By Jon Moore
The secret to successful fundraising for nonprofits — including the Church — is that our work is never about funds development per se, but rather about people development. A church fundraiser’s goal is not just to generate funds, but also to help in the formation of generous disciples who give out of gratitude to God because they have first received.
When training, motivating and nurturing the leadership of newly formed worshiping communities — which is my specific calling within Mission Engagement and Support — or when working with new or sometimes even longtime members of a congregation, the most fundamental question we must ask is how does one begin a stewardship conversation that leads to regular, internally motivated giving? This can be particularly challenging in today’s world where so many have no background or experience with philanthropy, let alone making a stewardship commitment characterized by sustained, regular giving.
In this environment, how do we invite people into the joy of giving?
To cultivate a posture of generosity among a group of people is to be an agent of God’s grace. We seek to have people give as a way of inviting them into the graceful work of God and providing them a meaningful experience of participating in God’s love.
The best way to begin is by giving participants concrete experiences of four stewardship fundamentals: hospitality, generosity, ownership and testimony.
In God’s economy, giving is a response to receiving. To teach generosity, we must begin to create opportunities to receive. One of the tangible ways to do this is through the practice of hospitality. In receiving hospitality, participants experience love and care from others. Furthermore, when that hospitality is done in the name of God, it communicates God’s grace. In working with new worshiping communities, I have witnessed such hospitality in action at Wayfarers Chapel in Colorado Springs, where providing dinner at every meeting when it was first launched was key to its ethos.
People who receive hospitality are often inspired to practice hospitality themselves. A posture of hospitality is where the receiving/giving cycle is born and begins to live in people as generosity.
Generosity can be pointed outward by encouraging people to initiate or participate in an act of generosity during the week. At Telos at Southminster in Nashville, the Rev. Beth Smith McCaw sent her participants out each week to initiate an act of generosity and report back at the subsequent service. Generous acts naturally inspire a sense of satisfaction and even joy in generous ones, which foster more generosity and a desire to participate in generous acts.
When such acts are shared in a group to mutually inspire one another to more of such actions, the group becomes a “community of generosity.”
In addition to the postures of hospitality and generosity, there is a natural progression of mutual contribution that can be advanced early in a new community’s life. This initial giving is motivated by what the community does together.
Activities cost money, whether in the form of fees to send a kid to camp or feeding the hungry — everyone can share in making these things happen. Significant bonding occurs when a group of people accomplishes a goal or makes a difference together.
When people become accustomed to paying for casual activities of the community, they are a step closer to supporting the community itself — to allow the community to thrive, to serve neighborhood needs, to gain new participants and to expand its generous impact.
This is when a conversation about longer-term commitment and stewardship can be initiated and the practice of regular, periodic giving proposed — first, from the leader; then from the members of the leadership team; and finally, from the participants in the community. The ownership approach is probably the most widely used across the broad spectrum of new worshiping communities.
While people are experiencing these concrete activities around hospitality, generosity and ownership, leaders need to be proclaiming the message of stewardship from the front and inviting testimonies from those whose lives have been changed by their experiences in the community. “Pastor Miriam” [Mauritzen] of Serious JuJu, a new worshiping community in Kalispell, Montana, uses testimonies extensively in her fundraising appeals.
It’s one thing to hear a biblically inspired stewardship theme from the community leader, but it’s even more powerful to hear a testimony of a changed life from “people like me.” Paradigms shift when people see things “bigger than themselves” happening all around them; when they risk something new and end up experiencing a joy they hadn’t expected.
As a result of that experience, they become different, deeper people. They learn the value of giving themselves away, and they want more.
People may join a community for what they can get, but they stay for what they can give. This is how people change and how their commitment grows. When church leaders don’t include the giving of money as part of our toolkit for accomplishing this change, we are ignoring one of the best and most straightforward tools of discipleship. Remember, a church fundraiser’s goal is not just to generate funds, but also to help in the formation of generous disciples who give out of gratitude to God because they have first received.
Jon Moore is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s mission engagement advisor for 1001 New Worshiping Communities.