Appreciating your existing donors is absolutely a crucial first step in any generosity initiative.
#2 – Invite people personally.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, I hated preaching on money.
A part of me didn’t feel qualified, and another part of me felt like I was confirming people’s worst fears about the church being too focused on money.
I knew it was important, so I did it anyway.
When giving wasn’t where it needed to be, some of the leaders thought a well-executed, passionate sermon connected to the vision of the church and God’s purposes in the world would do the trick.
There would be a little uptick, but things would quickly go back to normal. The money message was like Advil to a headache – it eased the pain in the moment, but didn’t address the root cause.
In my experience, stewardship sermons were not the silver bullet. Since then, I’ve heard the same from so many other pastors.
Preaching is a part of a healthy approach to stewardship, but just like recruiting leaders, we need to ask people personally. Mass emails, fancy newsletters, pleading Facebook posts, and even passionate sermons might be like yelling into the wind.
Quite simply, there are people in your church who have not given anything because they haven’t been asked personally. They have ignored the announcements and group emails, waiting on the sideline until they are personally called into the game.
Have you had personal conversations with people?
#3 – Look for alternative funding sources.
If you’ve done all you can to encourage people to give and things aren’t still where they need to be, perhaps it’s time to pursue some alternative funding sources.
I asked some of our Church Fuel members to share what has worked for them, and here are some of the answers…
One church listed their facility on spaceishare.com and is already receiving bookings.
Pastor Clark said they got a tiny part of their property rezoned to allow a company to place a snow cone stand. They receive 10% of all sales and get free snow cones at a couple of summer events.
Greg knows of a church that started a print shop.
Several pastors are using their church kitchens as commissary or “ghost kitchen” services.
Ryan says their church bought some mini-storage property and rents it out.
Several churches rent their facilities for weddings and actively pursue those types of opportunities.
He walks through the steps they have taken at their church to pursue alternative funding sources.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll need to check with your state and a tax attorney about potential tax implications for Unrelated Business Income.
#4 – Cut back on what you’re doing.
Most churches are trying to do too many things.
In an attempt to be all things to all people, they are being few things to few people. And the few people remaining are burning out fast.
I warned you that you wouldn’t like all of the suggestions, but if you can’t fund your ministries at the necessary level, perhaps you need fewer ministries to fund.
Robbie Foreman, one of our Ministry Coaches and Pastor of Together Church, says:
“I have struggled for years on cutting back but have been wrestling with this thought for the past few weeks: Am I trying to keep alive what God is trying to put to death?”
If you were to join Church Fuel (free trial here), one of the exercises we would take you through is identifying your Keystone Ministries.
These are the handful of ministries that are the most important – the ones that need the most announcement time, the biggest budget, and the most volunteers. They are the most important in your church and were they to go away, your entire church would suffer or be fundamentally changed.
It's hard to identify these, but it’s harder to orient around them. But it’s something you MUST do.
A wise leader tasked with being a good steward recognizes this and sends resources where they can make the biggest impact.
These are always hard conversations, and you must operate with care. But the key to growth in your church might not be something you start but something you stop.
Most church finance teams are protective by nature, assembled to help track expenses, ensure proper spending, and help set the budget.
And those are certainly important tasks. We need guardrails and guard dogs.
But what if the role of your finance team changed? Or expanded?
What if you added the voice of creators? What if the team added some people with an entrepreneurial spirit and spent some time on revenue creation, not just expense management?
My friend Casey used to say, “you need bean creators, not just bean counters.”
When your finance team meets to review expenses or work on the budget, ask them to spend some time thinking through income-creation as well. Ask them to think through communication, campaigns, recurring giving, financial education, and a host of other things that often result in increased giving. Bring their brainpower to bear on activities that can increase the budget, not just maintain it.
One of the exercises your finance team can work on is the Annual Funding Plan. Just like a budget is a plan on how you plan to SPEND the money, the funding plan describes how you plan to GET the money.
