The difficulty of giving: Developing a system that funds the workSPEAKING VOLUMES Friday, January 1st, 2010
What are you seeing among churches after a year of being in this recession?
Church leaders are more open than ever to the conversation of sustainable funding. Many are realizing that their ability to sustain multi-million dollar budgets and complex ministry expectations must also include a funding plan to ensure a broad giving base, and that multiple streams of revenue exist to hedge against unforeseen instability or roadblocks such as what we are experiencing in the midst of this tough economic climate.
For those who are experiencing hard times, how do you counsel those churches about their stewardship and generosity plans?
Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about the brutal facts. Organizations are made up of a series of complex systems. If an organization is not meeting a goal or achieving an intended result such as fully funded ministry budgets, the first task is to understand what’s working and what isn’t. A series of qualitative and quantitative inquiries will reveal strengths and deficiencies.
The next step is to continue to do what’s working while addressing what’s not. The second part is what’s most difficult because it usually results in a lot of work that leads to change. Analyzing giving data cuts through “preacher talk” and speaks directly to measurable impact. If a church leader is willing to face the brutal facts of a failed system (not a failed leader), then there is enough humility to lead his church to practice stewardship and cultivate a culture of generosity.
When you speak about “developing a system that funds the work,” just what do you mean beyond weekly tithes and offerings?
The basics beyond weekly tithes and offerings are: special giving opportunities (often centered around a large church-driven mission or ministry project), capital campaigns, major gift development, estate tithing and online giving. Consider the example of Jerry Falwell who during his life took out a special life insurance policy in the amount equal to the debt of Liberty University.
Upon his untimely death, the University was absolved of all its debt service which meant those funds were now able to be redirected to expanding the ministry capacity of the largest evangelical university on the east coast. A system considers underlying principles and parts and then it is tooled according to the anticipated outcome and unique circumstances or expectations.
From your vantage point, where are the bright lights in today’s stewardship scene? Where are you most disappointed?
What’s the hardest thing about tithing for people to understand and apply?
The book, Passing the Plate (Oxford, 2008) calls it “discretionary obligation.” I think the biggest obstacle to tithing in American Christianity is the American myth that all we have is a result of our hard work, our talent, and our ability to create success. Thus, what we have is “ours” to possess and manage for “our” benefit.