Churches ready for OGHS offering in unique ways
Challenging church members, creating calendars for kids, using personal experiences to drive home good reasons for giving. These are some of the ways United Church of Christ congregations are supporting the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.
That commitment, always important, is especially so in 2021.
Last March, as many congregations across the country prepared to take the special mission offering, the coronavirus closed church buildings. Pastors pivoted to focus on ways to continue weekly worship. OGHS giving in 2020 decreased by almost 45 percent.
“The COVID pandemic hit, at Hope UCC, Hiawatha, Iowa, just as we were about to collect our 2020 One Great Hour of Sharing offering,” said Jane Buck, the church’s stewardship chair. “With the church doors closed, our offering was NOT successful.”
The good news is a number of churches, like Hope UCC, are working intentionally to rebuild the offering.
Following the 2021 theme to “Let Love Flow!” — and using resources provided by the national offices and some personal ingenuity — they are creatively preparing for One Great Hour of Sharing Sunday, suggested this year as March 14.
Return envelopes work
In Hiawatha, Buck has turned to direct mailing. “We’re not yet meeting in person, so that changes the way the resources will be shared this year,” she said, noting that the church wanted to focus on engaging children as well as adults. She designed direct mail campaigns for both.
“Since all of our children experienced the loss of power and damage to their schools and homes during our Derecho storm last August, we felt that experience could also be used to remind them what we have and what others do not,” Buck said. “A giving calendar that we created invited the children to think about different items in their homes and give a ‘unit’ of money for each item. A flyer about OGHS and a coin bank were also included.
“To the adults we sent a letter, the bulletin insert, the prepared calendar that came in the OGHS packet, a OGHS envelope and that all-important return address envelope. We await a great response. We’re excited to ‘Let Love Flow!'”
Direct mailing worked for Hope UCC last year with three other special mission offerings. “We succeeded at promoting Strengthen the Church, Neighbors in Need and the Christmas Fund, collecting more funds in 2020 than we had in 2019,” she said, noting last year’s stewardship campaign was the most successful in church history. “One item that we included in every mailing was a return envelope for contributions. We discovered that ALL gifts were returned in those envelopes.”
Varied promotional materials available
Buck is enthusiastic about the “wonderful resources” the Wider Church Ministries staff made available for the offering this year. “There are SO many resources that I could hardly choose what to include,” she said. “Thank you so much for your help and for the attention you give to helping folks around the world.”
Minister for Offering Development and Grants Phyllis Richards said that while she is supporting the offering with the same amount of resources as in years past, her team changed the format to make the resources more user-friendly electronically. The planning guide, sermon starters, mission moments, bulletin inserts, youth activities, sharing calendars and downloadable images are all available here. This year there are also more videos available online.
“It excites me to see when churches are really engaged in the offering,” Richards said. “Jane shared the children’s calendar she created, so we can offer it as resource for others. We are all in this together. I really enjoy helping our churches make an impact in the world. Together, we allow God’s love to flow through us into the wider world.”
By newsletter, web, Facebook
Katie Wilsdorf, administrative assistant at St. John’s UCC, Chesterfield, Mo., has been using different images weekly to promote the offering.
“We have been placing it in the newsletter, on the website and Facebook. We have used the resources UCC has given us. The OGHS pictures have been useful for our communication. A lot of envelopes are coming in,” Wilsdorf said. But the church is also using electronic giving options.
“Because of COVID many more of our members are connected online. People who didn’t do email or internet now do. Their children want them connected, and because of virtual services, they want to be. We also have our own online donate site on the web page from our newsletter. Members can also text a donation in.”
Trying to be the top giver
First Church of Christ Congregational, UCC, Glastonbury, Conn., has consistently been a strong supporter of One Great Hour of Sharing. The church donates most of its Easter collection to the mission offering each year. In 2018, First Church was the top-giving church, based on dollars – information that was shared with church leaders just as the pandemic hit.
“For a long time we’ve been strong. And much to our surprise a year ago, in 2020, we found out we were number one in gifts to OGHS,” said First Church’s co-pastor, the Rev. David Taylor. “So when the information went out, we told the congregation, we did well, let’s keep on keeping on.”
Taylor issued a challenge to a number of his congregants, asking them to give more. “I wrote 50 personal notes to lead donors — ‘I am going to double my gift, can you double yours?’ We believe if you educate folks on what this does, they’ll support it generously.”
And they did. The congregation raised $16,691 dollars in the midst of a pandemic.
“Last year, during COVID, we surpassed our 2018 and our 2019 giving,” Taylor said. “We will never apologize for asking someone to give generously to a worthy cause. We think OGHS is that worthy cause.”
‘You gotta ask’
This week, Taylor and First Church’s co-pastor, the Rev. Kate VanDerzee-Glidden, asked again, reaching out to 70 generous givers in the congregation, encouraging them to help put First Church back on top of the OGHS giving list in 2021. The church was number two in 2019, behind Plymouth Congregational UCC in Des Moines, Iowa. Totals for 2020 are still being reported.
“They know the need is great, they know they are blessed — and the number-one rule of fundraising is you gotta ask,” said Taylor. “They know us, they trust us. These people are amazing. If you challenge them, they respond.
“Who is suffering the most during COVID? The people on the margins we have always served,” he continued. “All our offerings were up in 2020, because people were suffering. We are still being the church and these special offerings are the way we do that.”
‘The whole congregation saying yes’
Every little bit counts, said the Rev. Kent Siladi, UCC director of philanthropy. And with everyone’s “little bits,” major transformation is possible.
“Can you imagine what it would look like for every member of every congregation to make a gift to the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering? This offering makes an impact and a difference in the world,” Siladi said. “It is not about the amount, necessarily — but it is about the whole congregation aligning and saying, ‘Yes, we wholeheartedly want to participate, each and every one of us, in this offering to help change the world.”
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