By Melvin Amerson
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 20 in 2018. You can access the full issue here.
During the year, these questions arise: Are there any new annual stewardship campaign programs out there?” and, “Do you have ideas on how to get members to give more?” The typical follow- up statements are “Our members are all on fixed incomes,” and “They are giving all they can.” These are code words for “I am not comfortable/do not like leading money- or generosity-related conversations in the church.” God did not give us a spirit of timidity, so this sensitive integral part of discipleship must be addressed, taught, and lived out based on biblical principles and best stewardship practices. This undertaking must be done courageously!
In order to live courageously, a mindset of God’s abundance and generosity must be present. Sadly, money has become a topic of most resistance in our culture. Yet there are some 2,300 verses in the Bible that refer to money and possessions. To live courageously, one must be willing to live counterculturally while being intentional in living, teaching, and leading believers to become rich in good works, and generously share with others as we read in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Bold and courageous leaders share stewardship practices and offer creative and ongoing responses to God’s generosity. Congregations that develop cultures of generosity inspire courageous living and incorporate annual and year-round generosity practices that reinforce faithful, fruitful giving and engagement in ongoing good works.
A year-round approach to generosity is essential to growing congregations of faithful, generous disciples. Here are a few stewardship ideas that are considered best practices and are included in most effective year-round generosity or stewardship plans in churches that are intentional about developing a culture of generosity.
The annual or pledge campaign is often considered the centerpiece for congregational stewardship, but it should be considered only a part of a comprehensive, year-round generosity plan. Pledges from the campaign help with the budgetary process to varying degrees, but most important, a campaign causes church members and supporters to make a conscious decision about their financial support or financial response to the ministry of the church for the coming year. In cases where there is no annual campaign, an option is to offer a challenge of giving God at least a three percent increase.
After the annual stewardship pledge campaign concludes, the remaining eleven months of the year often get overlooked regarding implementing intentional generosity practices. Sending contribution statements at least quarterly, accompanied by a letter from the lead pastor or persons who are responsible for church finance, provides teachable moments to inform and inspire faithful giving while stating where persons are on their spiritual journey as it relates to giving. Some churches have moved to emailing statements in recent years to accommodate their members’ preferred mode of communication. Also, the accompanying letter can encourage members to embrace the vision of the church, teach generosity, and demonstrate how their generosity impacts the mission and ministry of the church.
Throughout the year but more specifically in October and January (before and after Christmas), offer Christian financial management courses to members and to the community to promote personal finance and money management. Incorporating a course into or with the annual campaign helps believers to understand the campaign as about more than supporting the financial needs of the church; it is also about becoming good stewards of all the resources that God has entrusted to them.
Weekly, celebrate the offering during worship and always be mindful that giving is an act of worship and an extension of ourselves. The invitation to give creates a sacred, teachable, worshipful moment connecting our faith and money as means of honoring God. Consider reading scripture and offering invitations, showing video clips of your congregation’s tithes and offerings in action, and including ministry moments, skits, and sermonettes before the offering. The offertory time is one of the best opportunities to share how a congregation lives courageously through its generosity and mission support. The offering still deserves to be celebrated even in the midst of a growing trend of electronic giving in which ministry support is given at times other than the traditional offertory time in worship.
Consider providing a narrative budget plan or spending plan to help share the story of the impactful ministries your church provides. Line- item budgets and narrative budgets can co-exist! The narrative spending plan takes the numbers from the line-item budget and tells a compelling story about your ministry and how your gifts are making it happen. Photos from ministry programs and events show enthusiasm and excitement that a line-item budget fails to produce. A narrative budget/spending plan can keep a congregation’s mission, vision, and ministry visible to the congregation all year long.
Year-end gifts and special offerings are essential components to any year-round generosity approach for a number of reasons beyond revenue shortfalls or surpluses. At the close of the year we should spend time in reflection to see if we were fruitful and faithful and lived courageously as believers. Those who are blessed with securities that increased significantly in the stock market should consider prayerfully gifting a portion of those appreciated shares to their church or favorite nonprofit. Pastors should encourage members to make special Advent/Christmas gifts to the church. We must be intentional about reminding members and attendees that Christmas is not about the commercialism but about celebrating the special guest of honor Jesus Christ. The Lenten season is another significant time in the life of the Christian faith as a time of prayer, fasting, and self-denial. An offering equal to the value of what was sacrificed for the forty days of Lent would honor Christ and the sacrifice of his life for us.
Embracing the biblical principles and generosity practices of Christian discipleship leads to living courageously as faithful stewards. Living courageously as Christians means worshipfully responding to God’s generosity with an abundance of good works, sharing generously with those in need, and presenting our tithes, offerings, and other gifts. Freely receive, freely give!
The Rev. Melvin Amerson is senior area representative and resource specialist for the Texas Methodist Foundation and a former pastor of several congregations in the United Methodist Church. He is author of Stewardship in African- American Churches: A New Paradigm and co-author of Celebrating the Offering and Fruit for Celebrating the Offering.
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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