prayer p. 361
It’s called the Offertory.
When I was a child, my mother would hand me a quarter to drop in the plate that was passed along the pew, adults would add greenbacks, or maybe a check. We don’t see (or hear) that much anymore. Especially since Covid. Now a lot of folks pay their pledges online. Or in some churches, they use a QR code printed in the bulletin to make an offering. Other churches have a place to put checks on a Sunday morning, but don’t process them forward. Still, the Offertory often includes an anthem sung by a choir. In many churches, there is a hymn sung by the congregation in addition or instead. And in some, The Doxology still rings out.
Fundraising is on the long list of things that I never learned anything about in seminary. Or, so I would have told you several years ago. My congregation’s recent fundraising experiences have taught me that I learned a lot about fundraising in seminary, because the principles of effective pastoral fundraising are the same as the principles of effective pastoral care that I learned in seminary and that I continue to hone today.
Principle 1: Focus on the needs of the other person.
Effective pastors know how to keep the conversation focused on the other person, they know how to listen more than they speak, they know how to tolerate silence, and they know how to refrain from judgment. Effective pastoral fundraisers should display the same characteristics. Effective pastoral fundraising is not focused on the church, but on the giver. The goal is to make the giver feel good about her gift, and to create an opportunity for her to impact the future of her church.
On sabbatical this past spring, I walked to the village of Grantchester from Cambridge. Turns out, Grantchester is very much a real village, not just a lovely PBS series. “Go to the Blue Ball,” the docent at Kings College told me when I asked for directions; “that’s the best pub.” The walk was lovely, and the inn’s hospitality and lunch were spot on.
Walking out into the afternoon sun, I saw on the wall a cartoon drawn of some characters in the village circa 1980-something: there was the barman; and a number of other characters, some in business attire, some in work clothes; and then, near the center, was a balding man in a backwards collar on a black shirt: the vicar.
As we recommit to Stewardship each season with a focus on time and talent, let us reflect on our individual level of participation in the church’s organizations/committees/guilds or ministries. A church colleague highly recommends that we use the word ministries more often in order to 1) distinguish it from the secular organizations’ processes and mindset we adhere to and 2) to continually remind ourselves that any work we do in the church should be in service to Jesus Christ and his teachings. I agree.
On one end of the participation range, there are some in the church that can be described as oversubscribed. They belong to every organization and are either burned-out with too many meetings and commitments or they are participating in name only and do not contribute in any meaningful way. Oftentimes in smaller congregations, oversubscribing can occur with few members that need to wear multiple hats. This situation is increasingly common and challenging.
And I’m not referring to Christmas but the annual pledge campaign for your congregation. Actually, this can be a wonderful time of the year if you, the church’s leadership, approaches the campaign with faithfulness, focus and follow-through.
Faithfulness needs to emanate from the top and permeate the life of the local congregation all year round not just when you’re asking for money in the fall. Being faithful involves ongoing communication with your members and constituents; offering quality worship, fellowship, and outreach opportunities; helping people discern their gifts, and engaging them in appropriate ministries and activities. Faithfulness includes sharing your personal faith journey, reflecting on the importance of the local faith community in nurturing your own spirituality, inviting others to join you on the way, and helping form disciples for Jesus. Faithfulness leads to commitment, commitment leads to embracing stewardship, and stewardship leads to generosity and giving. Even if you’ve been a little lax in this area over the past several months, this is the ideal time to be more deliberate about faithfulness.
We all love stories. Storytelling is imbedded in our DNA as human beings. Stories were used to explain the unexplainable—those mysteries such as birth, death, nature and the existence of a higher power or force, eventually described as God.
People of faith, or those who follow or practice a particular religious tradition are especially fond of stories. Jewish and Christian heritage and custom have been passed down to us through stories—about creation, sin, floods, slavery, freedom, laws, prophets, angels and, ultimately, redemption and resurrection.
While we love to tell stories, we also love to talk about ourselves, especially those qualities and experiences of which we are most proud. Telling our story is an essential element of the human experience and is the precursor to making connections, establishing relationships, and falling in love.
This month we offer five resources on Transformational Stewardship. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
With the consulting work our firm performs across the nonprofit philanthropic spectrum, my involvement as an active volunteer for the Diocese of Atlanta, and the changes wrought by the last two years of COVID-19, a number of my worshipping friends have inquired about what my predictions are for the Church. With both “fear and trembling” and wild abandon, I offer the following.
First, I think there will be a growing demand for churches to raise the funds necessary to increase the production value of their virtual presentations. As with retail companies, both the storefront and online platforms combine to sustain their business model. Similarly for churches, both physical structures and virtual offerings will work together to feed the members of faith communities. And particularly with regard to the younger, “digital native” members and prospective members, virtual attendees will not long tolerate bad connections or poor visuals before moving to a video game or social media site. It will be a challenging assignment for The Episcopal Church to maintain one’s virtual attention. As an example, standing in line for the Eucharist during worship is not “made for prime time” viewing at all. But interesting, informative pre-recorded virtual segments can hold viewers’ attentions until, say, the choir re-enters the worship service picture. None of the production changes needing to be made will come cheaply.
Imagine that you had a time machine.
Imagine that you could travel back in time and talk with the leaders of your own congregation two or three generations ago. Imagine that you could give advice to your predecessors in a time when sustainability was assumed, pews were full, and every Sunday school was teeming with children. What would you say?
