Written by J. Bennett Guess
January - February 2004
Local church pastors are meeting to review denomination-wide plan
About 80 local church pastors are meeting Jan. 28-30 in Cleveland to offer input into a plan to stimulate giving—across the board—to UCC congregations. The gathering is the next in a series of steps that intends to build churchwide ownership for a plan to improve the UCC's fi nancial footing.
"We'll know more after these pastors meet to discuss the plan, because they are in positions to know what's real," says Ron Buford, who is interim coordinator of the UCC's "Catalyst Project," an effort to increase giving to local churches by at least $140 million by 2007, the UCC's 50th anniversary. "What's exciting, though, is the sense of cooperation," he says.
"The whole plan is built on faith that if local churches can increase giving, then there will be more to support Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM). Most churches are facing tight budgets and cutting [contributions to] OCWM seems to be the path of least resistance," Buford says. "But if we believe that the UCC is not here by accident, then we also can believe that we can do better than that."
The project's success hinges on a team of stewardship enthusiasts who will work one-on-one with local churches (or groups of churches, in some instances) to "make the ask," as Buford calls it.
"We need to provide greater help to our local churches, who are strapped financially, and the only way forward is to state our case," Buford says. "We should stop the blame game—'Who's fault is it that we don't have enough money?'—and start trusting that God is doing a new thing."
As evidence that improved stewardship hinges on our enhanced ability to talk more openly and convincingly about faith, money and mission, Buford tells the story of one UCC congregation that was having difficulty meeting its 2003 year-end contribution to OCWM. Realizing that the congregation largely valued its UCC identity and, even more so, the importance of connectional missions, the pastor took her case directly to the congregation. The result was an increased year-end commitment of $19,000 to meet not only local expenses, but also its pledge to OCWM.
"Of course that's just one congregation's experience, but it does show that unless we are willing to spell out the need, [our members] may never know just how much their gifts truly are needed. We have to ask, and more and more pastors are coming around to that."
The Catalyst Project is being coordinated to take advantage of the UCC's first-ever major national marketing campaign. Beginning March 1 and continuing through Easter, UCC television ads will begin appearing in seven test markets: Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, Pa.; Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Springfield/Holyoke, Mass.; Palm Springs, Calif.; Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota, Fla.; and Cleveland/ Akron/Canton, Ohio.
For information and resources about Our Church's Wider Mission, go to ucc.org/steward/ocwm.