Churches are usually okay at creating spending plans, with decent systems in place to make sure the money is spent properly, with proper approvals, and decent reviews. But spending is just one side of the financial plan.
You actually need a plan to get the money.
Think about this as your other budget. It’s the funding plan to go along with the spending plan.
The funding plan is a month-by-month look at the income side of your budget. If you were a business selling widgets, it would be the sales forecast. If you were in real estate, it would be your rent schedule.
What would happen if we shifted some of the time spent on the budgeting process into time spent discussing funding options?
What would happen if your financial leaders took a posture of facilitating financial growth in addition to the posture of being guardrails to overspending?
What would happen if your finance team was just as intentional about creating a funding plan as they were about creating the budget?
Take a Next Step
As you read this list, maybe you realized that none of these would provide a quick fix to your current predicament.
That’s because there isn’t a quick fix to giving or stewardship.
But you can start taking action today, and those actions could become the catalyst for a new culture of generosity and stewardship in your church.
Chances are, you’ve felt slighted or dismayed when you learned that someone you thought was a lifelong supporter has stopped giving.
When this happens, what do you do? What should your response be?
Here are five suggestions…
#1 – Check on them.
When someone has been giving consistently and then there’s a change, it might be a sign of a life-changing event. This is an opportunity to have a pastoral conversation, not a financial one. This might be the time they need a pastor more than a financial advisor.
#2 – Talk to them.
If there’s a change, it’s okay to talk about it. Be normal and just ask. Ask if there’s a reason or a misunderstanding. Ask out of concern, not out of judgment. This is exactly what you should do if someone stops volunteering.
#3 – Thank them.
When someone stops giving, it’s easy to think about future losses. But make sure they know you’re grateful for everything they have done. Make sure they know everything they have given in the past was appreciated and used to advance the ministry. This type of gratefulness is good for your soul and theirs.
#4 – Pray for them.
This goes hand-in-hand with gratefulness, but you can also pray that God will lead them to give again. Or lead them to another place where they can be generous.
#5 – Look to strategically re-engage them.
Once or twice a year, you might have an opportunity in the church where re-engaging lapsed donors makes sense. Perhaps it’s a year-end campaign or a special project. When these things come around, make sure you have unique communication for your past supporters. There may be a special initiative or endeavor that will pique their interest again.
Two more thoughts….
First, when people stop giving or begin attending another church, it’s not automatically a sign you’re doing something wrong. Don’t let your pastoral value be determined by things like this. Stay faithful and be consistent. I know it’s hard, but talk it out with another pastor you trust or a counselor.
Second, to do all of this, you need to know the numbers. Make sure you have reporting systems in place so you can know if people stop giving. I’ve heard from too many people who said months or years have gone by before the church even knew they stopped. That’s a lost opportunity and a cause for hurt feelings.
What does a financially healthy church look like? While all churches are different and serving in unique contexts, here are some best practices.
Like with all numbers, they are a guide based on general best practices and may need to be adapted for your church.
A common fitness metric would be an inadequate metric for a professional athlete. Denomination, church size, and a host of other factors need to be considered.
Still, these measurements are general benchmarks and are a useful measuring stick for your church financial health.
#1 – At least 6 months of operating expenses in cash reserves.
Whether or not you think the phrase originated with Jack Welch, Dave Ramsey, or Ben Franklin, “cash is king” embodies the belief that cash flow is one of the most important measurements of fiscal health.
Nobody could have predicted COVID, but the churches who had cash reserves were able to make less-reactionary decisions. Not only will money in the bank insulate you from changing conditions, but it could also position you to jump on God-given opportunities when they arise.
#2 – 60% or more of giving is recurring and automated.
There’s a reason your cell phone, mortgage, and utility company work so hard to get you to set up automatic payments. And while your church isn’t a business, selling ordinary goods and services, best practices in this area are a sign of financial health.
Automated giving helps your church smooth out cash flow and helps members normalize their commitment to generosity through your church.
#3 – 25% of attendees regularly giving.
