October is a time when many congregations invite financial commitments for the coming year. Would your congregation like to increase giving in the year ahead so you have more money to do God’s work in the world? Most congregations would eagerly answer yes.
Studies indicate that stewardship pledges work. A Gallup Poll in 1993 found that Lutherans who pledged gave 45 percent more than those who didn’t. (This is admittedly an old study, but I’m confident it still holds.)
My experience is that a thorough, well-run stewardship program is the best way to grow both the number and size of financial commitments. Here are five suggestions to grow giving in your congregation:
- Conduct an excellent annual financial response program. Mailing out a letter and commitment card won’t make much difference. Mailing out next year’s budget and a commitment card is even worse. Take several Sundays to focus on Scripture and tell mission stories so people know how your congregation makes a difference in the world. Then invite people to generously join in the ministry. Resources are available to guide your work. Your synod office can help you find one that works for your context.
- Ask for growth in giving. If you’re convinced your congregation is making a difference, ask people to increase their support so you can do even more. Put a number in front of people. Some stewardship programs offer creative ways to ask for growth. More and more congregations are suggesting a dollar or percentage amount of growth. Be bold.
- Ask for financial commitments. Explain to your congregation the value of completing a pledge card—both for them and for the congregation. Perhaps all council members will agree to make a financial commitment. You could announce this to the congregation and ask everyone to join the community’s leaders in this important step. Make sure your request is invitational, not demanding. Again, be bold.
- Promote electronic giving. Regular electronic fund transfers are actually better than a pledge. People are taking the necessary steps to turn the commitment they made into regular action. Whether you use your local bank or a national provider, regularly promote electronic giving. I know of congregations who receive 30 to 50 percent of their gifts this way. Also, make sure it’s easy for people to change what they give electronically so they don’t get stuck on what they gave last year.
- Remember to do follow-up. Two weeks after members are to have returned their commitment cards, make a list of those who have not yet responded. Send them a reminder letter. You might send one letter to those who have previously committed and a different one to those who have not. Again, make sure your request is invitational, not demanding.
Obviously these five steps will require more work than sending out one letter and hoping for the best. Just as obviously, your congregation’s ministry is important enough to make this extra work worth the effort.