Stewardship, giving, and fund raising in congregational life have never been painful or fearful experiences for me. Maybe it is because my introduction to the Church came from the overflowing generosity of people who love God and in turn, shared that love with me through tangible things like food and shelter. Maybe it is because I had some great givers and teachers invest in me and my colleagues almost 10 years ago, paying my/our way to a conference (Stewardship 2000) that gave me the best biblical scholarship, leadership training, and congregational dynamics understanding available. I can give, lead and teach with peace and integrity because of the teaching of people like Kennon Callahan, Jerry Hoffman and Walter Brueggemann. Maybe it was because I had a campus pastor who gave me a one-on-one teaching about tithing in my fourth year of college.
Working with congregations in transition, I usually encounter churches at a low point of their corporate life. Most of the congregations I serve do not experience giving growth while they are in the call process. I am not a pastor with experience in leading what might be called a "successful stewardship campaign." Is it because I work with congregations in transition? Yet again, I am working with a congregation that is facing budget cuts and looking for answers as to why pledges are down, both in the amount of pledges, and the amount of money pledged. Sometimes its hard not to be discouraged.
In the past, I felt like I had to persuade people to give more in order to fund the ministries about which we were passionate. I abandoned any thought of pleading with people to give. I hope that I have gained some wisdom in my experience, and use my gifts to let people know about the relationship between giving and faith, give them sermons reflecting strong biblical theology, and offer good testimonies about giving making a difference in people's lives. I thank people for their giving and encourage people to talk with me about giving in their lives of faith. I don't take part in fear campaigns, berating those who do not give or attempt to lay guilt trips on people.
The challenge during a time of budget crafting and mission planning is addressing the theories of giving decline among congregational leaders. I will be hearing those theories tonight. I've heard some already.
+ Bad/uncertain economy
+ People have lost their jobs
+ No permanent Senior Pastor
+ Stewardship campaign was held too late in the year
+ Attendance is down
+ Uncertain future of the congregation
+ People aren't committed to the church like they used to be
+ We weren't forceful or explicit enough with the stewardship campaign
Unless the leadership of a congregation is going to take data for the reasons behind people's giving, the abundant theories related to congregational giving won't even classify as theories. Words to explain congregational giving patterns serve as speculation to help curb congregational anxiety. Anxiety is high when people's livelihoods are on the line. My hope and prayer is that leaders and congregation members will continue to use their God-given creative capacities to continue to build ministry and see God's abundance, even when the messages in public discourse appears to reflect scarcity. I still believe in an abundantly giving God, and I hope that message is reflected in the leaders and givers in the life of the congregation.