Did you know fewer than 5 percent of church donors actually tithe? Strategic implementation of biblical stewardship principles can vastly improve that percentage in your own church.
If a congregation truly embraces the theology of giving, and if members manage their lives on the principles of Christian stewardship and tithing, then the problems of raising the funds necessary to meet the ministry's budget are generally resolved. However, this is not always the case. Statistics tell us that fewer than 5 percent of church donors actually tithe. The average donation by adults who attend Protestant churches is about $17 per week.
A stewardship-driven church is a successful church. The underlying principles of stewardship are the foundation for the whole structure of raising funds to run the church.
Fund raising is only one side of the equation, however. How the church spends the funds it raises is equally important. The congregation must give a good accounting of the money it receives. This includes its budgeting, its budget-servicing responsibility and its reporting.
How a congregation spends its money generally provides a good profile of the health of the congregation. Statistics show that the more a congregation gives away to viable and important mission causes outside its own operational needs, the more money it receives from the supporters. However, budget structuring begins with the dollars needed to operate the local church for each particular year. So what are the most effective ways to raise money for the annual budget?
Some churches do nothing but make their appeal for support and allocate the money as it comes in. Other churches will have an annual appeal season in which they inform the congregation of the needs for the next year and solicit pledges to underwrite those needs. I lean toward having a yearlong stewardship emphasis because it is vital to individual spiritual growth. I also advocate having an annual appeal, in order to inform the entire congregation of the real operational needs and the growing challenges of the church's mission.
Developing a capable campaign team is an important aspect of fund raising. The campaign team should set the campaign plan, materials and events necessary to make it happen successfully. An important factor to consider upfront is the theme for the campaign. The theme should vary each year in order to reach the set goals and to make the campaign exciting.
Incorporating the following four elements in your stewardship campaigns and/or overall fund-raising strategy will go a long way in successfully raising money to fuel your church's ministry call.
1. Communicate both verbally and in writing. Send a general letter to the congregation, signed by the pastor and committee, stating the theme, goal and timing of the annual appeal. In addition, sermons on stewardship should be given by the pastor, not only at campaign season, but also strategically placed throughout the year in order to develop the spiritual life of the church.
Create campaign brochures with charts, graphs and pictures representing new budget items, and questions and answers. Use creative video presentations to communicate with your congregation.
2. Hold cultivation events. Depending on the size of the church, the cultivation events may be a dinner or dessert meeting for the entire adult congregation. The program should be exciting, informative, persuasive and not too long. Focus on the stewardship appeal.
If you plan to ask attendees to make a commitment at an annual appeal or capital-campaign event, it's appropriate to tell them in the invitation or promotional material. Use campaign commitment/pledge cards, which they can return on a special "commitment Sunday."
3. Conduct stewardship education. Annual support of the congregation is extremely important in order to develop the spiritual life of each member and to generate funds needed to operate the church and its mission. Support for the church should not be optional.
The stewardship system should: begin with the Christian education curricula for children and youth; be a vital part of the new members class preparing for church membership; be put in written form and approved by the officers of the congregation, and distributed to each member; and include an occasional review of all members' giving records. Those who never support their church should be given an opportunity to declare their intention as in any other organization.
Of course, we are dealing with the members of the body of Christ. We must be understanding, sensitive and alert to all conditions. But we owe it to each member to let him or her know we care about him or her. Our caring includes their spiritual lives and growth, which includes stewardship.
Everybody can give something. A prayer and a token gift may be all some members can do. They should be made to feel good about their participation. Jesus praised the poor widow woman who gave the two mites (see Luke 21:2). Of course you cannot build big buildings and promote great programs with mites, but you can build good people who give all they can.
Gifts are important in both quantity and quality. All we should ask is for each member to do his or her best. The church should expect that. If that is done, the bills will be paid, the buildings and grounds will be built and maintained, and the mission of the whole church will be enlarged.
4. Remember people give because someone asks them to give. Inviting people to contribute to a cause is often the key to making it happen. It's so simple. If you want people to give, just ask them. This is so obvious, but it is the most unused key in the entire fund-raising procedure. We don't ask for the following reasons:
We are afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that the donor prospect says no. In fact, the donor prospect usually starts off by saying, "Let me think about it." Now you have your foot in the door, and it would not have happened if you hadn't asked.
We're not sure the donor prospect will give. That's not the problem of the person making the appeal. Granted, we should not be asking for large gifts if we have reason to believe the resources are not there for the prospect to respond. That is poor taste. Generally we know our prospects, so we should inform, cultivate and then ask.
We think the timing is wrong to ask. Of course some circumstances make it untimely to ask for a gift. Timing is beyond our control. Many gifts have been missed because the donor wasn't given an opportunity to give in time. Their circumstances changed the possibility of a gift, or it went to another cause.
We are not sure of our cause. Seek help and get information. Once you are satisfied and have a prospect that is ready to be solicited, you should ask for the commitment.
We are lazy. Sometimes fund-raisers are lazy. Persistence also is very important. We usually don't get a commitment, especially a larger commitment, the first time we ask. There is great value in just "hanging in there."
Remember the parable Jesus told about the persistent widow? (See Luke 18:2-5.) Fund-raisers have much to learn from that parable. Just keep asking. Of course we don't recommend that you become obnoxious, but don't quit asking too soon.
A good rule of thumb is to keep asking until the donor makes a commitment or gives you a firm no. You must respect a no. You have done your part by informing, cultivating and soliciting. You hope the donor prospect responds positively. If you receive a negative reply, move on to other candidates.However, time and circumstances may even turn a no into a yes later on.
Statistics vary on how many times you should ask, depending on the purpose of the campaign, the size of the gift being solicited and the circumstances of the donor prospect. However, I know from experience that you often ask many times and in many ways.
Remember the old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day"? Fund-raising campaigns take time, and leadership must be willing to devote time to accomplish the goal.
Remember, when you are soliciting, your focus is not on yourself but on the donor prospect. People are flattered to be asked to give. They may never know about your cause unless you inform them and ask them to give.
People want to be identified with a cause. And what better cause than one with eternal significance for the kingdom of God? If we budget wisely, educate people on the importance of stewardship, and conduct our fund-raising efforts professionally and with integrity, people will give, and God will provide. After all, He is the source of the supply.
Chester L. Tolson is a fund-raising professional and executive director of Churches Uniting in Global Mission, a network of senior pastors across the United States. This column was adapted with permission from Proven Principles for Finding Funds (Baker Book House, copyright 2003), a guide for raising capital and developing healthy stewardship practices in the local church.