I spent my recent sabbatical asking this question of church leaders in highly secular contexts. My goal was to learn what congregations that are currently in positions of strength might do now to prepare ourselves for a future ministry context that will likely look very different from the one we now know.
This month we offer five resources on stewardship and abundance. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
For over a year, we as a church, a nation, and a world have been challenged like never before. But as people of faith, we are confident that God is in our midst and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. I have been amazed and encouraged by the creativity, resiliency and flexibility demonstrated and witnessed by Episcopal faith communities like yours. Our congregations have embraced new ways to worship, gather and engage with our local communities. And throughout this entire period, the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) has been there with you - striving to live into our mission of leading Episcopal faith communities into the future as a partner for transforming ministries. We did this by nurturing, supporting and inspiring lay and clergy leaders throughout the church.
My grandfather and I are different kinds of investors.
Grandpa’s investment portfolio was comprised largely of equities and he knew something about each of the companies whose stock he held. When he moved to a new town, he was likely to buy several shares of the company that employed the most people there because he wanted to invest in his community. By contrast, my investment portfolio is a carefully managed collection of mutual funds. I would be hard-pressed to tell you what companies are represented, what they do, or where they are. My strategy is focused on outcomes, on projected return and estimated risk.
My grandfather and I are also different kinds of charitable givers.
Stewardship sermons and testimonies offered through the years eventually sunk in, causing me to prayerfully consider how much I give back to God and why I do so. I think I’ve reached a good place in my understanding and generosity, and I’m happy about that.
The opportunity to give electronically helped my giving too. It’s easy and convenient to make donations with a few taps on my computer or phone. When I started giving online, I felt a little squirmy on Sundays when the offering plate went by and I sat frozen in my pew, avoiding eye contact with the usher. But then my church added a new option on our pledge envelopes: a place to check “We/I gave this week online.” So now I can drop an empty envelope in the plate and smile assuredly at the usher.
Here is a story about what can happen when the people of a congregation unite around the love of their faith community, a vision to strengthen it, and the joyful inclusion of everyone.
In 2019, the leadership of Holy Family Episcopal Church in Angola, Indiana, faced a sad reality. If the congregation did not rally to financially support their new young and popular rector, they might lose him when the grant funding his curacy ended. So they got busy and creative.
The leadership surveyed of the congregation. All 33 responding households (a large majority of membership) said, yes, we appreciate having a full-time rector. The survey also invited input on new worship opportunities, communication, and asked what people appreciated about their church. Folks were asked if they would be willing to give more to keep their full-time rector.
Attention, stewardship ministry leaders! Here is an idea to keep you ministering to people right now: Use your church’s Annual Report to develop a letter or email to parishioners to once again thank them for their financial support, remind them of the value of their commitment, and help them feel connected to the church in this continuing time of separation.
That may seem like heavy lifting for one letter, but reading through the Annual Report will hopefully result in plenty of inspiration for a theme of, “Look at the impact your gifts are making!” Include 3 or 4 examples such as…
“Thanks to your support, even in the pandemic St. Gregory’s was able to continue Christian Formation via the internet. 15 preschool and young elementary-age children participated in Zoom Bible Study in the Fall, followed by an Advent study for families.”
In my more than 25 years in starting new congregations and redeveloping existing ones, I have gained a number of hard-won insights into what makes stewardship successful. These insights are the results of much congregational experimentation and reviewing giving research, and most of them go against the grain of our stewardship traditions. I offer this list ten DOs and DON’Ts below:
Stewardship DOs and DON’Ts:
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford to choose five resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find her choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
I will never forget a sweet widow I interviewed during a feasibility study for a capital campaign in a parish in Pennsylvania. As we discussed the various proposed projects, it seemed she had a story for each one. Her children were baptized in the sanctuary, she taught Sunday School in those classrooms, she donated china tea cups for fellowship in the lounge. There was no hesitation when asked about her support for the campaign. Of course she would give.
Nothing in the conversation surprised her until I asked if she thought the campaign would be successful. “What do you mean?” she wanted to know. When I explained that questions are being asked to determine how much money could be raised, her bright face suddenly faded.
In the beginning phases of the pandemic as our churches started closing, there was a lot of concern from church leadership about the financial stewardship from our members. This concern was not misplaced, many churches pre-pandemic were not able to meet their monthly commitment based solely on giving from congregants. Many were surmising that the fall-out would be permanent church closures.
So how would the pandemic impact these categories of givers:
1. The many faithful who pledge and fulfill that commitment
2. Those who do not pledge and are regular givers
3. Many who give only when they are physically present at the church service
4. Others who are unable or unwilling to contribute
“Spread for me a banquet of praise,
serve High God a feast of kept promises”
- Psalm 50:14 – The Message
After months of churches scrambling to add or improve electronic and/or mobile donation options during the pandemic, it seems safe to assume that online giving is here to stay. What I wonder about is how churches are faring if they previously did not strongly promote the concept of annual pledging. Sure, people may find it easier to donate online, but how do they determine the size of their gifts if they did not promise to give a certain amount this year?
There are bottom line reasons why most faith communities appreciate those who pledge to give a certain dollar amount in the year ahead. The most obvious is that the total amount pledged helps the Vestry set the overall spending plan (budget) for the next year.