Giving Boost - Part 1
A Financial Surge for the Post Pandemic Church
Back when my knees could handle it, I completed a few marathons. It was a time of great joy and accomplishment as these were done with five other guys with whom I trained and shared a lot of time. I miss those days. My knees don’t.
What I learned from long-distance running was the idea that you cannot be ready overnight for the enormous strain of 26.2 miles on one’s body. I knew that intellectually but learned it in real-time – when the many months leading up to a marathon meant disciplining my body in every possible way to overcome the unexpected obstacles that are inevitable on race day. When we needed our bodies to perform under stress, we could count on them.
Another lesson I have learned by hanging out with church leaders is that you cannot mount a last-minute training and expect great generosity from the congregation. It would be like waiting for the last day before the marathon to train.
Developing generous disciples is definitely a long-play – a marathon of sorts. Over time and with encouragement, people will grow as we point the way. And generous churches are ready for any challenge. It reminds me of a guy I sat next to on an airplane one day that told me, “I want to be in the kind of physical shape that if someone asked me to run a half marathon tomorrow, I could do it.” Wow.
The circumstances of 2020 have revealed to many of us that we needed to start the training a while ago and did not – or did not to the degree that we wish we would have. Overnight, we expected our church “bodies” to be ready for a race that is throwing unexpected challenges our way – financially and in many other categories. We were not as ready as we would have hoped.
So, is there hope for churches who are facing a big financial challenge? Yes - there is definitely some encouraging news. First, people have been overall supportive and gracious – people seem to be sensitive to the fact that everyone, including their church, is in an uncertain situation. For churches with congregations deeply hurt by job loss, there is only so much people can do. But many congregations have stepped up in amazing ways.
Still, there is a difference between an immediate rally of support by church members in the first 60 to 90 days of the pandemic and the long-term generosity development in our congregations.
The following is a two-part discussion. The first section highlights what actions to consider for a short-term boost of financial fuel for the church facing the challenges of early 2020. The second is a more long-term strategic look at the features of a church creating an environment of cultivating generosity through discipleship. The second section is more about sustained generosity – a marathon mentality will last beyond the pandemic timeframe and into the “new normal” and beyond.
RALLY OF SUPPORT IN THE SHORT RUN
Churches that have seen their financial support as relatively stable during this time have exhibited a few characteristic actions that encourage support in the immediate future. Consider these concepts and the suggestions that follow for how to turn them into action right now for your church.
Model Trust in God’s Provision
The congregation needs to look into the eyes of church leaders and see peace in God. Leaders should be authentic in their own fear and uncertainty about the future, but also reassuring in their ultimate trust in God to do whatever He wishes in and through the church – even if it will undergo change. This is time to reach out first to offer hope and care, not to reach out with palms open for a contribution. God will take care of us as we take care of those in need.
Celebrate the Church’s Mission
God is still at work. And many of our churches are seeing beautiful ways that members have come together in support of each other and the community. As people are feeling the inevitable instability of the time, it is reassuring for them to know that the church is on mission – beyond simply staying afloat or paying the bills, the church is activated to help. Explain this and celebrate it.
Have a Digital Giving Strategy
A rough statistic being circulated pre-COVID was that though 75% of churches in America had a digital giving platform of some kind, only 25% of church donations were made this way. This means that overnight churches were faced with the challenge of not just having the capability, but training and encouraging people to use it. Take the time to explain to reticent members how it is safe and helpful to use online bill pay, credit or debit cards, electronic funds transfer, text to give and whatever channels you have – open up all the valves. And adjust or re-work your church’s giving website if the usability of it is lackluster. Now is the time.
NOTE: Churches should also consider a “return envelope” strategy, particularly if there are a lot of older members who would use the self-addressed envelope to mail a check back to the church. Frankly, many older people understand and use digital banking and other technologies so don’t presume they need the old-fashioned way. But sending out envelopes to the church members is fairly inexpensive for a surprisingly great return.
