By John B. Savage
Some churches don’t have a clear vision and others don’t teach biblical stewardship.
Steve Walker, pastor of Canyon Hills Community Church in Bothell, WA, walked up to the pulpit one Sunday and announced that the church wouldn’t be taking an offering.
“All our needs are met,” he said. “You all know the blessing of giving. God will give you direction so that whatever you planned to give today can be given to someone else in need.”
While this isn’t always the opening message every Sunday, the revenue needed to fund the $4.8 million budget for the 2,600-strong church often had been more than sufficient. In the past three years, Canyon Hills has experienced per capita giving of more than three times the national average, double-digit growth and record giving.
Why churches are doing well
How are large and growing churches raising the income they need to keep pace with the needs of their members and communities? And, why do some fall short and trend further away from their historical high-revenue points? As George Barna referenced in his book, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money For Your Church or Ministry, many pastors still ask, “Is there really enough money available today to complete the tasks given to us in Scripture?”
According to Kregg Hood of AG Financial, there is a pattern that correlates to churches that experience good giving results. “Actually, we are seeing numerous churches doing well in the current recession,” he says.
Hood notes five distinct characteristics of these churches: “In every case, the leadership is solidly pro-generosity, and the pastor is leading the charge. There is a proper blend of faith in God to provide, and frequent but not an overly abundant biblical teaching about finances (tithing, getting out of debt.) There is also an emphasis on practical discipleship and creative marketing. Yes, communication does matter.”
Why churches fall short
In my work with churches over the years, I have found common denominators in congregations that fall short of their giving revenue:
Church members can’t identify what their church is about. Revenue is strong where the members can specifically articulate the unique characteristics of their church. If members cannot describe what it means to belong to their church, they are disconnected and less inclined to give.
The church has no clear vision. People will give and invest if they understand where you are taking them and they resonate with that value and experience. When people can clearly identify with the church’s mission and vision, they are quick to become supporters.
The pastor was not taught biblical stewardship, and so it isn’t taught to the flock. Again, in Barna’s How to Increase Giving in Your Church, he explains that as he “ … studied the best fund-raising churches in the nation, it was obvious that the practical, no-holds barred preaching and teaching of the biblical principles of stewardship, and relentlessly holding the Body of believers accountable to those truths in appropriate ways, were cherished distinctives of these families of Christians devoted to growing … ”
For Canyon Hills’ Walker, it’s just part of the church’s DNA. “We’ve always been really committed to teaching stewardship regularly throughout the year. People who love to give, love to hear sermons and messages on giving. People who are generous know the tremendous blessing of giving, and want to do more. For people who don’t give, we don’t mind upsetting them. We want them to rethink why they are fearful of trusting God with their finances. We simply try to confront that confusion and unbiblical way of thinking. If we convert a few more each year, that’s our goal. We’re going after their heart, and where their treasure is, is where their heart is.”
It’s amazing that some churches do not teach about stewardship or giving, nor do they even take an offering, and somehow they expect that people know what to do.
Members who are earning far below their potential are left to fend for themselves. In his book, Generous Living, Ron Blue references “financial problems” as the second of seven inhibitors to giving (the first being the spiritual foundation and knowledge of the believer). If the church is intent on discipleship, it seems appropriate that churches equip their members to be free of debt and discover their income potential. Financial management and career coaching are key to helping church members steward their talents and resources.
The focus of the church continues to be that of making disciples, but that is not something that a church does “to” its people, but rather “with” its people. The more engaged and stewardship-equipped congregants are, the stronger the financial picture.
John Savage is a partner in OneAccord Partners, Bellevue, WA. www.OneAccordPartenrs.com/NFP