Churches need money to do their work.
Most people seem to know and accept that. However, many pastors hate to ask for money, and many church members don’t like being asked. Which would seem to present a challenge.
Every year my church has a month-long campaign to accumulate pledges toward its annual budget. Not all churches raise money this way, but a lot do. The budget then is based on what people promise they will give during the coming year.
It’s not a fool-proof method. Some people don’t or won’t pledge (studies show that 20 percent of all Christians give nothing). Others will never bother to complete their pledge. Still, we can usually estimate within about three or four percent of the pledge total what our annual budget will be.
I served a church early in my career that used what they called a “faith giving” system. As far as I could tell, “faith giving” meant that we guessed every year about what our members would give and then prayed that we would receive it. I think the faith involved was mainly that of the leadership.
But here’s the thing. Like so much else in the church, stewardship is changing. A recent book title echoes the old Oldsmobile commercial (“It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”): Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.
An older generation saw value in institutions, and so they gave money to preserve those institutions and sat on their boards and otherwise devoted themselves to them. A younger generation by and large doesn’t have much use for institutions, but they do like to make investments in things they believe in. And of course they like to see a return on those investments.
The speaker at a stewardship seminar I attended recently recommended that churches like mine send separate mailings, ones that appealed to different age groups and beliefs about giving. So, one mailing, for example, might go to older members and might appeal to their love for this church. Another mailing might go to younger members and might appeal to their desire to furnish the new youth center. (I can’t say I like this trend.)
One thing about giving has apparently not changed. The best givers are those with generous hearts, those who have cultivated over the years a spirit of generosity. (Giving is apparently a learned behavior, as opposed to something that comes naturally to us.)
And yet the church continues to use language like tithe (actually a good biblical term), fair share, first fruits (another good biblical term), stewardship, and sacrificial giving. All of this language suggests that giving is an obligation, which it may be, but obligation does nothing to stir the heart. On the other hand, there’s no telling what a generous spirit might be willing to do.
I like to give. I have enjoyed giving ever since I was a young boy and my father would press a quarter into my hand before the offering plate came around. Something about dropping that quarter into the plate left me with a glow which I have not forgotten. I knew already then that I had done something that would make a difference.
As our stewardship month approaches, I’m tempted to hammer home the theme that my people had darn well better step up to support the work of the church (and pay my salary). But I know that the better strategy is to cultivate a few more generous hearts.
What we need, what all churches need – more than anything else – is a few more grateful people. And how hard can it be to feel grateful?