Stewardship Through a Missional Lens
By Barbara Fullerton
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 21, No. 1 in 2019. You can access the full issue here.
What happens when a denominational stewardship staff person is appointed to serve in ministry in a small town congregation on a downhill financial slide? It could have been a risky assignment!
While serving as national staff with access to congregational data, I designed a doctor of ministry project that linked increased giving with particular stewardship practices in local churches.1 Now it was my turn to use what I had learned. How would stewardship strategies I had been teaching ministers and volunteers across the country play out in actual practice?
When I began my new ministry, I immediately noticed palpable fear around finances. Sunday after Sunday, the congregation heard the demoralizing message that they had not met 1/52 of the annual budget, a story that perpetuated fear and anxiety. They complained that the church was “always talking about money.” They heard in that weekly message that they were not enough, that they did not “do” or have enough, and that their raison d’être was to raise bucks to meet the budget to cover the bills so they could survive. Not to thrive, but merely survive.
We changed the messaging. Financial reports to the governing body were available to all members, showing cash flow, YTD reports, and snapshot comparisons with the same time of year in previous years. The weekly whine in the announcements stopped. Instead, we began to really talk about money and our relationship with it—in sermons and in offering invitations, connecting the texts for the day with the congregation’s ministry and mission. Announcements told how their gifts made our mission possible. Money matters were discussed occasionally in small group discussions. And the atmosphere began to change.
We began a practice of radical gratitude— expressing thanks in multiple ways for financial generosity, as well as for sharing of talents and gifts of time. Thank-yous were offered verbally in worship and printed in newsletters and bulletins. Each week, a different group was thanked for how they were carrying out the congregation’s mission. We also started a bulletin board which our secretary wittily named the “Congratitude” board, on which folks were encouraged to post congratulations for newsworthy accomplishments and to write thank you notes to each other. The attitude and atmosphere continued to lift.
The stewardship committee introduced to the Church Council a Year-Round Congregational Stewardship Strategy based on the Six Best Practices identified in my doctoral project. My research had suggested that the most effective areas to focus would be sound fund- raising methodology based in mission clarity, connected with worship and educational components. So, that’s what we did.
We conducted a giving campaign within six months of my arrival, using a narrative budget expressed in missional language. At year end, givers were delighted to receive thank you letters with their charitable donation receipts. The letters related the stories of mission accomplished because of their generosity.
One thing I learned during that pastorate was that an annual solicitation letter expressed in missional language—in tandem with stewardship sermons and positive communication— was as effective, and much less time-consuming, than conducting an annual giving program. I had asserted in my denominational role that such an approach would produce diminishing returns. It didn’t. Each year that I served with that church, our year-end financial bottom line was solid. After finishing at year-end with a slight deficit after my first four months and breaking even the second year, we had an accumulated surplus of $25,000 over the next five years.
One congregational chair had a particularly clear grasp on the significance of focusing on mission. She introduced practices to help the congregation understand how everything we did related to our mission. She asked that all committee reports be presented through that missional lens. We recited our mission statement in every meeting and worship service. I applied it in preaching and in Time with All Ages in worship. People began naming what the church did as “our mission,” and money-talk was related to accomplishing that mission.
That chairperson also oversaw a governance restructuring from a large representative Council to a small stream-lined Board, freeing people from sitting in meetings to spend their time in mission about which they are passionate. The congregation changed from a fearful group of survivors on a dollar-sign life raft to a community of faith reaching out to neighbours. We started a community garden, weekly outreach meals, a catering group, and a shop that recycled household items. Our summer camp grew from ten kids to fifty for the past two summers. A Friday Family Fun Night ministered to over a hundred church and community folks over several years. With ten other churches and secular organizations, we also sponsored three Syrian families.
Stewardship through a missional lens can help a congregation redefine its identity.
1Growing Generosity: Six Best Stewardship Practices – Canada Study, posted at https://generousstewards.wordpress.com/category/stewardship-that-works-best-practices/.
Rev. Dr. Barbara Fullerton served in ministry for seven years with St. Paul’s United Church in Paris, Ontario, after nearly twelve years in stewardship development in the General Council Office in The United Church of Canada. She currently serves as intentional interim minister with East Plains United Church in Burlington, Ontario.
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.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events