By Bruce A. Barkhauer, Minister for Faith and Giving, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
This article is not about stewardship success. The title is intentional because stewardship is about more than your annual campaign. If you don’t realize that fact, it may be one of the reasons you are not succeeding at the level of potential for your congregation in underwriting your ministry and mission. Your theology of stewardship is reflected in your endeavors to solicit support for the financial cost of your ministries; but since stewardship involves much more than raising funds, the concept, conversations, and activities of the campaign do not and cannot comprise the whole of your thinking about stewardship. This article is about the campaign, which will only achieve its conceivable best if it is grounded in a good and faithful understanding of stewardship. If you have that solid foundation, then the “four Ps” of prayer, purpose, preparation, and persistence will help put you over the top.
Prayer is the first “P”. Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit. – Pope Francis
All conversations around money are spiritual conversations. The bible speaks of money (and its derivatives) a total of almost 2,500 times. The two most commonly explored themes are; 1) our relationship with money (how do we define it, and more importantly, how does it define us), and; 2) what we do with our money (are we invested in those things that manifest the Realm of God?). This means that as we prepare to invite people to consider how, and to what financial level, God is calling them to participate in the transformative work of your church we need to be praying! Our petitions should first be about the church and its leaders – are we being faithful to the vision and mission God has given us? Are we living in authentic response to its call and claim on our lives? Second, prayers need to be offered on behalf of the congregation, that hearts and minds will be prepared to respond to the invitations and challenges that will be issued. Third, prayer should be offered for our mission partners who receive gifts from the congregation – whether it is the local food bank or your denomination of affiliation. Keeping the agencies, their leaders and the recipients of their ministry in prayer is important, for their success is our success.
Purpose is the second “P”. When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible. — Howard Schultz
Purpose is intentional focus on the question “What is it that we are really about?” Are we clear on our vision? Do we understand our mission? (Vision is the what we do want to accomplish. Mission is the how we will accomplish our vision.) Can we point to measurable markers that affirm we are moving in the right direction? Is the mission statement simply printed on paper or does it live in the DNA of our leadership and most importantly, can it be understood by our members? Congregations that are successful in their annual campaigns have a clear understanding of who they are and what God has called them to do. They can articulate that in ways that ring true to the community of faith and the community at large. If you don’t know who you are or what you are called to do, it is nearly impossible to inspire people to contribute to your cause. If you cannot point to ways in which you are participating in the transformation of lives through the power of the gospel, people will find a place to contribute that is doing so.
Preparation is the third “P”. Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. — Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
You might rely on good fortune to make your campaign a success, but the odds are certainly improved if you add thoughtful preparation ahead of the time you are seeking to receive commitments. Many congregations wait until the last minute to ask congregants to consider their giving for the up-coming year. Often those asks are half-hearted, weak, or worse yet, guilt inducing. Nothing can replace planning when it comes to annual campaign success. Preparation includes selecting the right people to lead your campaign and engaging those leaders so that they understand the job you are asking them to do and clearly stating your expectations of them regarding their own commitment of time talent and treasure. Your communication with the congregation about what you are doing, why you are doing it, as well as the how and when are essential. This does not happen by accident. A strategy regarding your message and its delivery through multi channels of electronic, print, and verbal mediums needs time and attention to be done well. Stories of how your mission matters take time to collect and interpret. A narrative style budget can be a great tool to address how money becomes ministry – but it will take several months to develop to best tell the story of how awesome your church is! Creating a worship experience that inspires and a time of celebration that expresses genuine gratitude do not happen on their own. Getting the right people in place means early invitations; and remember even a celebration dinner of ham sandwiches will require advanced purchasing and preparation. Done thoughtfully and prayerfully, your campaign won’t be about raising the budget or paying the bills, but about accomplishing what God has called us to do together.
Persistence is our fourth “P”. Success is all about persistence and doing the right thing for the long term. — Bruce Rauner.
Persistence is not badgering, cajoling, or otherwise being a pest. It is instead a recognition that stewardship education in general, and the annual campaign in particular, is process that unfolds over time. It is not only for a season but the full time, year-round work of the church and its leadership. Every opportunity to tell the story of the way you do ministry and mission should be seized with enthusiasm and with delight. The moment before the offering is received in worship is such a time. Quarterly statements that report to your members and donors about their giving is another such moment. It is also the perfect time to say “thank you” for your generosity. Tell them what their gifts are doing and why they matter. Budget reports don’t need to simply be about numbers, but they create a sacred space to hear how an individual’ life is different because we made this investment. Transparency isn’t just an accounting best practice, but it gives a moment to give glory to God for what is being done with the gifts people give you. It also means never being afraid to ask for support – because you are clear that this is what God has called you to do and you have agreed to do these things together as a community of faith. There is no need to apologize or hesitate to invite people into the work that God is doing. Never be embarrassed about being able to give people a chance to express their generosity and their gratitude. Create opportunities for people to share all year long and give them a reason to do. That is persistence and it pays off!
Download the six-week stewardship study Overflowing from the Center for Faith and Giving. Also available are lectionary-based annual campaign materials.