The start of a new year is a wonderful opportunity to pause, think about the year ahead and resolve to make some changes. If you’re focusing on your faith community, here are some questions to consider:
- What could you do differently or more intentionally this year to bring more lives to Christ?
- What are some appropriate resolutions to make if your congregation is seeking greater financial well-being?
Without ignoring that your congregation’s financial well-being is symptomatic of a bigger picture of health and vitality, here are four resolutions to grow giving in your congregation.
Have a year-round stewardship plan
As the saying goes: “Failing to plan is a plan to fail.” Make sure your congregation has a stewardship plan to periodically remind people that giving stems from the intersection of gratitude, worship, mission, vision and transformation.
At a minimum, your stewardship plan will set aside one time during the year when your congregation asks people to officially acknowledge their desire to commit their time, talents and treasures to God. Significantly better than that is a stewardship plan that invites members to do a variety of things over the course of the year.
Here are some examples of year-round activities to inspire generosity:
- Mention a different congregational ministry as part of the offertory prayer every Sunday.
- Include stewardship articles in your congregation’s monthly newsletter.
- Thank members through giving statements, handwritten thank-you notes and a year-end video.
As you build your plan, two resources to consider are “Stewards of God’s Love” (available for free at www.ELCA.org/growingstewards) and ELCA pastor Chick Lane’s “Embracing Stewardship” program (www.embracingstewardship.com).
Clayton Smith, executive pastor of stewardship and worship at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., suggests congregations hire a person to be in charge of making this plan happen. Most nonprofit organizations have paid staff to focus on their funding.
How might your congregation make sure at least one person has these critical stewardship tasks on their to-do list?
Offer financial coaching and money management classes
Theologian Marcus Borg identified “bondage to pharaoh” as one of three biblical macro-themes. In Financial Peace University, Dave Ramsey quotes a statistic that financial distress is the No. 1 cause of divorce and that 70 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. For many people, this is what pharaoh looks like today, meaning indebted disciples probably have little capacity to give generously.
In response, more congregations are recognizing that they can be a source of learning and hope around household finances. St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C., incorporates Financial Peace University lessons in its year-round stewardship plan and will use a similar course for teenagers called Generation Change in 2016. Ron Walrath, a stewardship leader there, said, “We are seeing marriages change, giving change and confidence change as a result of our financial wellness education efforts.”
What are some ways your congregation can connect members with financial coaching?
Provide everyone with online giving options
In one year, First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., grew electronic giving from nothing to 35 percent of regular offerings. The benefits included more level giving patterns and greater participation by young adults. “Someone even gave a big gift for a new chair lift and was happy to be able to give online right away,” said Melinda Wagner, pastor.
Less than 35 percent of transactions of $100 or more happen with cash or checks. A recent ELCA online giving pilot found that the average gift across thousands of transactions was $100 using Automated Clearing House (an electronic network for financial transactions in the U.S.) and $140 using credit/debit cards — higher averages than checks or cash.
How can you make online giving options available to more of your members?
Navy Cpt. David Marquet discovered that a leader-leader model (i.e., everyone is a leader) is key to driving learning, competence and engagement in teams. When Marquet replaced the leader-follower model he learned at the Naval Academy with the leader-leader model, he was able to radically turn around one of the lowest-performing submarines in the Navy in one year.
How does your congregation invite, equip and affirm people to be leader-disciples in their daily lives, including, but not limited to, the ways they give?
One way a few ELCA congregations are teaching and inspiring leadership is by sending members to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit (www.willowcreek.com/summit), an event that has been happening for more than 20 years and is streamed to over 250,000 people worldwide.
Other congregations like Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa, host their own leadership conferences. Talking about the latest ideas in leadership is an opportunity to challenge people to see themselves as leaders and to connect their lives with God’s mission in the world.
How will your congregation build leadership in the year ahead?
With the gift of another year before us, what is God calling you and your congregation to accomplish? What resolutions will you make and what plans will you put into action? May God bless your efforts in 2016.