Listen to the Faithful for the Pulse
Connecting with the most faithful givers in the church is a very effective way to get the pulse of what is happening in the congregation in terms of economic and income shifts. Some of the giving households at the top of the list are accustomed to direct and open conversations about money and will welcome a discussion. It is important for church leaders to connect with these households and express care for their family and curiosity about how this year has impacted their situation. Then ask them for advice or ideas on what the church may need to consider going forward. This is a sure-fire way for mutual encouragement. When the pastors we coach decide to reach out, they are always glad they did.
Explain Contingency Plans and Expense Reduction
This is the opportunity for the church to model proactivity. Healthy leaders will explain how the church has reduced expenses right away and is considering other “waves” of reduction that can be executed when and if necessary. Honesty is still the best policy. When church leaders explain the possible future scenarios that face the congregation with integrity and truth, it reduces the tendency for people to “invent their own narrative” about how the church is doing or what may be next. When trust in leadership builds, giving tends to increase.
Be Proactive in Your Courage to Ask
Do not be afraid to be direct in your request to individuals and the congregation in the wake of the stay at home phase. As a pastor, you will do it graciously. But do it courageously. People do not have to give. But they do need to know that it is needed and part of a healthy Jesus follower’s way of living. Not everyone has lost their job or lost income. Be empathetic with the possible nervousness people may have, but be calm and clear about reminding people about their opportunity to make an impact. We have already seen evidence that those with steady income will step up in recognition of their fellow church members who are without.
What can pastors and church leaders do right away to utilize these best-practice concepts?
1) Conduct a teaching series on the generous life – the good news is you can use both the teachings of Jesus and the example of so many acts of generosity during the pandemic – there were so many! The teaching can be one part celebration, one part inspiration, and one part challenge. Ask small groups and Sunday School classes to process what they have learned so far in 2020 that should become the new normal in living the abundant life Jesus promoted.
2) Do more “State of the Church” updates than you normally would. In uncertain times, we want to minimize the guessing that people must do about the church, its solvency, its plans for the near future, and the long term. Often, church leaders will do this once per year. The way our lives have been destabilized in 2020 demands this kind of conversation with the congregation more often. Plus, for many churches, there is very good news about how God has used them during the time of crisis to serve each other and the community. Develop a way to regularly explain:
3) Create a re-entry team to help design the new normal even if this team only needs to meet a handful of times to explore the concepts in this article, ask members of the congregation to help navigate the uncharted waters of the future. Have them discuss ways to re-engage the congregation with the mission and get people back in connection with each other. Utilize the team to help gather feedback from the congregation – including formal and informal surveying of people to find out needs, concerns, and learning from the first half of 2020 that may impact the future of the congregation. This can be an exciting time for the church!
SUSTAINED GENEROSITY IN THE LONG RUN
Auxano Resourcing is a team of professionals who specialize in coaching churches to develop systems to grow generous disciples. Now we are back to talking about training for the marathon.
From here forward, consider putting practices into place in your church that will produce a church body with generosity muscles that are trained and ready for the long-haul.
Auxano has worked with churches all over the country to help them create pathways for people to practice and learn how to be giving in many different ways. Each church crafts its way of communicating these pathways to growth through their own context, theology and style – and the results are breathtaking.
Not only do church leaders see increases in financial fuel for the mission (many churches see increases of 20% or more), but see members of the congregation grabbing a hold of that mission with new levels of intensity. Not surprisingly, Jesus was right – your heart follows your money and vice versa.
Many leaders are already having conversations and attending webinars about being ready for the “new normal” phase over the second half of 2020. We will likely have a 2.0, 3.0, and other iterations of whatever is new and normal. And most of us are simply trying to discern as best we can – no one really knows how things will look.
Greg Gibbs is a coffee roaster, consultant and author and regularly tries to convince his wife that he is an Organizational Communication guru. After 30 years and raising four children together, she is still not quite convinced. Greg has spent decades in the church world, advising leadership on vision clarity, fundraising process, and communication effectiveness. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Detroit.