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Vision and mission come before giving in good stewardship

By Ronald E. Keener

Today’s generation — however you define them — isn’t giving to the church like their parents. J. Clif Christopher says the statistics show a very alarming trend. “The children of the baby boomers are far less generous than their parents and show significantly less interest in giving to religion.” He says that part of the problem is that churches don’t communicate well with this generation nor are they “making the ask.” Christopher has written Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship (2008, Abingdon), founded Horizons Stewardship Co. and works from Cabot, AR.

You write that most churches wouldn’t know what to do with an extra million dollars if they got it. What’s the problem here?

It’s very much a symptom of poor vision. I find that about 10 percent of the churches we work with can answer concisely the question, “Where is the Lord calling you to go for the future?” Their projects and fundraisers were not formed from their prayers, but more from selfish pursuits. Hospitals can easily share what their project has to do with saving lives and colleges about how their project will improve education, but churches have a hard time sharing how theirs will save more souls.

So what’s the problem?

Easily the biggest problem is that we do not ask. Asking involves making a request for funds around a very compelling case. Churches usually fail to have a very compelling case and then they fail to ask. It is a recipe for failure all the way around.

You say that people are giving, but not to churches?

Charitable giving has been documented as increasing steadily over the last 30 years. However, in the 1980s religion got nearly 55 percent of all charitable gifts. In the 1990s we got 40 percent and today we are barely at 33 percent. There has been a steady decline in people’s willingness to put gifts to religion first. Churches have shown a lack of desire to compete and over time donors are choosing us less.

You say that a donor’s high regard for staff leadership is a key factor in a willingness to give. How so?

The number one rule in fundraising is people give to people and that holds more true for the church today than ever before. When we have extraordinary success with a church it is due first to a very compelling vision and secondly to a great pastor who communicates that vision and is able to enlist persons to be a part of it.

So monies are given to a vision not to the church?

People don’t go to a stadium to look at bleachers and grass. They go because of what is happening on the field. Too many churches are just stadiums and they will not get investor support. When the players on the field are making a difference the people will support the team.

Should people tithe just to their own church?

Americans give only about 2 percent of their yearly income away. We have to remember that Jesus wants 100 percent and not 10 percent so most of us fall short. Our job is to be steward of all that God has given us. I would hope that everyone’s church is worthy of at least 10 percent of our income, but I know that not all churches are good stewards. In those cases we must make faithful decisions on where we feel the Lord would have us put what He has entrusted to us.

Bequests and estate gifts are not going to churches. Is it that churches are not “making the ask”?

That’s it. Most of our laypersons are asked for estate gifts several times a year by non profits, most are never asked by their church. Therefore, they assume that the church does not want or cannot use such a gift. It is a horrible mistake and costs churches billions every year.

What couple of things should a church do to turn around a poor giving pattern?

They should first examine how well they communicate their mission, use their pastor and staff as fundraisers, and are fiscally responsible. Secondly, they need to examine how well they seek gifts from all three pockets of giving (annual, capital, and planned).

What do you mean in saying, “Giving is the closest thing we have on a daily basis to getting a true pattern of a person’s character”?

None of us are gifted to be able to look inside someone’s heart and see what they are truly committed to. I know I cannot. However, when we see what they chose to do with what they value (money), it gives us the best measurable indicator I can find. It is not fool proof, but I have seldom found a person fully committed to Christ who’s giving did not easily reflect it and I have seldom found someone not committed to Christ who was a great giver to the church.

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