‘The knowledge and wisdom you have is enough for this work’

Philanthropy expert David King helps church leaders cultivate generosity among givers

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Rev. Dr. David King

LOUISVILLE — At the end of every Facebook Live event aired most Wednesdays by the Presbyterian Foundation’s Theological Education Fund, the host, the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, asks his guest to deliver a benediction or a charge.

This week, the Rev. Dr. David King, who directs the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, assured his listeners — clergy and other faith leaders — that “the knowledge and wisdom you have is enough for this work. You have the gifts to excel and help others transform their understanding of money today and into the future.”

King and colleagues at the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving published the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, which sought to answer three sets of  questions:

  • Who gives to congregations, when, and how?
  • How do congregations teach about money and finances, and how do they steward the gifts they receive?
  • How do congregations spend their financial resources to serve their members, community, and beyond’

The really good pastors, King said, are ethnographers. They’ve studied their congregations in the same way an anthropologist studies a society, and they’re excellent listeners. An important job for pastors is to be able to speak the faith community’s story back to the community, he said.

“Don’t concentrate on what you lack or what you didn’t learn in seminary,” he advised pastors. Rather, clergy might concentrate on the skills they have and on listening.

“We get stuck in paradigms,” he said about theories on increasing giving. “The church is this, and we need you to give that. Trust us. We have the answers.”

But donors “want to give in a way that fits their own passions,” he said. “We don’t communicate that story clearly. How can we be listeners, listening to the joys and pains when people are talking about money — particularly now, when there is so much anxiety and fear among our members?”

Generosity, he said, is a “Christian practice around discipleship,” alongside practices including praying and reading the Bible, he said. “It’s not a spiritual gift you do or do not have. It’s something we can grow and develop, but it takes practice.”

Generosity “gives back to us with joy,” he said. Scripture in general and Jesus in particular “talk about money all the time,” he said. People “are hungry for guidance on how they use resources, how they teach their kids about it and how they invest. When you are ready to talk about giving,” he told the preachers listening to the webinar, “they are ready for it.”

In his work, “we try to combat the ‘five easy tools to grow your budget’” approach, he said. “For us, it’s more of a holistic question on leadership.” All church leaders, clergy included, “need to have a sense of transparency, particularly around money,” he said. “Never hide behind or blow smoke around where the money comes in and goes out. Be confident you can clearly stand behind where money is being used and where it is going.”

Church leaders, especially clergy, should “do your own work around money,” he said. Many new pastors graduate from seminary with a mound of debt. “We often feel uncomfortable or even shameful around money,” he said.

Asked by Hinson-Hasty for more findings from the study, King mentioned a handful of statistics: 92% of churches still pass the offering plate each week, resulting in about 80% of the giving the church receives. And 22% percent of churches also offer an online giving option.

“We have learned that once members transition to online giving, they are not coming back to writing that check in person,” King said. “Despite their generation or age, the ease is helpful.” Online giving tends to be slightly higher than the traditional check in the offering plate, he said.

Beyond the giving component, church leaders “do well” to consider other revenue streams, including rent. “They need to be thinking creatively about their building, which is often their biggest asset,” he said. “Thinking holistically about revenue streams is increasingly important” because “reliance on individual giving will be a decreasing percentage of their overall budget.”

Creative options include charging under-market rent to a social service agency with a mission the congregation supports.

“Have that conversation about how it’s an important part of a church’s economics,” he said. With the world “now focused on inequity and injustice, these questions play a big part for our faith communities.”

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