Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't Write The Letter: Build A Bridge Instead

For many congregations, giving looks strong at the end of the calendar year and around Easter. Then, during the summer, those who pay attention are surprised when giving goes down. It's like people who are surprised that their children grow or that Christmas stealthily arrives on December 25th.

The Summer Slump Letter has been sent out to congregation members for decades, reminding people how important it is to keep up their giving during the summer months when traveling is more prevalent. The church becomes out of sight, out of mind for some people (so the theory goes).

The Summer Slump Letter (often accompanied by announcements during worship) corrodes community life in many ways.
  1. The Letter is almost never merely a reminder about the importance of giving, it becomes a shame inducing document. The Letter frames a challenging resource curve as a failure of the givers in the congregation, not as a failure of congregational leaders to plan.
  2. Often the only people who read The Letter are people who are highly invested in the life of the congregation. People who aren't invested would not read the letter anyway. Therefore, the people who have likely raised their giving receive a scolding and could easily interpret that what they are giving is not enough. Repeat this pattern summer after summer, and discouragement or disgust mounts.
  3. Seth Godin takes another angle to the Summer Slump Letter philosophy. The pattern that produces the letter often begins early to mid-summer when giving starts to dip. Leadership boards then spend the rest of the summer attempting to address the dip. Worry accumulates momentum until the board feels like they have to do something. This 3-4 month pattern takes energy away from other things that leaders should be doing--focusing on mission rather than anxiety.
It's clear that economic, demographic, and sociological factors have changed the face of resourcing congregational mission. I have hope that events such as this one continue to sprout. Congregations and leaders are often too anxious to consider other options. Doing something has often been seen as having no cost. The resourcing patterns of the last few decades in congregations are wasted energy. Don't write The Letter. Pray. Think creatively, and build a bridge to resource congregational mission in the future.

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