What do you do when you don’t have enough donors?

For years I heard Rick Warren, the Pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, talk about funding the ministry in the church.

His talk changed my perspective on funding and the church and helped me realize that raising money meant raising ministry.

That’s why most churches talk about money and want to increase giving — not for selfish purposes, but so they can serve more people.

These days, it’s tougher than ever.

People are skeptical of the church, and churches are “competing” with other faith-based and secular charities.

Getting people involved in generosity can feel like a daunting task.

Plus, you may feel like you’ve tried everything — from preaching on money, to casting big vision, to unpacking the “why behind the what.”

If all the tips and tricks don’t seem to be working for you, here are some other practical ideas to help you engage more people in the area of generosity, some of which you may not like.

#1 – Segment, communicate, and appreciate.

Here’s an idea that you can implement immediately, and it costs $0.

Run a report of all your regular givers, and create a segment or a separate communication list.  Your database program should be able to handle this task.

Then start communicating with this segment of people on a monthly basis.

I’m not talking about an email blast to all your members or the entire list.  I’m talking about heartfelt, pastoral, and personal communication with your financial supporters.

Let them know what you’re doing with the money they are donating.  In your email, share two things:

  1. What you’re doing to remain fiscally responsible.  Good stewardship should increase the confidence of your donor base.
  2. What you’re doing to remain corporately generous.  People gave to the mission so make sure you’re connecting the dots.

Send an email like this every month.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, and you don’t need a graphic designer.  Just take the time to let all of your donors know what you’re doing to remain fiscally responsible and corporately on-mission.
Here’s an email you can quickly customize.

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 its 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.

Mark Deymaz wrote a book on this topic.

It’s called The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It.

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, 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.

Here's an article about keystone ministries – with some practical advice on how to identify them.

#5 – Repurpose your finance team.

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.

This shift in focus is one of the five financial shifts leaders need to make.

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.

Download our free resource – The Senior Pastor's Guide to Stewardship, and get a lot of ideas, principles, and inspiration on how to lead your church in the area of stewardship and generosity.