A reflection on tithing by the Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, Rector and Senior Pastor of Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas:
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse...and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. Malachi 3.10
A Word of Hope
Through the course of my ministry I have attended many spiritual retreats, participated in many Bibles studies, and have been a part of countless church meetings. One of the questions often asked, as a “get to know you” activity, is an invitation to share one's favorite passages of scripture. That is a very hard thing for me because there are so many Bible verses that I love. However, if I were to share the one passage of scripture that has changed my life the most it may well be this passage from the book of the prophet Malachi.
I remember the first time I consciously heard this passage. It was shortly after I arrived at the Cathedral of Hope. I was participating in a New Member Class and Bill Eure was teaching the class about stewardship. He quoted the scripture from Malachi and then explained how he had begun practicing tithing and what an impact it had made in his life. The lesson was so genuine, so heart-felt, that I decided to do what Bill had done, to practice tithing.
It is now six years later and I have never regretted that decision. This one passage of scripture, and the practice of it in my daily life, has changed how I feel about money. Now, if I am honest, I often wish I had more money. I frequently have to limit the things I buy. Sometimes I have to postpone the plans to do something for my home or yard. I have to carefully plan for major purchases. Those are the realities of our living, but since beginning the discipline of tithing, I have consciously given away more of my resources than ever before in my life, much more than just ten percent. What I have discovered is that God is true to God’s promises.
I am happier now than I have ever been and while there are many reasons for my happiness, I believe that one of the most important reasons is that I now spend my days in gratitude. I have shifted from being fearful of what I do not have to being grateful for what I do have. I am learning, day by day, week by week to be a generous person. I am learning the deep and profound joy of giving. In short, I have been set free. Money no longer owns me and I am grateful to God for that.
So, why not try it? What do you have to lose? After all, it is God who says, “Test me in this!” Why not try bringing God the full tithe, a full ten percent of your resources, and see what God does. I am convinced that God will do exactly as God promised and will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon you.
Holy One, you are so very generous to me. Let me be wholly yours so that I might be a blessing just as you have blessed me. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson
Rector & Senior Pastor
Rev. Kate Huey
About eighteen months ago, I joined a woman’s exercise club, one of those reasonably-priced, three-day-a-week, thirty-minute-workout women’s exercise clubs that presented a golden opportunity to get in better shape so I would feel better and improve my health. What a great idea! There was only one catch, of course – I would actually have to show up and do the workout, because paying my monthly fee, carrying the ID card, and saying that I belonged to an exercise club wouldn’t take a single ounce off my weight or improve my endurance one bit.
What I did notice, however, when I set a rhythm to my life that included regular trips to the exercise club, was a definite “lift” to the way I felt, not just physically but mentally, too. Clearly, as we all know, exercise is good for us. It may not be easy, and it may take discipline, but it’s definitely good for us.
During the past two years, I’ve been making a similar discovery about generosity, and specifically about tithing. We live in a world that offers many “helps” to get our lives in order, to find a sense of proportion and balance and health, from exercise clubs and weight-loss plans to closet organizers and electronic calendars, from self-help books and Dr. Phil to financial advisors and “lifestyle coaches.” But I am convinced that these supports fall far short of the power of the gospel to transform our lives.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. As a member of the Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry Team of the United Church of Christ, I serve the region of the church that stretches from Virginia to Texas. Two summers ago, on a beautiful June morning, I was about to lead a workshop on stewardship at a meeting in a church in Lanett, Alabama. We were sitting on those little folding chairs in one of the church school classrooms, waiting to begin, and just visiting and getting to know one another. When I asked the folks for their own thoughts about giving, two women, one on either side of me, told me that they had tithed – that they had given a tenth of their income to God – all of their lives, and that they both had found it to be a blessing in their lives. One said, “When we bought a house, we thought we’d better back off from tithing for awhile to make sure we could afford it, but then we thought, ‘No, we’ll just keep tithing,’ and we’ve never missed a house payment.”
So there I was, the “expert on stewardship from Cleveland,” about to teach them about generosity and faithfulness. I don’t think so. The day I returned home from that trip, I stood by my kitchen counter (I can still see it now), and I opened my pay envelope. I looked at my pay stub. I thought about all the blessings in my life, and I felt so profoundly grateful. I thought, what was I waiting for? Until I could “afford” to tithe? Until I wouldn’t feel it if I did? I took out my checkbook and wrote a check to Pilgrim Church (my home congregation) for one-tenth of my paycheck. And it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when I wrote a check. I’ve been doing that ever since, each time I receive my paycheck, stopping to think about my blessings and give thanks, writing a check of the “first fruits,” and then living on the rest. Along with the other money I give to the special mission offerings (Neighbors in Need, One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, and the Christmas Fund) and to other ministries of the wider church, and to charities I support, and the money I give to my children…all of those are the happiest checks I write.
