Talking about giving may be uncomfortable for church leaders as effects from the Covid-19 pandemic continue. Every person’s reality is different. Some are experiencing severe financial struggles, while others have been less impacted.
In a bit of good news, a recent United Methodist Communication survey shows that United Methodists continue to financially support their local congregations, with fewer churches suffering from lower levels of giving than originally feared at the pandemic’s onset in March.
Whether your church traditionally launches stewardship programs each fall or the discussion goes year-round, following are three ways to get the conversation started to encourage those who can to continue donating to their local congregations.
Be honest about your church’s budget, says the Rev. Ken Sloane, director, stewardship and generosity at Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
Many churches are saving money because they haven’t gathered for in-person services. Let your congregation know that, Sloane says. Also, be upfront that those savings may be offset by costs associated with virtual church, such as technology purchases.
“Clergy and lay leaders are working harder to adapt to the situation, so they may have expenses that may not have been on the horizon,” Sloane says.
Look at where your church is making a difference.
Have you maintained your church staff without any furloughs? Is the online worship service actually reaching new people?
“We are reaching people who never set foot in our church,” Sloane says about his home church, adding that former members who have moved away from the community also frequently join for virtual services.
Has your church maintained its relationship with a nearby school or helped with a neighborhood food pantry?
For congregations that may not have active outreach programs, consider the impact that happens inside the church. Think about a child who attended Sunday School throughout his or her childhood and grew into an adult with strong character or has a career helping others.
“The church has been a part of that,” Sloane stresses.
Identifying ways the church impacts people and the world will communicate that the church is still active even if physical church doors remain closed, says Sloane.
Connect the dots
Once you determine how your church is making a difference, talk about it.
“Telling stories of impact are the best ways to get people to make a decision about what they are giving to,” Sloane points out.
“We are always looking for ways to connect our finances with the way we are serving,” says the Rev. Travis Garner, senior pastor at The Village. “I think people want their giving to lead to something worthwhile and lead to people’s lives being changed.”
During the pandemic, The Village recommitted to supporting its neighbors.
“Our programming has scaled back and we’ve been able to save money on expenses, but we didn’t want to scale back on things we are doing in the community,” Garner explains. “In some ways, we’ve ramped those things up because of the need.”
Specifically, the church’s school backpack program, which provides weekend meals to students at two local schools, increased when schools closed.
“We decided early on to make everything about that and talk about how our generosity is helping (approximately 250 children and their families with meals),” Garner says.
Telling these stories is key, Garner says. The Village’s storytelling takes various forms, from photos to videos. A recent online church service featured a video of one of the church’s leaders sharing about the families who are receiving meals.
“We recognize that even in the difficulty, God is working. When we tell those stories, the message is, ‘When you give at The Village, things like this are happening,’” Garner says.
Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her byemailor at 615-742-5138. Published on September 28, 2020.