Is it time to crowdsource the stewardship campaign?

By the Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell

Crowdsourcing existed long before the internet.

Of course, we didn’t call it that. In some instances, we called it a miracle. Consider this: What was, for you, the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000? Was it that Jesus single-handedly fed 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves? OR was the miracle that the message of Jesus inspired an unexpected outpouring of generosity, the likes of which no one had ever seen? A level of generosity that was miraculous?

In today’s successful crowdsourcing initiatives, small amounts of money — or simple ideas or modest recommendations — are requested and collected from a large number of people. What is collected generally adds up to more than enough, as with the loaves and fishes, proving once again that we can do more together than any one of us can do alone.

Although crowdsourcing existed before the internet, what the internet adds to the mix is a sense of urgency, energy and immediacy. In a 2006 Wired magazine article titled “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” Jeff Howe had this to say:

We’re talking about bringing people in from outside and involving them in this broadly creative, collaborative process. That’s a whole new paradigm.

This graphic symbolizes the use of ideas from a wide range of individuals, as used in crowdsourcing. (Wikipedia)

Doesn’t that describe what we are struggling with in the Church these days? Bringing people into the community of faith and involving them? Our challenge is whether we are courageous enough to involve them in a faith-filled experience that is “broadly creative and collaborative.” Tremendous energy, satisfaction and a sense of ownership results when people — and the contributions they offer — are accepted and welcomed. That is the longed-for culture of Church.

So much has been presented, written, sermonized, blogged and talked about the topic of raising money in the church. Pastors search in vain for that magical story combined with the perfect Scripture that will transform the blessed stewardship day into an outpouring of generous gratitude. A truly blessed pastor will have a stewardship committee that combines the exacting skills of engineers with the design skills of artists and descriptive skills of poets. Together they combine their cheerleading abilities to motivate the congregation to overcome the financial challenge for another successful annual campaign.

If only.

Maybe it’s time for us to frame the stewardship campaign in terms of crowdsourcing or crowdfunding. It seems to me that those terms have much in common with stewardship because they are invitation.  They invite the whole people of God — everyone — members and friends of the congregation to participate in the life abundant. Everyone is invited to support the ministry of the church as they are able. Every amount contributed is welcome. There is no minimum. No suggested percentage increase. No entry fee. No ticket price to get in the door. These terms can remind us that there is an energy in giving. Even more importantly, we should never take for granted what a group of people can accomplish when they join with others and embody their collective promise to focus their energy, intelligence, imagination, love and resources! We may witness the miracle of transformative generosity!

Within the life of the Church, our act of financial giving is described as an act of stewardship because in our reality it is not based on money. It is based rather on our relationships and our promises — the relationships and the promises we make with each other and with God. Every faith community has within it the spark of the miraculous generosity described in the Feeding of the 5,000. It can break forth at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.

Our giving is about so much more than the money. It’s about our life together as the people of faith. The life and love we share with our family, our friends, our congregation, the ministry we engage in together and how we live that out in our daily lives. When those relationships are real and authentic, then, yes, that miracle spark of generosity is ignited.

When we come together as Church, it is not merely “crowdsourcing” that leads to “crowdfunding.” It is a longing to be reminded that God is with us as we humbly ask for God’s grace. God’s relentless “yes” to each of us moves us to respond with the miracle of generosity.

May it be so!

The Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell is senior director of Mission Engagement and Support for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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