But then I discovered two more things. First, I feel calmer about money in general. I have a better sense of priorities in my life; things feel like they’re in better order. For me, the gift of tithing is like the gift of the Sabbath – both of them establish a kind of balance and proportion in our lives – they are, quite simply, good for us. Didn’t Jesus say, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath”? (Mark 2:27)
Second, I discovered something that can best be related with a story about my two-year-old granddaughter, Allyson. Last spring, Ally stayed with us for eight days. Of course, I’ve loved playing grandma, giving her lots of affection and attention, and enjoying how cute and loveable she is. But for those eight days, I had to be aware of her at all times, to provide everything she needed, to think about where she was and whether she was safe, feed her, bathe her, clothe her…I had to invest a lot of my time and my self in her. When the time came to hand her back to her parents, though, I thought my heart would break. I had bonded with her in a very special and powerful way.
That was what I discovered when I decided to increase my giving dramatically, all at once, to the church. I found that I love my church even more. I know I loved it before, but the more I give, the more I care about Pilgrim Church. And, mysteriously, at the same time, the more I trust that the leadership of the church will use my gifts well. Generosity, I have come to understand, is a discipline to be practiced and yet, mysteriously, at the same time, it frees our spirit. This experience, which transformed my life – this movement into a spiritual, everyday practice – would not have happened if two women of faith had not quietly trusted that group with their own stories of giving that summer morning over a year ago. They showed me by their example and their calm faith what it means not just to say “I believe” but to really follow Jesus, not just on Sunday morning, but seven days a week.
In your life, how have you thought of the tithe?
How are rules and laws rather than freedom often connected with tithing, and how would exercising the tithe in freedom be a new and liberating “discipline” in your life?
What steps might you take to increase your giving, a little bit at a time, to reach a tithe in the future?
When have you experienced freedom and a “lift” because you exercised generosity?
Is generosity – like health – something that happens without effort on our part?
This page is under construction. While we are in the process of evaluating the year-round stewardship resources we provide on this page, we encourage your use of the archived stewardship resources below. Thank you for your patience.
Here is a PowerPoint overview of this resource. (10MB)
Supplemental resources for the Theme of the Month
May – Covenantal Relationships
Walking Together in All God's Ways
June - Stewards in Formation: Children,
Youth and Young Adults
February – Relationship with Others
On Holy Ground
March– Relationship with Money
Financial Health for Families & Congregations
April– Relationship with the Earth
May – Covenantal Relationships
Walking Together in All God's Ways
June - Stewards in Formation: Children,
Youth and Young Adults
July – Stewards of Responsible Freedom:
Saying Yes and Saying No
August – Gifted by God Our Talents, Vocation and
September – Peace and Justice
Restoring God's Intended Shalom
October - Stewards of God's Extravagant Welcome
MM, ONA, A2A, JP Church
For use in Bible study, sermon preparation, stewardship training and theme selection.
God's call of Abraham is a summons to the people of God not to let old ways of living and conventional belief prevent moving into a quality of life far "richer" than heretofore known?promise and blessing meant for others too. "By you [better than ?in you'] all the families of the earth shall bless themselves,"(v. 3) in the helpful alternative rendering of the NRSV. God's people are the means but not the end or sole example of blessing and being blessed.
A prayer from The New Century Hymnal sums up the thrust of these key verses that begin with the "great commandment" (6:4-5; Mark 12:29-30)?to love God above all else with all our heart, soul, and might. "May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much; May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing at all." (#874) This outlook breaks the grip of any possessiveness that inhibits generosity.
The wealth or "abundance"of our lives is a gift, not just a given. That is, no more than with life itself do we have this as something we can earn or deserve. It is not entitlement but blessing in which others are meant to share (see Genesis 12:3 above).
2 Samuel 24:24
Knowing the quality of life made possible by the power of God, David is not about to give less than his best?something possible for all of us, and irrepressible when we know our own blessing. He is not about to make an offering to God that, in effect, costs him nothing.
I Chronicles 29:1-19
About the giving required to build the temple, the house of God. "For all things come from you, [O Lord,] and of your own have we given you." (v. 14b) Leaders must "walk the talk," letting their own generosity be an example and inspiration to others.
