September 2010

Model Intentional Giving

In the spring of 2010 the Rev. Anthony Guillen, the Hispanic/Latino Ministries Officer and I conducted interviews with ten Latino/Hispanic congregations about their understanding and practice of stewardship. The purpose of the interviews was to discern and disseminate best practices about stewardship from a variety of contexts and settings: from a mission parish on the East Coast whose membership is 40 percent recent immigrants, to the fastest growing congregation in the Diocese of Oklahoma that recently purchased its own building, to a thriving bilingual congregation in Los Angeles.

In striking parallel, we discovered that the most effective stewardship formation occurs in the context of worship, in open and frank discussions about money, faith and giving, and in the ability to help people understand how their giving funds the various ministries of the church, including social outreach. Here are our findings:

Rectors need to be visible givers

Leaders cannot ask others to do what they will not do themselves. During the annual giving campaign it is crucial that rectors and vicars share their own story about giving – both the joys and the struggles. Leaders can help people understand their giving as a spiritual discipline that draws one into deeper relationship with God. Let the congregation see the clergy put their pledge card and weekly envelope in the offertory plate. The congregation must see giving modeled by clergy, vestries and bishop’s committees. Do not be afraid to set high standards. People will grow into responding to high standards especially if you show them how.

Do not be afraid to preach and teach about stewardship

Teaching about stewardship begins with the teaching of what it means to be God’s entrusted steward, one who cares for and uses all of God’s gifts to bring about God’s Kingdom. The word mayordomo (steward) in Spanish may carry more negative connotations than it does in English, evoking a conniving middle-man who cheats both peasants and owners. Teaching might focus on the biblical understanding of steward from the opening verses of Genesis as one who shares in dominion of the entire created order. Exploring opportunities to teach and preach about the limosna (spontaneous and generous alms-giving) verses a promesa (a pledge) is an effective way to teach about intentional and proportional giving. The most effective stewardship formation comes from the pulpit and from Bible studies.

Lay testimonials

To nurture a culture of gratitude and generosity, invite people to give testimonials of why they pledge to the church each week of the annual giving campaign as well as on a quarterly basis throughout the year. In lieu of the Epistle reading, invite lay witnesses to give a “contemporary epistle” of their giving story. Encourage and coach them to share how they see the generosity of God at work in their lives and how they see the generosity of the congregation at work in the community.

Pledge cards and envelopes year-round

Don’t wait until the annual giving campaign to ask for pledges. Include pledge cards in new-member packets. Talk about the purpose of giving in catechumenate and Inquirer classes. Make pledge cards and offertory envelopes big and bright and keep them in the pews year-round for children, youth and adults. From the pulpit, teach about the purpose of pledge cards. Make sure envelopes are accessible in the narthex.

Show them the money

Demonstrate how pledges fuel the ministry of the congregation. Convey in pictures, graphs, and story how God’s vision is made real through the congregation. Connect expenses with mission areas: worship, outreach, children, youth and adult formation, evangelism, and pastoral care. Invite the bishop’s committee/vestry to hold quarterly meetings with the congregation to talk about money and ministry.

Celebrate and thank for all gifts

Publishing names of pledging members in the newsletter, sending a thank you letter every two months for gifts of ministry— are just two examples of how a congregation can affirm, thank and celebrate the giftedness of their members.

Commitment to the formation of disciples is paramount to the vitality and vibrancy of Latino congregations. The real gift in discovering and naming best practices of stewardship in Latino/Hispanic congregations is that they are applicable to the wider church, especially to congregations that attract seekers and newcomers. We can no longer afford to leave people guessing or in the dark about what it means to be a member of a faith community, especially when it comes to intentional giving. As God’s entrusted stewards we are designed for goodness and generosity. Stewardship formation at its best unlocks our innate generosity and calls us to live our lives as a generous response to a life-giving generous God.

The Rev. Laurel Johnston is the Program Officer for Stewardship for the Episcopal Church.

This article is part of the September 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Pledging