When pastors and church leaders approach the subject of stewardship, they often do so from one of two perspectives.
There are churches who rarely talk about money. It may be because they fear the repercussions. Or they claim that God will provide without any action steps. But either way, money is taboo. It’s a subject to be avoided.
On the other hand, there are churches who talk about money all the time, often using guilt to motivate people to give. Heavy handed tactics become powerful weapons in the name of making the bottom line.
In the middle of either of these approaches are the people in the pews.
Maybe you wonder…
- Are people turned off and turned away when the church talks about money?
- Is it true millennials are no longer giving to churches and religious organizations?
- Can you get an older congregation to embrace new giving technology?
These questions, and a lot more, are hot topics among church leaders who wrestle with the principles of Biblical generosity and practical church leadership.
Raising money in the church is a complicated issue, but it’s not an issue to avoid.
In this article, I want to talk about seven stewardship principles, while encouraging you to take practical action steps to lead your church to generosity.
Rule #1: It’s okay to ask people for money.
One of the big reasons pastors avoid the subject of money isn’t a bad reason at all. It stems from caring for people and not wanting them to step away from the church, thinking it’s all about money.
This is actually a good tension to embrace.
But most people are not surprised to learn operating a church takes money. And they are not offended by being asked to participate in something important.
It’s HOW we ask that matters.
If you want people to give, you have to ask people to give.
Not with guilt. Or with a heavy hand.
But with clarity.
Too many times in churches, we make people aware there is an offering. But we don’t clearly ask them to participate at some level.
In this way, awareness becomes the enemy of action.
Awareness: “We’re about to receive an offering.”
Action: “We’re going to pass the offering and I would like to invite you to participate.”
If God has called you to lead a church and if your church is doing eternally significant work, you don’t have to apologize for talking about money or asking people to fund the vision.
You can actually talk about money quite regularly without overdoing it. It might look like something like this.
- Once a week – Take 60 seconds right before the offering and share a quick story or connect the dots for people. You don’t have to preach an entire sermon or make the whole day about it to properly highlight generosity. Our friends at Fully Funded have a comprehensive stewardship program that includes 52 giving scripts.
- Once a quarter – Preach a sermon on money, or at least devote a significant amount of time during a sermon to the topic.
- Once a year– Take a few weeks to talk about whole-life stewardship. Giving is certainly a part of this, but so is saving, spending, debt, volunteering, leadership, time and many other topics related to being a wise steward of resources.
Why is it important to clearly ask people to give? Because stewardship is a part of the discipleship process. Jesus said our hearts and our treasure were connected. They influence each other.
Why are we asking? Because stewardship is a part of discipleship. Heart and money connected.
Rule #2: Leaders must go first.
When it comes to generosity, leaders go first.
Really, this is a much bigger principle and it applies to much more than generosity. The bottom line is that leaders set the tone for the rest of the church. I’m talking about the pastors, staff, elders, deacons, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers and key volunteers.
If people in official or unofficial leadership roles are not living generously and supporting the church at a high level, the rest of the church will not pick up the slack.
This is why pastors in debt struggle to lead a congregation to financial freedom. We’ve got to get our own financial house in order first.
If you’re leading in a church, your mindset is of the utmost importance. If you’re leading the church with a scarcity mindset or a broke mindset, you’re going to struggle. This mindset has very little to do with a bank balance and everything to do with our perspective.
Our own mindset might be the biggest growth barrier we are facing.
If you church needs a financial reset, you may not need a capital campaign or a big, public emphasis. It might be smart to start with the leaders and slowly work to change the culture.
Talk to your leaders before you talk to your church.
Rule #3: Pastors need to know the numbers.
When I was pastoring a young and growing church, I (wrongly and stupidly) took pride in not knowing the details of our financial situation. I delegated (aka abdicated) that responsibility and even went so far as to spiritualize it.
I’m not suggesting every pastor needs to be an Excel-loving QuickBooks wizard.
But like a good shepherd knows the condition of the flock, a good leader knows the financial condition of the church. Knowing, and understanding the numbers, is worth your time.
Here are some financial numbers I believe every pastor should know, study and understand:
- The total amount given compared to the same time last year and compared to budget needs.
- The percentage of the offering given digitally. I’ll share more on this later, but this is a big opportunity worthy of focus.
- The percentage of the offering given on a recurring basis. Did you know someone who gives to their church using a recurring method (whether it’s an ACH, online bill payment or using a third-party service like Hopeware) typically gives three times more than someone who gives using cash or check?
- The per capita giving or per person giving, and the trend of that number over time.
- The total number of giving units on any given week and the comparison of that number to relevant time periods.
