In your church, is the word stewardship synonymous with a multiweek fall campaign? What if stewardship were more than a campaign? What if it were a mindset? And what if stewardship were incorporated in every season?
The Rev. Ken Sloane is director of stewardship and connectional ministries at Discipleship Ministries. As a pastor and director of connectional ministries in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, he witnessed firsthand the different ways in which churches approach stewardship. Sloane points out that most churches do stewardship campaigns because they need money to pay bills. Instead, Sloane recommends, shift the goal from getting money to pay bills to getting money so your congregation can experience the joy of generosity and the joy of being faithful disciples.
In doing this, stewardship becomes an integral part of every season instead of a season all its own.
Sloane outlined five main components of a strong stewardship program:
Ask your congregation to look at itself. Facilitate conversations during which your congregants can discuss their views on money and giving. Some questions to start the discussion are:
- How do I see money?
- Does money motivate me?
- Can money buy love?
- Does money equal security?
- How much money is enough?
Some people may come to your church because they struggle with monetary issues. Part of your role can be to help both your congregation and newcomers to understand how a person's perspective on money dovetails with his or her response to giving.
Consider dividing your congregation into small groups. Discuss the difference between consumerism and greed. Greed means you want more; consumerism means "more" is never enough.
These two books may be helpful as you start discussions:
- Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton
- Being Consumed by William T. Cavanaugh
Many churches are not comfortable talking about tithing. If this is true of your congregation, turn to the Bible. Leviticus 23:9-14 explains the concept of giving the first 10 percent of the harvest to God. Use this biblical passage as a basis to ask your congregation questions such as:
- What are the financial priorities in your life?
- What is most important in your life?
This conversation emphasizes that our offering to God comes first. Use these conversation starters as an opportunity to discuss priorities and boundaries.
3. Personal witness
Often, stewardship discussions focus on fiscal or physical needs in the church. Instead, make stewardship personal. Find people in your congregation who walk the walk — who give generously. Ask them to talk about why they give and how it makes a difference in their spiritual life.
Consider making time for personal witness a part of your culture. Incorporate it in every season, not just during a stewardship campaign. Make sure the testimonials are authentic. You may want to do them in small-group settings rather than from the pulpit.
4. Church mission
According to Sloane, belief in the church's mission is one of the most compelling reasons for people to give. Have you articulated your church's mission? Ask these questions:
- Is our church's mission clear and concise?
- Do people know our church's mission?
- Is there a call to action?
- Does our mission include measurable results?
Two important ingredients – a call to action and measurable results – often are left out of mission statements. To ensure this doesn't happen, make sure your mission statement includes the words "so that." Using these two words ensures that the mission becomes concrete.
Read Bearing Fruit by Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin for some good examples of ways to hone your church's mission statement.
5. High expectations
Sadly, many people are not as excited about church as they might be. One reason is membership in organizations and groups has become commonplace in our society. Church can become just one more thing to join. Church membership must be distinctive.
This may require a shift in the mindset around and expectations about church membership. Rather than focusing on maintaining membership numbers, emphasize developing generous, world-changing disciples. Articulate to new members what is expected of them. If you set understandable, achievable expectations, you will have more active, engaged laity. This will directly influence their desire to give.
As you consider stewardship education and strategies for your congregation, consider moving from:
- Seasonal to continual. Have an ongoing conversation about generosity and giving. Stewardship should not be the focus of only two to three weeks in the fall.
- Scarcity to abundance. Instead of talking about what your church doesn't have, talk about how blessed it is. People are more motivated to give out of a grateful heart.
- Purse to purpose. Instead of focusing on how to get people's money, focus on how your church gives people a purpose for their lives.
- Numbers to narrative. Rather than showing charts illustrating dollars and deficits, invite congregants to tell stories of how the church is changing their lives.
- Mortar to mission. This will mean a cultural shift from an emphasis on maintaining the building to enthusiasm for growing in mission.
Enhancing your church's stewardship strategy takes time. It's not just about raising money. It's about changing people's mindsets. Base your stewardship strategy on the idea that we serve a God of abundance. Encourage joy in giving. Use John Wesley's teachings. Often attributed to Wesley is the adage, "Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can." Wesley modeled modest living and social giving. His words ring true today.