This number will fluctuate based on the type of church, but it’s similar to the Pareto Principle (commonly called the 80/20 rule). Financially healthy churches have a good percentage of their attenders consistently giving.
The number might seem low to you, which is why you’ll need to figure it out for your setting. Churches who are reaching a significant amount of unchurched people would be happy seeing 25% while churches serving long-time Christian members would struggle if the percentage dropped that low. I’d argue if the percentage is much higher, you could be financially healthy but not missionally healthy.
With a healthy percentage of attenders sharing in generosity, your reliance on any one donor decreases. Even a handful of people making up a large percentage of giving could be detrimental when those people move on.
#4 – Payroll does not exceed 50% of overall budget.
Again, this is a number that will fluctuate and vary based on circumstances (we hear you, church planters), but the best practice is to keep your staff expenses to 45-55 percent of the total budget.
If you spend more than this, you might be limited in how you serve your community and do ministry. If you’re under, it might be a sign that you’re not paying your team appropriately.
#5 – A healthy communication plan about money and finances.
Financially healthy churches are usually made up financially healthy members, and this has less to do with bank balance and more to do with being wise with money.
This is why it’s critical you have a healthy approach to talking about money, from weekly giving talks to email updates to donors to biblical preaching on money (which is a broader topic than giving).
We’ve got resources to help you here:
Make Space is a free 4-week sermon series you can use in your church. The download contains message notes, graphic, and promo materials. Download it here.
More Than Money is a workshop you can use to teach your church (and community) about money. Think of it as a one-shot alternative to Financial Peace University. The download comes with presenter information, participant notes, graphics, and all promo materials. Learn more here.
The Giving Course is a premium online course to help you implement financial best practices throughout your church. It includes practical training and done-for-you resources. Learn more here.
As a young pastor, one of my mentors was adamant about the value of never knowing what people give. He often stated that he had no clue about individual giving patterns and no idea what people give. For him, it was a matter of principle. Treat people with the grace and truth required to be a faithful shepherd, and never let money cause you to play favorites. I did (and still do) feel great respect to pastors who distance themselves from such financial data in order to remain objective and consistent in their caregiving.
But my feelings about this matter changed considerably when I became a church planter and lead pastor. I understand how a leader might be tempted to treat people differently based upon their giving, but I also believe that such knowledge can be good and helpful.
In making the case to know what people give, allow me to share the following ten reasons:
#1 – First-hand knowledge helps us in every other area of discipleship.
It would sound silly to say, “I don’t want to know how much that person serves because I might favor them.” We want to celebrate and thank people for serving! Whether we track first and second time attenders, volunteers moving along the various stages of leadership, or givers making their progression of generosity, we can use our awareness of where people are in order to honor, thank, and further develop them. Their needs are different at each point, and we can communicate with them in a helpful and relevant manner if we know where they are.
#2 – Evaluating high-level leaders.
When I’m looking for a high-level leader for an important position on staff or our elder board, I get a sense of their maturity and character from their giving patterns. If they give $20 on a periodic basis while living an upper class lifestyle, they have not yet matured to the point of being intentional in their giving, which is helpful to know as I look for someone to serve as a model for others. As we evaluate other options for leaders, this is just one of the relevant factors to consider.
#3 – Cherishing the widow’s mite.
A recently-widowed woman in our congregation just restarted her household’s automatic giving plan. The gift was considerably smaller than their previous gift, but the amount wasn’t the point. She was using whatever means she had to carry forth her husband’s value of intentional generosity. When I discovered her gift, I found it incredibly touching. It made me want to reach out in order to thank her and honor this meaningful gesture, but also to make sure that she is in a healthy financial position for such giving, and to offer any needed support (which is obviously not conditional upon giving).
#4 – What biblical warnings actually say.
Carrying the Old Testament’s spirit of justice and dignity towards the poor (Leviticus 19:15), the early church cautioned against favoring the wealthy (I Cor 11:22; James 2:1-4), but never against being aware of what people give. In fact, the only circumstance where we see a rich and poor person giving specifically refers to the amounts they give (Lk 21:1-4), as if there is some value in knowing.
