Few preachers look forward to the opportunity to ask the church for money. We don’t look forward to having our motives questioned, people getting irritable, or doing the “talk of shame” to encourage the church to give to meet budget. If that’s what we think happens in the process of asking the church for money, all of those things will happen – and they should. There is no vision or spirituality behind “the ask,” and the asker lacks personal conviction that encourages people to give.
I had the blessing of sitting with a world-class fundraiser on a plane flight from Houston to Burbank many years ago. He was responsible for raising hundreds of millions of dollars a year for a university. I was just starting out in ministry and realized I was going to be held largely responsible for cultivating the giving life of the church. So, I asked him if he had any tips for me. He said he always thought “raising money” (there’s obviously more to it than that in the church context) was easy. He said, all you must have is a worthy cause and a worthy asker. He said you must have one or the other for anyone to give. If you have both, “raising money” is a rather simple process because you’re asking people to do something they already want to do. You are asking them to participate in something truly worthwhile with someone or some institution they love and/or respect.
I can’t tell you how helpful that’s been to me over the years. It simplified the process for me and forced me to ask, rigorously, whether I had the two things: a worthy cause and if I was a worthy asker. I’ve tweaked his formula just a hair over the years, and I think he’ll like it; I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him. I’ve changed worthy “cause” to worthy “causes,” making room for spiritual growth through the process of giving. Meaning, the givers own spiritual growth through their giving is a cause unto itself.
The WCWA (worthy causes, worthy asker) formula keeps me from asking for money to meet budget. Of course we have to meet it, but the budget is an inanimate object. Pull it apart. Personify it. Show them how life change happens through the budget. If you can’t, your budget needs to be overhauled. If you’re going into a capital campaign and the projects that comprise it don’t have true, spiritual rooting, don’t do it. You don’t have a worthy cause. Show the church how doing these projects will lead to genuine life change over time. Life change is a worthy cause–not the budget. Make sure you don’t just say it will change lives. Tell them exactly how lives will be changed–including, potentially, their own.
I believe the worthy asker part of the equation is even more important by a 55/45 margin. When we ask for money, we are asking people to part with something that has true spiritual power in their life. Jesus said so. They’ve also worked hard for it in a culture that handles their money poorly. A worthy asker is someone who possesses strong personal integrity, believes whole-heartedly in the cause, and is willing to demonstrate that by sacrificing personally at least to the level the giver is being asked to – probably more. Relationship to the people matters as well. So does competency.
A worthy cause.
A worthy asker.
What’s God’s role in all of this? From conception of the vision to abiding in the asker to spurring God’s people to be generous, God is over all and through all and in all of it. If it works, He did that too. So don’t forget to thank Him.
Even if you have a worthy cause and asker, expect the spiritually immature to squirm and get bitter anyway. Ignore that. Pastor them through it if you have the ability. But, believe in what God wants to do wholeheartedly, be willing to sacrifice for it and call others to do the same. This will grow your faith, their faith, and get tons of Kingdom work done.
A worthy cause and a worthy asker trusting in God to advance His agenda. That’s what it’s about, not the budget.
Dr. Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book “Jesus, the Powerful Servant.”