The temple or house of God welcomes and celebrates the truth that God's kingdom or "realm" includes the entire earth; God's love embraces all of life. This sovereign love "lifts up" us all, and any denial closes the doors on God's presence and prevents us from sharing in the divine blessing of life. "Be lifted up, O ancient doors!" (vv. 7, 9)
Giving is futile sacrifice, religiously superficial and unacceptable to God, unless directed to enabling others to know the abundance, the quality of life, that is theirs too?which is the purpose of the temple (and the church). "Learn to do good, seek justice." (v. 17)
God's house—in those days, the temple—was the place from which the produce, the abundance, of the land was redistributed. Dereliction in fulfilling one's rightful "tithe" upset the harmony that alone could assure prosperity in the land. Restoration of this commitment will issue in "overflowing blessing" for all. (v. 10) Don't let argument about "tithing"?giving a tenth of annual giving?upstage the main point about giving, its motivation and outcome: generosity comes from an experience of "abundance," the blessing of which is literally lost unless shared with others, and impossible to gain alone.
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (v. 21) Faith and money are two sides of the same coin. Where the one is, the other is also. We easily pretend otherwise, making faith immaterial or money unspiritual.
Matthew 14:13-21 (see also Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14)
Jesus feeding the five thousand with "nothing here but five loaves and two fish." (v. 17) Often thinking we don't have enough we fail to see and take seriously what we already have. It is from what we have, not what we don't, that we find what we need...and then some!
Matthew 25:14-30 (see also Luke 19:12-27)
Wanting more, thinking what we have is not enough, we squander opportunity presently ours, "just as I am, without one plea," in the words of the gospel song. In this well-known parable of the talents, as in Luke's of the pounds, the message is use it?or lose it. It is in the use of what we have, not the amount, that we learn and practice, or practice and then learn still more, the abundance already ours. Mark 12:41-44
In this story of the poor widow's generosity, the irony of abundance is made clear. Less is more when what we give exceeds what we withhold. "Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you" (see note 14 to Chapter 1).
Luke 12:13-21, 48
The parable of the rich fool is clear: life's abundance does not consist in possessions. Those who "store up treasures for themselves" (v. 21) become victims of anxiety, always wondering if they have enough. Real security is found?and the true richness of life experienced—not in guarding what we have but in giving what we can. "Abundance" is not a private possession but a shared experience.
Easily confusing, this parable of the shrewd steward is also provocative. It emphasizes the importance of being astute in using possessions so as to gain rather than lose one's future. There is no way to acquire money that is pure and perfect, unsullied by questionable means and motives. That should not become a pious excuse to avoid responsibility for its wise use.
I Corinthians 4:1-2
The word rendered "servants" means, literally, "under-rowers." The figure is that of a ship impelled by oars under the command of a captain. "Stewards" as "servants [or ministers] of Christ" labor under the inspiration of the truth about life?"God's mysteries"?disclosed in Jesus. Their most important quality, given the challenge involved, is fidelity, faithfulness?staying true to the cost and joy of an understanding of life at odds with prevailing sensibility. (See Isaiah 40:29-31 and Matthew 11:29-30.)
II Corinthians 8:1-15
"Abundance" is not a function of good times; a "wealth of generosity" can "overflow" even "during a severe ordeal of affliction" (v.2). It is the "genuineness of love" in response to the joy of life made known in Jesus Christ that makes us eager to give "according to what one has?not according to what one does not have" (v. 12). Also emphasized (see v. 13-14) is the equality between givers and receivers whereby those who "receive" give as generously as those who "give," and neediness proves an illusion next to the actual abundance in which all share.
II Corinthians 9:6-15
God provides "every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." (v. 8) There is no need to "sow sparingly" and hence "reap sparingly." We can "sow bountifully" and "reap bountifully" (v. 6), "enriched in every way for [our] great generosity." (v. 11)
Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
"Abundance" is the truth about life made known in the spirit or disposition of Jesus, the driving force of the church. So Paul says in these verses that "generosity" is part of the "fruit" of the Spirit. It is impossible to turn on the lights of greater giving when the power is off...or low. Morale, or what the church calls Spirit, is "the power that turns on the lights"?and the number one stewardship challenge! Ephesians 3:1-21
Contrary to what God's people often believed, outsiders ("Gentiles") not just insiders ("Jews") have always been part of the divine plan wherein all are meant to know the good news of abundant life. Paul sees himself as making this "mystery" plain. He prays that the power of God at the heart of life?part of "the boundless riches of Christ" (v. 8)? make us "bold and confident" (v.12) so that we may be "filled with all the fullness of God." (v. 19) which is the fullness of life (John 10:10).
