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.
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.
Good morning, Steward!
I wonder what would happen if, instead of having a Buildings and Grounds Committee at the church, we had Site Stewards. And instead of a Chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, we had a Chief Site Steward. I wonder how it would be to call the Administrative Assistant the Administration Steward, or to call the newly emerging tech and digital assistant for worship the Tech Steward.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Paul Klitzke, Rector at Church of the Ascension in Dallas, TX, to offer a vlog sharing how he uses the different resource types on Vital Practices. Please find his 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.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Miriam McKenney, Forward Movement’s Director of Development and Mission Engagement, to choose five resources for healthy churches that resonated with her. Please find her choices below.
Most Episcopal organizations rely on generous donors to support their mission and ministry. Stewardship can be deeply spiritual, rooted in a desire to reorient our lives towards God, but it also has a practical side. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, includes several provisions that may affect charitable giving this year. We encourage churches to talk about these opportunities with their congregations.
New charitable deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize. Beginning in 2020, individuals can deduct $300 in charitable contributions from their gross income even if they do not itemize their deductions. Donations must be made in cash to a charity. Gifts of appreciated securities, and gifts to a donor advised fund or supporting organization, do not qualify. Although the permissible amount is modest, it is a new benefit available to many of your donors.
La mayoría de las organizaciones episcopales dependen de donantes generosos en apoyo de su misión y ministerio. La mayordomía puede ser profundamente espiritual, enraizada en el deseo de reorientar nuestras vidas hacia Dios, pero también tiene su lado práctico. La Ley Asistencia y Alivio del Coronavirus y de Seguridad Económica (Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act, abreviada como CARES), promulgada el 27 de marzo de 2020, contiene varias disposiciones que afectan las donaciones caritativas de este año. Estimulamos a las iglesias a que hablen sobre estas oportunidades con sus feligresías.
Never let a crisis go to waste.
- Winston Churchill
What do you do when you can’t pass the offering plate? How does congregational giving happen when a pandemic has shut our doors?
Our traditional ways of congregational giving are just one more of our paradigms of church crushed by the COVID crisis. And like our other congregational paradigms that have fallen before COVID19, they are probably gone for good. At least I hope so, because when paradigms collapse in the face of crisis, that means that they are either based on false assumptions or did not adequately address the full reality of human experience.
The arrival of COVID-19 will mean fewer people attending church—and probably some services cancelled altogether. Yet churches need to pay the bills whether people come on Sunday or not, and innovative ministries that adapt to the crisis (Zoom Bible studies, streaming sermons, etc.) require resources, too.
How can you pass the plate when people aren’t there to pass the plate? And how can your church safely receive payments if the virus can possibly survive for hours on printed materials (i.e. the mail)?
The answer is online giving
There is a collective exhale in Lent that is almost audible. The busyness of the holidays make it hard to catch our breath. Then we hold our breath, hoping that despite icy Sundays and snowbirds who’ve left for warmer climates, our church finances can weather winter.
But now it’s Lent, and we are quiet. Ideally we make room to breathe, to pray, to hope for Spring and resurrection.
Here are three ideas for using this time to breathe some life into your stewardship ministry.
“Stewardship” is a word we hear often in the church, especially beginning at this time of year and ending before Advent. What we in the Episcopal Church often mean when we say “stewardship” is the annual pledge drive conducted each fall, which is designed to secure financial commitments from members to fund the following year’s mission and ministry.
While I was raised in the Episcopal Church hearing this language, and while I still slip into using it myself with clients and in my own church, I’m here to ask that we please change our ways. In the secular nonprofit world, where I received my fund development education and first ten years of professional experience, the word “stewardship” does not connote asking for money; asking for money is “solicitation.”