Rethinking Stewardship Approaches

By the Rev. Susan Krummel

I am not usually a fan of a pastor or someone in my position using themselves as a good example. If pastors tell a story from their lives in a sermon, I think it should be a story about how they learned something about their faith because of a failing or a shortcoming, or a story about something funny that happened to them. I also think pastors should never use their children as examples, especially if the child is in worship. The last thing preacher’s kids need is to have more attention drawn to them.

I realize that my approach to pastors not using themselves as an example may come from my baby boomer sensibilities formed long before our current culture in which people share far more of their personal lives. You can “Okay, Boomer” me about this. Just saying that what I am about to write is outside of my comfort zone, but I thought it might be instructive.

One of the areas of a congregation’s life about which pastors and other leaders are worrying right now is stewardship. The way we encourage people to give to congregations has been the norm for about 120 years. Before our current system of pledging and giving, members of congregations paid pew tax for the right to sit in a particular pew. In some European countries, churches are funded through taxes. All of this is to say that there are lots of ways to fund churches.

We can learn much from other not-for-profits when it comes to stewardship. For instance, I have been to workshops where people remind us that when the zoo asks us for money, they send us a picture of a baby giraffe. When the church asks us for money, they send us a line-item budget.

Churches are also notoriously bad at saying “thank you.” There is a mistaken idea that no one should know what a member gives to the church. Directors of other not-for-profits know exactly who their donors are and what they give. I had a member of a church where I was pastor tell me that she was not really comfortable having me know what she gave. I told her that if she was uncomfortable, she could give more.

So, here is the story about my family. We received our stimulus check in the last few weeks. We do not need it since we are doing fine meeting our needs. We were watching the nightly news with a story about how many people are hungry. The Midwest Food Bank in Peoria is an organization that we know very well and we know that they do good work. We sent them a check for the whole amount of our stimulus check and my husband wrote a note to the director, whom he knows. We got back a handwritten note thanking us for our $1200 check and telling us that this amount provides $36,000 worth of food through the food bank. Very specific; very impactful; very helpful as we consider further gifts.

As you work at making sure your stewardship program at church is robust and that it is truly encouraging members to be generous, what might you do to be specific, impactful, and helpful? Can you tell people exactly what their $1000 or $10,000 contribution accomplishes? Can you tell them a story about how worship and companionship in the lives of your members helps to mold them into Christians who change untold numbers of lives as they go about their work and leisure? What have you thought about that might change the way you encourage stewardship?

It takes dedication and faith and the love of God to do our work. It also takes money to continue to bring hope in the name of Jesus.

The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel is Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Chicago.

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