#5 – We usually make assumptions.
If there is a risk of favoring the rich in the church—and there is—such behavior may happen whether or not we know what people actually give. When a well-dressed family pulls into the church lot with a decked-out $120,000 Cadillac Escalade, we automatically make assumptions about their status and giving capacity. We may assume that they are extravagant givers, or show them more care and attention than the single mom that drives in with a rusted-out 1980 Dodge Dart. But looks can be deceiving, as some wealthy people either fail to prioritize generosity or find themselves crippled by debt. And some people who appear poor are our most generous givers in terms of their level of commitment and sacrifice. If we can avoid temptations to show favoritism, knowing what people are actually giving helps us discern how to disciple and meet their needs.
#6 – Seek accountability in this area.
Pastors wisely build systems for feedback and accountability in moral areas, seeking feedback from trusted people who hold them accountable. Why not do this in regards to giving? Ask your church and staff to tell you if you ever appear to show favoritism toward wealthy people or neglect those with less resources. State the value of showing all people the dignity afforded in the gospel and welcome input as to how you are doing as a leader and as a church.
#7 – Knowing who and how to thank.
I personally thank all new givers and all new automatic givers, regardless of the amount. But if someone gives $30,000, they should expect that we not treat that donation like a five dollar bill thrown into the offering box. I want them to understand how much we appreciate the gift and what we can do with it. Such givers experience that kind of personal response when they give elsewhere to non-profits, and we open up for future extravagant giving when we acknowledge those who do so in the present. Far from offering special privileges or control in church decisions, such conversations may actually involve challenging the individual. I know a pastor who intentionally dines with wealthy people who visit his church in order to inform them that, if they choose to become a part of his congregation, he would be asking them for a significant financial contribution. In so doing, he replaces favoritism with the invitation to be discipled in their finances.
#8 – Just be intentional.
We’re more likely to favor people who give more or neglect people who give less when we’re impulsive rather than intentional. Do you have an intentional plan to honor all givers as they grow in generosity? Just as we aim to support new members, new believers, and new volunteers with precision and specificity (and throughout the successive stages that follow), we should create a framework for supporting and nurturing people according to where they are on the giving spectrum (pre-giver, first-time, periodic, automatic, percentage, tither, extravagant). This allows your team to simply “work the system” for meeting givers where they are and discipling them, rather than merely responding to large gifts.
#9 – Discern your context.
It isn’t helpful to step into an established church and immediately demand to know what everyone is giving. A previous pastor may have micromanaged, neglected, or mishandled finances, and there may be a long story behind the present systems for how they handle giving information. Simply aim to start conversation about how you can best pastor and lead your people while funding your mission. On the other hand, in a church plant setting, where planters build everything from scratch (including their finances), there is likely a need to understand where revenue is coming from as you build and relate to your team of financial supporters.
#10 – Targeted communication.
When my church wanted to gather our most dedicated donors together to say thank you, we had trouble deciding who to invite. New and periodic givers may feel uncomfortable coming to our home for a meal, while longer term givers (who tend to give more but not always) appreciated the invitation. So we target people who have been regular givers for an extended period. Further, during Covid, we communicated differently with the top 20% of our givers because they fund about 80% of our budget. They had different concerns and questions than those who give less consistently, and we wanted to help them remain steadfast in their giving so that we could sustain our mission. This proved to be crucial, as these individuals were thankful to hear about our needs, updates, and challenges, and most eagerly maintained their giving commitments.
All this being said, I want to affirm that there are certainly risks associated with knowing this information, because pastors are human and can begin to improperly filter their leadership through the lens of this giving information. A pastor who knows what everyone gives must accept a certain level of suspicion from those who are aware of his access to donor information, and his/her treatment of parishioners will likely be subject to elevated scrutiny.
