Better Churches, Better Lives, Better World
Better Churches, Better Lives, Better World
By Steve Oelschlager
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 21, No. 3 in 2019. You can access the full issue here.
If we in the church trust that following Jesus is beneficial, we will want to emphasize Jesus’s teachings more often than just a few weeks a year. Likewise, if we believe stewardship ministry is a pathway to better lives and a better world, we will make helping people to grow as stewards a year-round effort.
Stewardship at its best is not about transactions—what we want to receive from people so that we might resource our congregation’s budget. Instead, stewardship is about a way of life that has something to offer those who engage in its ideas and practice its behaviors. Stewardship is about the intersection between my story, our story, and God’s story that reinforces our understanding of what makes life worth living. When our congregations have remarkable, impactful, transformational ministries that model hospitality and generosity, hopefully, people also will be inspired to see their congregations as worthy recipients of their resources.
Here are some congregational best practices for stewardship ministry organized into four action-oriented categories: teach, inspire, challenge, and affirm.
Our North American culture effectively conditions people to be consumers, so all of us need to be reoriented as stewards and disciples of Jesus. This re-formation should help us recognize the relevancy of faith and religion, and what problems each exists to solve, not only for others but also for ourselves. People should be taught to see what God is doing in creation from the Big Bang to the present, and how each of us has a role in God’s kingdom project.
People can be invited to participate in leadership training that proposes all people can behave as leaders even without a position of authority or a fancy title. Leadership, vocation, stewardship, and discipleship can be linked together to highlight the big picture of what following Jesus is all about.
Personal finance courses or personal financial coaching can be offered to help people build healthier habits around money and generosity. With 70% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, and financial distress being the number one cause of divorce, these are practical strategies for the church to help people experience financial wellbeing.
While teaching appeals to our intellects, inspiration speaks to our emotional, spiritual, and relational selves. All of us need to be stirred up through the power of stories and testimonials. One type of stories to cultivate and share is about the positive impact on people who are beneficiaries of the mission and ministries of your congregation and its members. A different kind of story to share is how benefactors are themselves blessed by being a blessing to others.
Invite people to see that God has created them on purpose with a purpose to make a difference, to be co-creators with God of a new and better reality. Our call is not just about ushering and teaching Sunday school, but so much more. Our purpose is not only evident in incremental improvement in the world’s most pressing problems, but also in all the ways we can make the world better through our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and congregations.
Find ways for your congregation to model generosity, service, and mission, internally and externally. Include the cost of coffee-hour supplies in your budget so you don’t need to ask people to pay up for their cup of coffee. Put out relevant books for people to read and use as part of your congregation’s faith formation resources. Make a difference through ministries that affect the local community, and beyond. Support the work of the larger church and share stories of how that larger ecology is affected by the support of your congregation.
Ask people to commit, to give regularly, to participate, to lead, to make a difference wherever they go. Provide different kinds of opportunities to practice giving, from one- time to recurring, from small to large. Encourage people to think about current gifts, as well as future contributions as part of an estate plan.
Offer online giving tools that make it easy to automate giving, including from a smartphone. Allow people to use credit cards to make donations, but provide an option for them to help cover the cost of processing fees.
Regularly thank people for all their efforts of participation, leadership, and financial support, not just in the context of your congregation, but all the ways they make a difference. Generate giving statements three or four times a year. Honor those that serve in various ways in the community. Send out thank you notes to reinforce generous behavior. A year- round stewardship program could be as simple as noticing all the ways people could be thanked, and then reaching out to do so with gratitude.
Ultimately stewardship is a way of life meant to enhance life, starting with the giver and radiating outward. With that in mind, look for more ways to teach, inspire, challenge, and affirm those in your congregation throughout the year.
Steve Oelschlager is stewardship program coordinator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and director of engagement and generosity at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Libertyville, Illinois.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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