When the end of the year rolls around, everyone in the church world knows what to expect.

Send the giving statements.

Draft up the annual report.

Cast a big vision for the upcoming year.

We’re so used to the year-end activities, they’ve almost become routine.

But 2020 hasn’t been a routine year. And for all that the church has had to change this year, I want to encourage you to make one more change. Transform the way your church does some of your typical year-end activities.

The usual way won’t cut it this year.

It doesn’t serve anyone to pretend that 2020 hasn’t been financially, spiritually, and emotionally damaging for many people with losses of income, time in corporate worship, and feelings of hope and normalcy.

As churches seek to move forward and bounce back from the lockdowns, the stakes feel higher. Making a few small-scale but impactful changes in the year-end efforts can make a huge impact for church leaders who are hoping to revitalize both finances and spirits.

#1 – Reporting

Many churches begin their vision casting for the new year and remind the congregation of their mission through the annual report.

This year’s annual report is a powerful venue to show people what hasn’t changed in 2020. Play that up majorly and don’t skimp on the details. 

The way the Church shifted gears and continued to do ministry earlier this year was incredibly moving. Use the annual report to emphasize how you found ways to still serve your community, baptize people, bring in new members, etc.

Annual reporting should do two things: share numbers and tell stories.

When churches present annual reports during in-person services traditionally, many churches choose to have multiple people present and report on their ministry area. This can still happen in 2020. You don’t have to resort to sending out a PDF—this is the time to cheerfully share what God has done in your church this year and inspire people to participate.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to creatively engage people through the annual report virtually. You can break the annual report sections up into smaller chunks for social media.

Leverage the power of photos and videos, which helps the “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) people digest the details. Ask ministry leaders to record short highlight videos.

Not sure which numbers to track? Check out this article on the top ten numbers churches should track.

#2 – Fundraising

Churches tend to get a year-end financial bump since 31% of charitable giving happens in December.

But this year, there are likely many churches relying on year-end generosity to close the major financial gaps that occurred during the lockdowns. Early on in the pandemic, research showed that more than half of pastors reported that giving had decreased and 30% of those pastors said giving had decreased by at least 50%.

Make a few intentional adjustments to make your church’s year-end fundraising efforts more compelling and effective.

  • Make it multichannel. Too many year-end fundraisers tend to get a lot of in-service attention but are never mentioned anywhere else. Your church website is likely getting more traction than ever—why not focus it primarily on fundraising in December? Give your year-end campaign a prominent space on the homepage. And don’t forget that social media, email, and traditional snail mail are all other huge opportunities to give year-end fundraising a big push outside of weekend services.
  • Make it easy. We say this all the time at Church Fuel: evaluate your processes and make sure they’re as simple as possible for people. The easier you make it to give, serve, join a small group, etc., the more likely people are to participate. Most online giving platforms have a text-to-give option and services like Text in Church make it easy to send text messages to remind people about the year-end fundraiser.
  • Dedicate a special day (or join in on an existing one like #GivingTuesday, when people gave $3.6 billion online to non-profit organizations last year). A specific ask for a specific fundraising effort on a specific day gives people the details they need and prompts them to get in on a big, special day of giving alongside their church family.
  • Encourage non-traditional measures for a non-traditional year. People cleared out their closets and garages during quarantine so much that some Goodwill stores asked them to stop. Others reworked their financial assets and some discovered valuables that they plan to give away. Remind people that they can give non-cash assets to the church too, such as stocks, real estate, and vehicles.
  • Go to your most engaged people. While it’s important to also inspire those who don’t usually give or serve, it’s even more effective to reach out to the most engaged segments of your congregation. Nonprofit volunteers have been shown to donate at twice the rate of those who don’t volunteer. And it makes sense—those who have already “bought-in” to the church’s mission and vision and shown their commitment through their generosity in finances and service are likely to be the most motivated to help meet year-end goals.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, check out the Comeback Offering resource that’s included in the Rebound course. It provides everything you need to do a special offering (even scripts and graphics).

#3 – Vision Casting

Church leaders use the phrase “casting vision” a lot. But what does it mean to cast a vision? It doesn’t mean to be preoccupied with numbers and ignore God’s direction. It’s simply setting a strategic vision for ministry, including goals and objectives, that serves God and the church’s overall mission.

This year, transform your vision casting for the new year by expanding it.

Include your staff. Cast a vision that gives staff and volunteers clarity on their goals for next year and excited about their roles. This helps to improve morale and give some of the church’s most important “players” specific parts to play.

  • How can church leaders work with ministry leaders and volunteers to cast a new vision for each ministry area?
  • Did the pandemic expose any strengths or weaknesses in ministry areas that the church needed more emphasis or a new strategy?
  • Which of next year’s church events and initiatives can help move toward the vision?

Set ambitious goals. Don’t hesitate to enthusiastically share what you want the church to look like in 2021 even though this year didn’t turn out the way any of us expected.

  • How were you inspired by the church’s response to the pandemic?
  • What do you want to carry over into the new year and what do you want to stop?
  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid that the new year will be “unprecedented” too?

This doesn’t mean throwing all caution to the wind. It means putting aside fear and putting faith in a limitless God.

Don’t leave anything out. Does your church send out a year-end letter? This year, let honesty and transparency mark your tone.

Remember to mention the new vision and goals and tell people how they can help. Be honest about budget concerns. Thank everyone who gave, served, and attended in 2020 while also encouraging people to donate toward and participate in the future.

Your year-end communications are an incredible opportunity to inspire people to share in the 2021 vision and sign up to be a part of it.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, a Donor Update Email Template is one of the hundreds of documents available in the Resource Library.

#4 – Budgeting

While year-end fundraising and generosity can help churches finish the year financially stronger, it’s important to plan next year’s budget with a few things in mind.

  • Budget for new staff roles and expenses. The “new normal” for many churches will still include extra safety and sanitation measures which, of course, require extra money.
  • Budget based on this year’s reality. It’s fine to include space for a hopeful return to normal numbers but church financial experts have said that they don’t expect giving to bounce back until maybe Easter 2021. Don’t budget based on last year’s numbers.
  • Budget to fill the gaps that 2020 created. Plan for new income and not just expenses. There are multiple training videos and resources in the Rebound course that go into detail on how to do this.

Based on numbers reported from many churches, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that giving won’t return to normal for a while. Don’t plan in fear, but don’t plan the same way.

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