As you read through this list, your eyes may gloss over and your level of care may dramatically decrease. But it’s worth the energy to get this set up and have this information come to you on a regular basis.
It’s not a sign of spiritual maturity to stay out of the finances.
By the way, there are other numbers, not just financial ones, you should look at on a regular basis.
Rule #4: Your church needs a funding plan not just a spending plan.
One of the most organized processes in many churches is the budget creation process. It could be that in September or October, a finance team springs into action. They look at spending, ministry requisitions and forecasts and work hard to create a budget. In some churches, this document is prepared with the input of dozens of people and voted on by a committee or the congregation. Sometimes, it’s publicly shared and debated. In the end, it’s voted on and implemented for January 1.
The budget process may not be everyone’s favorite time, but it’s a process that has a history.
But let me ask you a question….
There is a lot of discussion about how we’re going to spend the money wisely…how much time are we taking to talk about where the money is going to come from in the first place? It’s great that we work so hard to create a SPENDING plan, but is anyone going to work to create a FUNDING plan?
This is a huge opportunity for most churches. It’s a huge opportunity to help the finance team grow, from simply protecting expenses to helping increase the generosity capacity of the congregation.
If you don’t have a funding plan, every bad offering will feel like an emergency.
Without a strong financial plan, you’ll simply try to preach harder on the topic of money, even though that’s a temporary fix.
Remember, your financial plan does not negate the need for the Holy Spirit.
Plans aren’t for God’s benefit; they are for ours. God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants.
But good plans will help you lead your congregation.
Rule #5: Help people with 100% before you ask for 10%.
I’ve heard pastors say this…
- We’re really reaching the lost and those who are far from God…they aren’t ready to give or tithe yet. And that’s why we struggle financially.
- We’re not in a very wealthy area and our people don’t have a lot of resources. We’re blue collar, rural, in an area hard-hit by fill-in-the blank, and that’s why we struggle financially.
There are many variations of this statement, and you know what–it’s all true.
Those are real limits.
But a leader with a growth mindset never looks at limits as excuses. That’s the stuck mindset.
Instead, great leaders embrace these limits and lead anyway.
Despite your church size, zip code or past history, God has given you something to lead. You’re called to be a great steward of that influence. There are resources in your church.
So instead of resigning yourself to the fact that your people can’t give for one reason or another, take the long-term view. Start asking a different set of questions.
- How can we help people get out of debt?
- How can we help people with budgeting, saving, and personal finances?
- How can we help people start businesses?
- How can our church get involved in the economy of our city?
- How can we help people with non-cash giving?
- How can we help people turn their time into money?
Telling people to give 10% without equipping them to manage the other 90% just won’t work. But this is no short-term effort. It will take a long time, but you can help people in your church and in your city with money.
So, in order to move the needle, take a long term view.
Rule #6: Take intentional steps to encourage people to give online.
Did you know that gifts that come to churches online or through digital means tend to be larger than gifts that come in the form or cash or checks?
Did you know the younger the person, the more likely they will ONLY give when presented with digital options?
Did you know recurring, automated contributions can significantly mitigate the risk from weather-related cancellations?
There’s a whole lot that goes into a healthy stewardship system, but if there was a secret sauce, the closest thing to it would be emphasizing recurring giving.
Getting this fully functional, and then emphasizing it using all communications tools on a regular basis, is worth your time.
It’s worth the transaction fees.
It’s worth figuring out the technology.
It’s worth the announcements.
I would not force people go give this way, and if you have adults who feel part of their act of worship is putting something in the plate, I would go out of my way to affirm that. But I would offer and emphasize digital giving and show your church why it’s better for your church.
There are lots of solutions that make this easy. Here’s one that combines online giving, recurring giving, mobile giving and text giving with no monthly fees.
Rule #7: It’s nearly impossible to say “Thank You” too much.
Dan Glaze from the National Christian Foundation says the six most important words in fundraising are “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
So even though you may have a thankful spirit, it’s really important to go out of your way to thank your donors.
Chances are, they don’t feel appreciated enough.
And it’s nearly impossible to overdo it.
Here are some practical ways to you can take action on thanking your donors.
- When someone gives for the very first time, send a thank you note and then start the new donor on an automated email sequence introducing them to the church, letting them know where the money goes and sharing success stories.
- Turn every financial update into a thank you moment. Stats may inform but stories will inspire.
- Send a quarterly email update to all of your donors and share information. Remember, information is a form of appreciation. The people funding the ministry of the church should know a little more details about the ministry.
Put thank you moments on your calendar so it doesn’t become one of those “I’ll get to that one day” things.