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Stewardship in a pandemic

Valuable lessons learned on being the church

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by Robert Hay, Jr. | Presbyterians Today

By mid-March, COVID-19 began changing the way the world interacts, and the church was not immune to those changes. Amid social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, many churches either canceled worship or moved to a virtual form of worship. Pastors and sessions looked for creative ways to worship and to care for the most vulnerable church members in a quickly changing landscape. But what about financial stewardship during such a time as a pandemic — or any other event that would interrupt traditional modes of being the church?

Many churches operate on a very thin margin and have little to no reserves. Most churches are still heavily dependent on gifts that are made in an offering plate when people are physically in church. According to the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, 78% of gifts are given during a worship service. Churches living on thin margins are not going to be able to operate if they lose 78% of their revenue during a crisis that shuts them down for traditional Sunday worship services.

So, what can churches do to maintain giving revenue when people are not in church?

Be the church — One of the most important things a church can do to sustain stewardship is to continue to serve the Lord and to love its neighbors. Pastors and sessions are correct in focusing on worship and taking care of people. This initial response is absolutely the right response. So, keep being the best church you can be during any trying time.

Communicate and tell your story — Use all the tools available to you (email, texting, social media, phone calls, etc.) to make sure your flock knows you are still there and what you are doing. Organize your deacons to call and check on people. Share daily prayer practices on social media. Seek out and ask church members if they need help. Don’t count on them to reach out to you.

Model justice in employment — Churches are just like every other small business, with staff such as preschool teachers, janitors and hourly employees. Churches should do their best to continue paying all staff and honoring contracts with small businesses. As an employer, your church should be a model for this practice by taking care of everyone who relies on the church for their livelihood.

Online giving — If your church is not offering online giving, you need to start offering it immediately. This is the best way to allow people to give when they cannot physically be in church to drop a check into the offering plate. Even if people are using online bill pay, or mailing checks to the church, these ways of giving still require someone to come to the church, count the checks, go to the bank and make a deposit. Online giving will be directly deposited into the church’s account and doesn’t require anyone to go to the church or to the bank. If you need help with this, visit the Presbyterian Foundation at presbyterianfoundation.org/onlinegiving.

Set up an assistance fund — Many individuals and families in your church and community are going to be financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Set up a special fund and authorize your pastor or session to use this fund to provide assistance to those in need. Encourage people to give to the church as they normally do and to give to the assistance fund, in addition to their normal giving. Recognize that many in your church will need help, but also recognize that others will still have the capacity to give.

Just ask — We often don’t do a very good job of asking for money in the church, but during a crisis, it is important to ask. Don’t assume that church members will realize the financial impacts to the church on their own. They need to be reminded that the church cannot continue to support people in a crisis unless they — as the body of Christ — continue to give above and beyond their weekly tithes and offerings. Send a weekly email asking members to give with the online giving option as a link.

Keep being the church — The most important thing a church can do in a time of crisis — and always — is to glorify God and love its neighbors. Keep doing this, be in communication with your flock, offer online giving and ask people to give — and people will respond.

Robert Hay Jr. serves as the Presbyterian Foundation’s senior ministry relations officer for the Southeast. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching and consulting to pastors, committees, sessions and lay leaders.

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