Leaders like my personal mentor seek to avoid these liabilities in their leadership, and I sincerely respect their commitment to biblical character. However, I have found that this sensitive information can be helpful in both discipleship and leadership if used wisely and carefully.
When it comes to generosity, it’s always appropriate and it’s nearly impossible to overdo appreciation.
The people who are financially supporting the mission of your church need to hear “thank you.”
There are at least two categories where appreciation should be intentionally delivered:
First Time Gifts: I’d also put unusual gifts in this category and treat similarly. For example, if someone usually gives $100 every two weeks but makes a $2,000 donation one time.
Consistent Gifts: These people support the ongoing ministry of the church through regular donations. Maybe it’s every two weeks or once a month, but it’s somewhat predictable. This is your donor base.
You should be thanking first-time givers when they give for the very first time and regular givers who are supporting the ministry year-round.
Here are some practical ideas on how you can thank these donors.
#1 – Send a personal note.
When you want to thank a donor for a gift, avoid the formal email or letter.
Handwrite a thank you note, and make it personal.
Put it in an old-fashioned envelope, use an old-fashioned pen to handwrite the address, and use an old-fashioned stamp to send it in the old-fashioned mail.
Handwritten note cards work great because they stand out in the mailbox. They don’t go in the trashcan with the other junk mail, and they don’t go on the desk with the other bills. They are usually opened right away and sometimes kept out for days.
In other words, personal note cards are meaningful.
If you’re creating a giver follow-up process with letters, emails, or automation, consider putting a handwritten, personal thank you note right at the front.
If you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find these ready-to-print thank you cards that you can use to thank donors, volunteers, and those who invite. Just head to the Resource Library and search for “thank you cards.”
The print-ready files can be sent to any printer, online or local. And original files are included if you want to switch out the generic logo for your church logo.
#2 – Send a small gift.
You could include a small gift in the note card or you could do something like this once a year.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a small token of appreciation goes a long way when it comes to donor development.
Here are some ideas…
A good book that was meaningful to you last year. Let people know why it was special and how you think it could encourage them.
You may have heard that 80% of the church budget is funded by 20% of the givers. Or maybe you’ve heard that only 20% of people in your church financially contribute to the budget.
You can check your numbers, but Pareto’s Principle will likely hold true in your church.
Some other fun applications of this principle are:
80% of your time talking on the phone is used on 20% of your contacts.
80% of your music listening is spent listen to 20% of your songs.
You wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.
But we’re talking about generosity and the church, so let’s get back to the subject.
The majority of people connected to your church still have the opportunity to give for the first time. Reaching new donors could also result in additional ministry opportunities. After all, more money leads to more ministry.
What would the impact to the budget be if 10 people started giving? What could 50 new tithers mean for your impact?
These are questions worth asking and I want to share some specific ways you can reach new givers this year. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with a few important principles.
#1 – Giving is a spiritual issue, not just a financial one.
Jesus talked about money a lot – more than heaven and hell. Matthew records one of his most famous statements: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus put finances in the context of spiritual things, not just financial things. That means when someone decides to give for the first time, they are taking a spiritual step, not just a financial one.
#2 – People can’t become regular givers until they become first time givers.
That’s deeper than it sounds.
If your goal is to help people break the cycle of greed in their lives, that’s got to have a starting point. If someone is going to become a tither or radically generous, they will probably start with a one-time donation.
As you focus on helping people take their first steps toward generosity, you’re helping set a direction for their life that can have generational impact.
#3 – Generosity is a trigger for spiritual action.
People who give start to care about the church at an entirely different level.
They start wondering about their investment and start getting involved. They get in small groups. They start giving their time. They go on mission trips. It’s an amazing thing.
It’s as if generosity with money is the starting block for generosity in life.
5 STEPS TO REACH NEW GIVERS IN 90 DAYS
If you’re convinced this should be a point of emphasis in your church in this next season, I want to give you a step-by-step plan for how to reach new givers. Think of this as a 90-day plan.
Step 1: Set a goal and create a visible way to track it.
