September 2012
Practicing Generosity

No More Pledge Cards – Please!

I want to issue a challenge to stewardship leaders across the country. Let’s start a campaign “NO MORE PLEDGE CARDS!”


Our focus on distributing pledge cards has become a distraction from the central purpose of a stewardship season or campaign. Too often financial leadership in our congregations focuses on the budget instead of our spiritual relationship to wealth and our vision for ministry. The notion that the budget tells the story of our vision is completely eclipsed by the methodology of constructing a line item budget.

Few people in the pews make the connection between their faith in God and the practice of giving a portion of what they have to the church or to others. I often hear, “We are a small congregation and we have heard each other’s stories.” Really?! What does it say about our deepening and ongoing relationship with God if we have only one, unchanging, story to tell?

If we begin developing new strategies now that leave out the pledge card the greater the chance of success. So imagine with me how a congregation might incorporate a year round focus on stewardship into their common life.

  • Congregations might start during Lent with a reflection series that focuses on how we understand Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it. “ Everyone is invited to select a very ordinary but “essential” object in his or her life: a car, refrigerator, bicycle, bed, or a favorite tie or pair of shoes. A special altar is set up in the church to receive a symbol or picture of this object for everyone to see. Every day during Lent each person takes a moment of silence while touching the object and intentionally praying, “Thank you God for providing me with this _______. May I use it to your glory this day and every day.” All are asked to make short note of what the experience is like and to share it as a family at the end of each week. Perhaps the children can draw a picture of the experience. Insights from those family discussions are then shared in both in writing and orally in as many places as possible. All are preserved for later use in the stewardship season.
  • During the Easter season each family is asked to give $.50 per person per week (representing the 50 days of Easter) in a special offering. The offering is accompanied by a suggestion of an organization, cause, or need that might receive the special offering. The suggestion is accompanied by a story of how the family understands that God is working in the family and in that organization or cause. These stories are shared with the congregation and the vestry or outreach committee makes a decision as to who will receive this special offering, with the decision announced on Trinity Sunday.
  • During Pentecost there is teaching from the pulpit about one or more marks of Christian giving: Intentional, Regular, Proportional, Cheerful, Generous, First. Examples are shared of how the vestry practices these marks of giving as they practice good stewardship of the churches assets. Parishioners are invited to write down and offer their own stories of how each of these characteristics is lived out. Time for reflection and writing down the stories is provided during worship.
  • The stewardship campaign itself utilizes all of the insights and stories of the year to help us grow spiritually. The first week of the campaign is reflecting on God as the owner of all that we have and all that we are. How are we different when we understand as stewards and not as owners? The second week is focused on recognizing the abundance that God has given to each of us individually and as a faith community. What are the assets that we overlook or are underappreciated that we need to celebrate? The third week is focused on God’s grace. How do we experience that grace and what is our response to that grace? The last week is about nurturing generosity. “Grace yields gratitude which yield generosity.” How does the Church as a community of faith respond to God’s grace with its own practice of generosity? Each year these questions are given a specific focus and responses can be offered on a card during Sunday worship, via email, Facebook, website, or any other form. All of this culminates in a glorious and colorful celebration during which people write down their monetary offering along with a prayer for God’s help in growing their spirit of generosity.

It has been a delight to hear from people across the country who are trying to develop new kinds of stewardship programs designed to nurture and grow spiritually mature Christians who practice generosity. Please, let’s continue to share our ideas and journeys in this incredible movement toward generosity.

Angela Emerson is the minister of stewardship development in the Diocese of Vermont. Actively involved with TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship, she currently serves as a board member and blogs regularly for TENS.


Faces of Faith: A Steward’s Book of Prayers

This article is part of the September 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Practicing Generosity