Annual Stewardship Emphasis
By Keith A. Mundy
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 19 in 2017. You can access the full issue here.
It was the fall of 1978. My wife and I started attending services at a new start in Maple Grove, Minnesota. It was their second week. By mid November, the pastor asked who would like to serve on a stewardship committee. The list of volunteers was not very long. I stepped forward because I had some previous experience. One of the first questions asked of the pastor was, “Why do we need to start this now?” His answers were very clear.
First, stewardship is about recognizing that all we have belongs to God. Whatever we have during our lifetime is us, individually and collectively, to do God’s work. An simply entrusted to us for the journey. Everything belongs to God.
Second, the spiritual discipline of giving is an important discipleship practice, just like worship, prayer, and service. There are two important aspects of this discipline: take time once a year to reflect on and appreciate how God has blessed you, and determine how your household will regularly practice giving.
Third, having an emphasis on what it means to be a steward helps us to grow better stewards in our home, church, and community. Stewardship is not about paying the bills. It is about using the gifts God has entrusted to emphasis each year helps teach us about what it means to be stewards of God’s varied grace.
Fourth, an emphasis on stewardship provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of money in our lives. One of the ways people in a church can respond to this emphasis is by making a financial commitment. This is both an example of living out the spiritual discipline of giving and an opportunity to share in God’s generosity. We can share a portion or percentage of what God has given us with others in and through our church. For many households this means taking time to make a budget and to be intentional about where and how the dollars entrusted to them are used. The skill of budgeting teaches us how to make commitments with our money and to be held accountable. These traits transfer easily to other aspects of our life, including how we are generous with time and talents.
These four points helped provide a foundation for a newly forming congregation. Within nine months this faith community, Lord of Life in Maple Grove, became an official congregation. Today, this congregation is considered a thriving congregation.
The four points above have stuck with me for more than thirty years, especially as I have worked with congregations across the church. When I’m talking with a pastor or meeting with leaders in a congregation, one of my early questions is about the content and outcomes of their stewardship emphasis the previous year. My focus is on three areas: What principles or perspectives are you teaching? How do you invite people to grow in their practice of giving? What skills did you provide to help households grow? For many leaders the answers to these questions do not come easy. However, the conversation helps to shape the direction of the emphasis in the coming year.
Within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) there are over 9,500 worshipping communities. At this time we estimate 66 percent have some form of stewardship emphasis each year. This is about 10 percent higher than a decade earlier. Our experience shows that congregations asking members to make a financial commitment see a higher level of generosity, both financially and in other ways. The amount of this increase often depends on how the ask or invitation is made.
It is helpful to know that a cold ask is not very effective. You may ask, what is a cold ask? The best example I heard from a congregation was when the ushers surveyed the pews one fall morning and noticed they were pretty full. After a brief discussion, they began looking through the drawers of supplies to see if there were any commitment cards left from last year. Their conversation concluded, “We might as well ask them while they are here.” What kind of response do you think was received?
It is more helpful to know that a relational ask can be more effective. This involves six steps:
- Thank people for what they are already doing—the giving of their time, talents, and resources.
- Inform people about where their giving is going, both inside and beyond the walls. A missional spending plan or narrative budget is a helpful complement to a line item budget.
- Teach people what you want them to know about reasons to give. Yes, use scripture. Also provide tools so principles can be learned at home.
- Inspire people with stories about why people give and how their giving is making a difference in the life of others.
- Tie together how giving to the congregation is also a way to give to the larger body of Christ and how we can accomplish more together than alone. If this groundwork is laid in the weeks prior, then the last step can be more effective.
- Make the ask.
Some may ask what the results look like. Again, generosity has many expressions in the lives of people and in a congregation. One is how households decide to share a portion of the dollars entrusted to them with their congregation. Within the ELCA we have seen average giving increases of more than16 percent in one year with use of the New Consecration Sunday Program by Herb Miller. We have seen giving increases of more than 25 percent in congregations who have not historically asked for commitments and are inspired by a new pastor. We have seen congregations increase giving by 300 percent over a six-year period when a regular, effective annual response is combined with a year-round stewardship plan. These examples are some of the most positive.
As you consider where your congregation is today and where you want to be with stewardship and generosity in the future, I suggest you identify the three or four key teachings you would like everyone to know and practice. Each year assess the impact of your efforts from the previous year, and determine what outcomes you would like to see in the year ahead. And think about how elements of the relational ask can be shared throughout the year. May God bless you generously as you steward this ministry in your church!
At the time of this article, Keith A. Mundy served as Program Director for Stewardship Ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at email@example.com.
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