1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." (v. 17) God wants us to be happy! To "take hold of the life that really is life" (v. 19) is to experience abundance as a gift to be shared: it is no private possession, and beyond anything we can earn or deserve. Not being rich or money, but "the love of money" is "a root of all kinds of evil" (v. 10). That love fuels insatiable desire, makes for unhappiness, and reduces the blessing of life to something we must gain rather than seek to share.
From Inspiring Generosity, a stewardship resource for the local church, produced by the Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, 2002, and available from United Church of Christ Resources: 800-325-7061.
Order these resources from UCC Resources or calling 800-325-7061
Annual Stewardship Theme Materials
Newly designed every year, these colorful, coordinated materials based on scripture can greatly help your congregation with its annual stewardship effort. Materials include full-color poster, four motivational bulletin inserts (including giving chart), worship folder, letterhead and envelope, note card, and commitment cards. Check out these NEW materials: 2019 Stewardship Theme Materials & Supplemental Campaign Resources
Not Your Parent's Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship, a completely revised edition of J. Clif Christopher’s classic. Written with the needs of pastors and stewardship teams in mind, Not Your Parents’' Offering Plate provides immediate, practical guidance to all who seek to help God’s people be better stewards of their resources.
Stewardship for Vital Congregations, by Anthony B. Robinson Theologically and biblically informed, it offers particular strategies and "how-to's" relating to money and giving. Stewardship for Vital Congregations includes questions for reflection, discussion, and action in each chapter.
Are You Ready to Talk about Money in Your Church? is a humorous quiz that takes a light approach to the serious subject of money. A great ice-breaker for stewardship conversations! Format is small, 8-page pamphlet, suitable for distribution in pews or to groups. From the Stillspeaking Writers' Group.
The Gratitude Path: Leading Your Church to Generosity, by Kent Millard. A new approach for local church giving that is accessible, achievable, and effective.The Gratitude Path is a five-session study designed for use by churches, leadership teams, and small groups. This step-by-step guide helps congregations grow in generosity by focusing on gratitude for God's blessings.
Local Church Planned Giving Manual, 4th edition. From wills seminars to church endowments and more, you and your church can explore theological, rational, and hands-on worksheets enhancing your ministry through the stewardship of planned giving.
Funding Your Future: A Capital Campaign Manual from the United Church of Christ
A capital or major fund campaign can be the greatest faith-raising experience in the life of your church!The more challenging the campaign goal, the the more heightened the experience for your congregation.
God's Gifts, My Gifts
Teaches that God is the source of who we are and what we have, and is our model for being generous and faithful. Elementary-age children will have fun in class or at home using these five colorful and snappy foldout sheets with individual and group activities, including scriptural texts and prayers to reinforce the church; personal decisions, loving God, self, and others. Use for confirmation and new member classes. Set includes five active lessons: Share Love With Your Offering (available as a single sheet for $.75 each), Seek God with Your Whole Heart, Rooted in Love, Love is the Greatest, Dare 2BU. Set of all five activity sheets plus stickers: 1-10 sets, $5.00 each; 11-25 sets, $4.50 each; 26 or more sets, $4.00 each.
A Stewardship Resource for the Local Church
This resource looks at ways to understand and approach money and mission realistically, given the changing conditions in congregations of the United Church of Christ today. Intended for use by lay leaders as well as clergy, it includes the theological background on the motivation for giving, as well as four programmatic approaches to fundraising in the church.
The Gifting God
This compact, 5-session group study based closely on the Bible will break open the subject of giving for everyone-no matter how much or how little they are currently giving. Excellent for small groups, for ysing one session at a time with committees (especially stewardship or finance committees, and trustees). Also very effective as a personal Bible study/devotion. Available in print or as downloadable PDF, $1.50 each.
What Scripture Says about Giving
This brief brochure for distribution to all church members looks at the question of how much to give to the work of the church and why. Also available in Spanish. $3.00/50.
a reading list of best books
Order from United Church of Christ Resources by calling 800-325-7061.
Barna, George. How to Increase Giving in Your Church. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1997. To order call 800-446-7735 and ask for trade paperbacks.
Barrett, Wayne C. The Church Finance Idea Book: Hundreds of Proven Ideas for Funding Your Ministry. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1995. To order call 800-685-4370.
Bell, Perry. Effective Approaches to Growth and Stewardship in the Small Church, Congregations. September/October 1994. Vol. XX, No. 5, page 9f. An Alban Institute Publication. To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Borreson, Glenn L. A Step at a Time: Growing Givers through Stewardship Letters. Lima, Ohio: CSS Pub., 2001.
