By Mark Brooks
“Giving to religion is projected to decline in 2013!”
You’ve probably seen those headlines, or something similar. Several studies are showing that while other sectors of charitable giving are slowly increasing, giving to religion is still lagging behind — and even seeing a continued decline. That’s not the kind of news you want going into your next budget planning session.
For you, the real question is: What does it all mean for me and my church? Here are some thoughts.
What it doesn’t mean for you and your church
That you have an excuse to use rather than looking at your own lack of stewardship planning. I have client churches in some of the hardest-hit economic areas of our nation that continue to see giving remain stable, and even increase. In part, it’s because they work hard to maintain a strong stewardship base. They have a plan, and they work their plan. Are you making excuses or making plans?
That your churches giving must decline. The question isn’t what’s happening to the church near you; the real question is what’s happening at your church. Not every church is facing a decline in giving. Be the exception rather than the rule!
What it does mean for you and your church
Giving isn’t automatic. In the past, churches could count on a high number of tithers and givers to faithfully give year in and year out. Times have changed. You have to earn those dollars! We’re not living in 1960 any longer.
You need to wake up! Most churches either act like there’s not a problem or there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Successful churches don’t have their heads in the sand. They also realize that simply hoping things will get better isn’t a good plan to correct the current direction of giving. Are you awake to the issues confronting your church with regards to stewardship?
You need to rethink your approach. For most churches, if they had a stewardship strategy at all, it was based upon a few stewardship messages telling people they ought to give. Today, you need to show what giving accomplishes and how a gift to your church is used. People will give when they see their gift has meaning.
I still believe people ought to give; I just think we need to look at a fresh approach at getting them there. What’s your approach? And, can you say truthfully that it’s working?
You need to retool. Most churches still rely on one source to generate income: the offering plate. If this is the only platform you have to accept gifts, then giving will continue to decline. Fewer people carry cash or checks with them. The world of commerce has moved to become almost exclusively digital. Successful churches provide multiple means for people to give.
You need to get to work! What’s the best strategy for your church? Frankly, it depends. One thing I can assure you, though, is that if you work at stewardship, you’re much more likely to see your giving increase rather than see it decline. So, get to work!
The Phillips Temple Example
For more than a decade, I’ve helped Phillips Temple — a predominantly African American church in Dayton, OH. Dayton has been one of the hardest-hit areas, economically. Scores of plants have closed in just the last decade.
If you know anything about this economy, you know that the last five years for African Americans have been especially difficult. They’re seeing higher unemployment and a sharper decline in income than other ethnic groups. Sadly, there hasn’t been a lot of hope for them.
Yet, in the midst of this decline, Phillips Temple has seen giving increase! Why? One main reason is because they work at it. If a church in one of the most difficult economic areas of the country can fully fund its mission and ministries, what’s your excuse?
My mantra is, “Reversing the decline in giving, one church at a time!” For you, there’s only one church you need to be concerned about when it comes to this year’s giving — yours. So, how are you doing?
Mark Brooks is founder and president of The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions (www.TheCharisGroup.org).