Look in the mailbox and soon—if not already—your church's annual stewardship letter and pledge card will find its way to you. Take a moment to read, discern, complete and return.
Meanwhile, United Church News is wondering what approach might prod you to give more generously this year—and what won't.
"People have a lot of different motivations for giving to the church," says Don Hill of the UCC's financial development ministry in Cleveland. "There is a traditional approach to stewardship that says giving to the church is an expression of gratitude and love for God, and that's true, but in concrete terms, people give because they want to participate in an act of transformation. They give to the church because they want to transform lives, transform systems, transform the world."
They don't give, however, to maintain institutions, Hill insists—especially wounded ones. "The churches that I've known that are successful at fundraising have a real sense of identity and vision," he says.
That's why churches must rely on vitality, outreach and mission to propel increased giving, Hill says, noting it's fruitless only to play to members' supposed sense of institutional loyalty.
Money follows mission
"We're so consumed with maintenance we forget what our mission is," Hill says. "That's why I ask us to ask ourselves, ÔAre we obliged to support the church if the church stops being the church?'
"If all we are asked is to give to maintain the building and keep the lights on, then we have to ask, ÔMaintain the building and keep the lights on for what?' To the extent that we can or can't answer that question, we define our success."
The Rev. John Deckenback, Central Atlantic Conference Minister, who chairs the development committee of the UCC's Executive Council, says people clearly give—and give generously—to what they believe in, especially if it is outward-focused rather than inward-looking. "If people have a sense that a church has meaning and vitality, they will give to it," Deckenback says, "more so than if they feel as if a church is struggling to find its identity or its path or is just surviving."
Unfortunately, he says, too many view the church "as an island in Babylon rather than a vehicle that can address the issues of Babylon."
This is why Deckenback advises every congregation to find an outward-focused mission emphasis that its members can take on together—even if it's a simple project. Then, he says, build upon each success.
"Don't just do good things and never think about them again," he says. "Celebrate with the congregation. Cut a cake, and remember what you have accomplished together."
Money follows morale
The Rev. William C. Green of the UCC's stewardship and church finances ministry says the challenge is to inspire generosity, not promote guilt or underscore malaise.
"The number one stewardship issue facing congregations and Conferences is what the secular world calls Ômorale,'" Green says. "As any good fundraiser knows, money follows morale. You can't inspire Ôgiving' when attitudes are low and expectations weak. In the traditional language of the church, this means enabling people to Ôtaste and see that the Lord is good,' as the Psalmist puts it."
Green says it's imperative to make sure that a church's spirit is "alive and well," then focus on "giving."
"Joy and excitement—this is the true energy of stewardship, the power that turns on the lights," Green says.
Money follows Ôsuccess'
Hill says too often congregations think wrongly that success will deter giving, not promote it. It's erroneous thinking, he says, and he offers two words to prove his point: "Harvard University."
"Harvard doesn't need a dime more. They could operate quite nicely on everything they have right now," Hill says. "But people have a notion that Harvard University has a leadership role in this nation, and they want to be a part of it, so they give to it."
The same is true for the church.
"People don't want to be part of maintenance. People want to be part of the solution," Hill says. "They don't give to the church in ashes, but the church that is being reborn, the church at its best."
The Rev. Gary L. McCann, pastor of New England Congregational UCC in Aurora, Ill., says his church undertook a $1 million capital campaign a few years ago and some doubted its members had the means to raise such an ambitious sum of money.
However, the campaign's ultimate success only led to greater success with future stewardship efforts, McCann says. "People have gotten excited about what we could and can do together."
Last year, the church enjoyed a 30 percent increase in pledged gifts to its annual stewardship campaign, McCann says, thanks largely to an all-member canvas that emphasizes involvement, not fundraising.
"The idea was not to strong-arm anybody, but to encourage them with what is happening in the church," he says. This fall, about 60 trained visitors—in teams of two—are paying visits to the church's 240 "giving units"—not only to share stories about the church's outreach in the community but also to listen to members' concerns.
Afterward, the church's leadership will address—in writing—specific responses to all the issues its members raised.
"Last year, we insisted in responding to everyone's questions, concerns and issues they raised, and I think people felt heard," McCann says. "We have worked very hard to make sure that everybody has a sense of ownership in the church."
The church's spirit of intentional inclusion is working. The church is growing, and it's enjoying increased giving.
"I don't think people respond to desperate situations. They don't even respond to numbers," McCann says. "But they do respond to specific reasons, to annotated budgets that explain the need for more money. And they respond to personal enthusiasm. They respond to people's personal stories.
"When people start sharing specific stories about how weÔve been open and inclusive, people are delighted to hear those stories," he says, "and they respond."
Money follows vital ministry
Ken Lindgrin, and his wife, Hedy—two long-time members of New England Congregational UCC—are chairing their church's stewardship campaign this fall—for the second year in a row.
Lindgrin is a firm believer that money follows vital ministry. Emphasize programs and people, he says, not just facilities.
"It's made immensely easier by having a minister that people think the world of," Lindgrin says, while also pointing out the numerous, varied programs that his church offers its members and the larger community.
The congregation makes it a habit to hear regularly on Sunday mornings about the vital ministries of its congregation and how they impact real people, Lindgrin says.
"People then know that it's because of their efforts that we have these programs, and because of our year-round efforts people understand where their money is going," he says. "All of this is explained in a very personal way, not just a monetary way. It's not a malaise. It's a very positive approach."
Five ways to increase giving
1. Demonstrate the life-changing impact of the church's ministry.
2. Give evidence of how money is used for specific, needed ministries.
3. Demonstrate how the church efficiently and effectively uses its money.
4. Establish trust and confidence in the leadership of the church.
5. Teach biblically about tithing and stewardship.
Source: Based on research by the Barna Group, 2003
Five reasons why people give
1. People give because they feel connected to the cause.
The Barna Research Group says "more than nine out of 10 adults who give money to churches say they do so because they are convinced the church believes in and stands for the same things as the donor."
2. People give because they believe a ministry is producing changed lives.
One researcher indicates that four out of five people who financially support a local church actively look for ways the ministry is having a redemptive impact on the lives of the people it serves. Churches should make a concerted effort to highlight life-changing stories in the congregation.
3. People give because they want to improve their communities.
"Communitarians" comprise the largest segment of givers. Primarily, these are the types who serve on boards and committees, those who want to make their communities better for everyone. Churches that serve and engage the larger community attract more communitarians. In turn, these are the people who have the largest financial capacity.
4. People give to respond to a major crisis.
People respond to financial pleas tied to insurmountable crisis, especially when they already feel connected to the ministry. Most will increase their current level of giving for a period of time, if they feel the need is significant. Crisis giving, however, rarely translates into sustained, long-term support.
5. People give because they receive a personal benefit, recognition or tangible reward.
Like it or not, reciprocity is a powerful, motivating factor. For some, "thank you" will suffice. For others, public recognition entices.
Learn more @
The UCC's stewardship and church finances ministry offers many resources to help congregations with stewardship planning, education and appeals. Information is available online at ucc.org/steward/