Burkett, Larry. Giving & Tithing. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.
Callahan, Kennon L. Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church: A Guide for Every Member. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Coles, Romand. Rethinking Generosity: Critical Theory and the Politics of Caritas. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. (excellent but technical)
Chaves, Mark, and Sharon L. Miller, editors, Financing American Religion. Walnut Creek, California: Altamira Press, A Division of Sage Publications, Inc., 1999. *
de Soto, Hernando. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Dick, Dan R. Revolutionizing Christian Stewardship for the 21st Century: Lessons from Copernicus. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1997. To order call 800-685-4370.
Dunham, Laura. Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. Grand Rapids: RCA (Reformed Church in America) Distribution Center, 2002. Replaces Christians Doing Financial Planning (1984). To order call 800-968-7221.
Durall, Michael. Creating Congregations of Generous People. An Alban Institute Publication, 1999. To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Foster, Richard J. Money, Sex, and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
Godfrey, Neale S., Caroline Edwards. Money Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parent's Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children. New York: Simon & Schuster?Trade Paperbacks, 1993.
with Tad Richards. A Penny Saved: Teaching Your Children the Value and Life Skills They Will Need to Live in the Real World. New York: Simon & Schuster? Trade Paperbacks, 1996.
Grimm, Eugene, edited by Herb Miller. Generous People: How to Encourage Vital Stewardship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.
Hacker, Andrew. Money: Who Has How Much and Why. New York: Simon & Schuster/ A Touchstone Book, 1997.
Hargus, Clark. Stewardship in the Small Membership Congregation (now includes two previously separate pieces, "Biblical Principles of Stewardship", with a "flexible worksheet", and "Faithful-Hopeful-Loving: A Three-Week Stewardship Program". Indianapolis: Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies (now Ecumenical Stewardship Center), 2000. To order call 800-835-5671.
Hadaway, Kirk. Behold, I Do a New Thing: Transforming Communities of Faith. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2001. *
Hammond, Dawn. A Handbook for Church Treasurers and Trustees. Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, 1998. Available on the Massachusetts Conference web site www.macucc.org., or by calling 508-875-5233.
Hinze, Donald W. To Give and Give Again: A Christian Imperative for Generosity. New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1990.
Hoge, Dean, and Patrick McNamara, Charles Zech. Plain Talk About Churches and Money. An Alban Institute Publication, 1997. * To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Hoge, Dean R., and Charles Zech, Patrick McNamara, Michael J. Donahue. Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Joiner, Donald W., and Norma Wimberly. The Abingdon Guide to Funding Ministry: An Innovative Sourcebook for Pastors and Church Leaders. Volumes 1, 2, 3. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, 1996, 1997.
Klainer, Pamela York. How Much is Enough? Harness the Power of Your Money Story and Change Your Life. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Levan, Christopher. Living in the Maybe: A Steward Confronts the Spirit of Fundamentalism. Manlius, New York: REV/Rose Publishing, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.
McFague, Sally. Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortess Press, 2000.
Mead, Lorin B. Financial Meltdown in the Mainline? An Alban Institute Publication. To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Meeks, M. Douglas. God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Needleman, Jacob. Money and the Meaning of Life. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
Otfinoski, Steve, with Kelly Kennedy (illustrator). The Kid's Guide to Money: Earning It, Saving It, Spending It, Growing It, Sharing It. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1996.
Rodin, R. Scott. Stewards in the Kingdom: A Theology of Life in All Its Fullness. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Roehlkepartain, Eugene C., and Elanah Delyah Naftali, Laura Musegades. Growing Up Generous: Engaging Youth in Giving and Serving. An Alban Institute Publication, 2001. To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Ronsvalle, John L., and Sylvia Ronsvalle. Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996. Out of print; available in seminary libraries, or at www.bakerbooks.com, phone 606-957-3110.
with U. Milo Kaufmann. At Ease: Discussing Money and Values in Small Groups. An Alban Institute Publication, 1998. To order call 800-486-1318, ext. 4.
Schwarzentraub, Betsy. Afire with God: Spirit-ed Stewardship for a New Century. Nashville, Tenn.: Discipleship Resources, 2000.
Smith, Kenwyn K. MANNA In the Wilderness of AIDS: Ten Lessons in Abundance. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2002. *
Vallet, Ronald E., and Charles E. Zech. The Mainline Church's Funding Crisis: Issues and Possibilities. Manlius, New York: REV/Rose Publishing, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
Webb, Stephen H. The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. (excellent but technical)
Wuthnow, Robert. The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. *
Unknown. God and Mammon in America. New York: Free Press, 1994.
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/