I know that stewardship in the congregations I serve as an interim pastor is going to be challenging. The data I collect and observe is letting me know that my methods of stewardship need to change.
According to Crabtree and Weese in the book "Elephant In The Boardroom," the average congregation in transition can expect on average a 15 percent drop in offerings received (especially if they don't plan for transition). Add to this variable a struggling economy and the challenge for congregations in transitions is greater.
In the congregations I serve we have offered Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Regardless of what you think of Dave Ramsey, his politics and theology, through this course I have heard some harrowing stories of debt of all kinds of people in congregations--and I have seen transformation. I have also been a part of financial help courses through Thrivent Financial For Lutherans and its predecessor organizations, and I did not see the transformation that I have seen with FPU.
For my nearly 12 years of ordained ministry, I have not feared stewardship, because I have been taught by good theologians and congregational leaders. I have also seen the stewardship of others directly affect me and my life on more than one occasion. I have never seen stewardship as an effort that disappears into thin air. For me, stewardship is a part of my faith's lifeblood.
Because I see transformation in people, households and relationships in Financial Peace University, the place from where people come is frightening. For years I have operated under an assumption that if I am clear, faithful, compelling and persuasive in stewardship campaigns that congregations will be equipped with the resources to follow their calling and share good ministry.
I was wrong. A good stewardship campaign and good stewardship education is important, but household debt is what is crippling stewardship for congregations, not bad campaigns. I think there are bad campaigns out there, and some congregations don't even bother to intentionally ask people to give. However, I continue to see evidence that household debt is a key element for congregations' struggle with stewardship.
Household debt and a struggling economy is a two-headed beast for healthy congregations and their stewardship. For a congregation in a pastoral transition, stewardship becomes a three-headed beast. Something has to change, because there are callings from God to be fulfilled.