Next to membership growth, stewardship growth is probably the most sought after goal for faith communities. There can be a link between them, but often membership growth and stewardship growth have a disconnect somewhere.
Stewardship is certainly about more than money. It is about care for creation and lifestyle choices. But it is certainly about money too. If we are to get serious about stewardship we need to overcome our common reluctance to talk about money. Talking about money does not always mean just asking for money. In fact I think we often need to talk about it long before we ask for it. That thought is one of the elements behind the concept of year round stewardship planning. It requires sharing of information about what giving is accomplishing, where it is transforming the mission and life of the community. Simply sending out a letter or two with the church budget attached is rarely a way to increase the stewardship of a congregation. Simply providing a budget update in the form of what has been given compared to what was needed can be helpful, but it is informational and not transformational. Regular information on what the giving does and how giving can happen is important in stewardship growth.
People do not all give in the same way or for the same purposes. There was a time when developing a unified budget was greatly encouraged. There are still places where it remains an excellent idea. However the way people give has shifted, especially in younger generations. Designated giving to programs that excite and involve donors, mission opportunities that align with the values of the donor, and giving to projects with tangible, measurable goals are all varying ways to encourage increased giving. Donors tend to want to see that their gifts produce results.
Cultivating donors is a constant task. The greatest increases in giving often come from those already giving. It is important to seek new donors, but it is just as important to continue to cultivate existing donors in ways that encourage increased giving. In a many faith communities giving can be increased by developing stewardship strategies that meet donors where they are and help them embrace new opportunities.
There are numerous challenges in today's stewardship endeavors. The changing pattern of wealth distribution, the increasing number of not-for-profit organizations competing for donors, and the widely reported instances of misuse of donor funds all create a different climate for giving. But that does not translate into diminished opportunities for growing in faithful stewardship. It simply calls for greater attention to what it means to be both good stewards and good solicitors of stewardship.
Much more can be added. But there are some simple rules to remember. If you want increased giving you need to ask for it. Treat everybody fairly, but not all with the same approach. Communicate the good news of gifts being used. Say thank you over and over again.
Rev. Stephen Sterner has Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Lancaster Theological Seminary. He has been an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ for 43 years, serving in new and historic churches across the US. In 2008, he became Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries of the UCC, where he advocated for local UCC congregations, was a member of a task force that developed a new governance structure for the UCC National Setting, and was a member of the UCC Council for Higher & Theological Education. He is also a former Pacific School of Religion trustee, former Acting President of PSR, and has also served as the Interim Conference Minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. Beyond his experience as a pastor and UCC national executive, he also has experience in developing sustainable endowments, and building partnerships with communities and organizations. Rev. Sterner currently serves on the Board of the Center for Progressive Renewal.
"I believe leaders today are called not to resist change or simply name it, but rather to help organizations sort out the necessary changes to enhance their vision and mission for the future."