Comprehensive research on giving patterns among American Christians has revealed that one in five gives nothing to church or other charities. Congregations that study their own giving patterns typically discover that 20 to 30 percent of their members and participants are noncontributors. And what all these people have in common is that our typical ways of inviting them to give don’t resonate.
Who is among this sizable cohort of nongivers? Some may be younger or new to the church without a clear understanding of why they should support the church. Some are your Easter and Christmas crowd. Others may be less active than they once were. Some think it doesn’t apply to them for whatever reason. And some just have never gotten with the program. But what all these people have in common is that our typical ways of inviting them to give don’t resonate. So, what can congregations do differently to invite new givers to begin their journey of generosity?
1. Adjust your attitude.
We have a tendency to think of nongivers as deadbeats or freeloaders and then base our appeals on guilt or obligation. This approach makes potential givers feel guilty, anxious, and unwelcome. Assume God has placed these people in the orbit of your church for a reason and that they just need a little extra encouragement to get started.
2. Stop talking about stewardship.
In many churches, the conversation around money and giving relies heavily on the vocabulary of stewardship and tithing. The vocabulary of gratitude and generosity can be a more gracious and inviting way to talk about giving and one that is equally faithful and biblical. It is a simpler, more relatable way to talk about the importance of giving.
3. Answer the “why” question.
Fewer and fewer people, even within our churches, have been taught the normative expectations of the faith regarding giving. Several key questions are relevant. Why do we give? How do we give? And how much do we give? But too often, our conversations jump immediate to “how much,” short circuiting the foundational question of “why.” We can’t logically expect someone to give away a sacrificial portion of what they have if they don’t yet understand why faith calls them to give.
4. Provide special giving opportunities.
Newer givers are often motivated by specific, tangible needs. They understand the importance of contributing $50 if it’s needed to fuel the van for the mission trip or $100 to purchase groceries for the food pantry. Such giving opportunities tell a story. They educate potential givers about the church’s mission and allow a new giver to experience the joy of contributing to something worthwhile. But the trick is to use these appeals strategically to educate and motivate new givers, while at the same time encouraging them toward regular ongoing gifts.
5. Build involvement.
The strongest predictor of how much someone gives is their level of activity and engagement, not their income. So, the best way to get people interested in giving is to get them actively involved.
6. Use digital communication to invite people to give.
Nongiving members likely attend worship much less regularly than your more generous givers. And that’s a problem. Electronic giving has the potential to reach younger generations, occasional attenders, and even people who don’t yet attend church by leapfrogging beyond our traditional “place-based” giving appeals.
7. Ask for gifts not pledges.
People give before they pledge or tithe. If a pledge campaign is your primary vehicle for inviting people to give, your messages probably aren’t connecting with those who aren’t ready or willing to pledge. After all, why would someone who’s not giving a dime to the church pay attention when you ask them to give 10 percent? Pledges serve a very important purpose. But they are not the most likely on-ramp for new givers.
excerpt from a story by Ann A. Michel, staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership
United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.