This won't happen by accident in your church any more than a farmer is going to accidentally harvest a crop of pumpkins.
If you want to reach some new givers, you’ve got to make decisions. So head to the whiteboard or open up a new document and write something like this:
By ___________, we will receive contribution from _________ new givers.
You’ve got to own this goal. Which means some things may need to come off your calendar or disappear from your plate for a while. You can come back to them later, but for now, you’ve got to focus on this.
Step 2: Introduce a new way to give.
When you introduce a brand new way to give, you tend to reach new givers.
We worked with a church to help them launch a giving kiosk on an iPad. When they did this, they had a bunch of first time donations because people wanted to try it out. There’s a powerful principle here…new attracts new.
Maybe the new way could be mobile giving.
Or maybe it’s crypto. You may not be interested, but there might be someone in your church who is.
Maybe it’s planned giving or asset-based giving. CharityVest is a very cool solution here.
Or maybe you’ve got all the technology covered and need old school envelopes.
Think of a new way that people can financially support your church, add it to the mix, and let everyone know.
Step 3: Give people the opportunity to give to a short-term cause.
Another great way to reach new givers is to highlight a cause.
This works because people who might be loosely connected to your church, but haven’t built trust yet can see the importance of a cause, especially if it’s local.
Is there a community project you can support?
Is there a specific need with a specific expense that you can encourage people to meet?
Is there something you could pull OUT of the budget and lift up as a specific cause, particularly with the goal of engaging those who don’t normally give?
Whenever you have a short-term time frame, you encourage people to take action now. Deadlines drive decisions.
Every year, my church in Atlanta holds a generosity campaign called “Be Rich.” It’s inspired by Paul’s challenge to Timothy to be rich in generosity towards other people.
My pastor asks everyone to give $39.95 to the cause. And 100% of the money goes to local, national, and worldwide causes. The church is simply the “pass through” for all of the funds. It’s short-term. It’s specific. It engages tons of first-time donors who want to be a part of something good.
This happens every year, and it’s one of the churches favorite things. Yes, a generosity campaign is at the top of people’s list.
Step 4: Speak directly to those who haven’t donated anything.
Remember, the biggest group of people in your church haven’t donated anything, so we’ve found it helpful just to talk to this group directly.
Not with guilt or anger, but just honestly.
Focusing one of your giving talks on this is a great way to do it. You might talk about the specific cause and say something like, “Now if you’ve never given to Cross Church, this is a great time to test the waters. All of the money you give will go to this cause.”
You could also send an email to everyone who hasn’t donated in the last 12 months. This is called “segmentation” and it’s a great way to communicate. Just like you should communicate directly to your donors, you can communicate in a different way to those who aren’t yet donors.
Again, don’t use guilt. Your goal isn’t to make them feel bad. But done correctly, asking people to take their first step can be very effective.
By the way, this is also the approach we recommend when you preach to your church about money. Money messages should be more than giving messages. And giving messages don’t just need to be aimed at super-Christians.
If you’re looking for a free money message series that will help you walk this line, check out Make Space. It’s free.
Step 5: Engage your entire church.
Reaching new givers is a win for the whole church, not just the finance team. It means more people taking steps of faith.
And many of these people will be children and teenagers.
So make sure all of your communication and all of your initiative in this area extends to all the programs and ministries in your church.
Make it a church-wide effort.
If you do a giving challenge, do it in your student ministry service as well. If you create a cause, think of a way you can have your children’s ministry participate. You might even challenge adults with how children and students are participating and encourage adults to do the same.
Putting it in Practice
You can do all of this in a 30, 60, or 90-day window in your church.
You could involve staff, volunteers, and finance team leaders, getting everyone more aligned in the process.
You could engage new first time givers, helping them take important first steps toward generosity and following Jesus.
In short, a little bit of focus could lead to great strides in your church.
If you want to read more about stewardship, generosity, and money in the church, visit this page. It’s got a collection of our best articles and a free, on-demand training that will help you take more steps.