Ten Financial Stewardship Tips


“I’ve always heard the saying, `Get the people there, and the money will come!'” wrote a stewardship chairperson. “Our church’s worship attendance is excellent. Yet we always live on the edge of financial insolvency. How can we improve our giving?”

Research findings sharply define the difference between high-per-capita-giving congregations and poverty-syndrome churches. High per-capita giving congregations use the following principles.

1. Conduct a stewardship campaign of some kind every year. This makes more difference in per-capita financial giving than any other single procedure.

The leaders in a small-town congregation expressed their pride in not having stewardship campaigns of any kind like this: “When we need the money, people always come through.” These leaders should have been embarrassed instead of proud. Their “May Day” method (S.O.S.-the ship is sinking) is not Christian stewardship. That kind of bill-paying, dues-paying, fund-raising mentality (a) blocks members from a significant spiritual-growth experience and (b) keeps a congregation’s mission and ministry in poverty.

Ironically, by insisting that they prefer not to talk about money, a church’s leaders guarantee that money becomes the topic of conversation at every board and committee meeting. In discussing every new idea, the question, “Can we really afford to do that?” always replaces the question, “What is God calling us to do?”

2. Stress the biblical concept of percentage-of-income giving. Everywhere in Scripture we hear the warning: “Money has power. Wealth is addictive. Be on your guard. It can replace God as your god.” Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables talk about the use of money. One-sixth of the verses in the synoptic gospels deal with money. In the biblical record, Jesus talked more about money than he talked about sin or love. Jesus spoke five times as often about money and earthly possessions as about prayer.

Research proves that giving is a learned behavior. People whose churches ask them to put their financial commitment on paper in an annual stewardship campaign give, on average, twice as much as people who do not. People asked to make commitments based on a percentage of their income give an average of three times as much as those who base their decisions on a dollar amount.

3. Encourage the pastor to provide theological and method leadership. When a pastor says, “Money is not my thing,” that is like saying, “preaching (or prayer, or worship) is not my thing.” One of the pastor’s major roles is to build mature disciples. Stewardship is a fundamental part of our spiritual relationship with Christ. Authentic discipleship cannot exist without it.

Why, then, are so many pastors uneasy talking about tithing and percentage giving? For several reasons: (a) Fearful that people will be irritated. (b) Fearful of appearing to interpret Scripture in a legalistic way. (c) Fearful of coming across as judgmental instead of pastoral and caring. (d) Fearful that people might think their pastor is talking about money as a way of promoting a salary increase. (e) Fearful of having to scrutinize his or her own low level of financial giving.

Pastors overcome these anxieties when they (a) believe Ashley Hale’s assertion that “The giver is the principle beneficiary of the gift,” (b) understand that tithing and percentage giving help people grow spiritually, and (c) have experience with annual stewardship programs that treat financial giving as a spiritual rather than a fund-raising matter.

4. Avoid succumbing to the “unified budget” myth. People enjoy giving money to their church in at least nine ways: (a) Regular operational budget support. (b) Building funds. (c) Special offerings for benevolences/missions. (d) S.O.S. calls for special needs. (e) An annual “Wish List” to attract special donations for equipment or building repairs. (f) A special cadre of givers (like a 5 percent club) who respond to a “call” that the church issues not more than twice a year for not more than $250 each time. (g) Wills. (h) Memorials. (a) Endowments.

Restricting people from several of those nine giving opportunities because the leadership group idolizes the 1950s’ idea of a “unified budget” (a) blocks people from the joy of giving, (b) restricts their spiritual growth opportunities, and (c) reduces congregational giving by a significant annual percentage.

5. Avoid placing capital improvement needs in the annual operating budget. From their pocket marked “current income,” people give to the annual operating budget campaign. For other important causes, such as capital improvements to their facilities, many church members reach into a pocket labeled “accumulated resources.” If a church folds all of its capital expenditures into the operating budget, it (a) reduces the opportunity for people to grow in their financial stewardship by that amount and (b) radically restricts its ability to say yes to what God is calling it to do in mission and ministry.

High-per-capita-giving congregations use three different methods to accomplish three kinds of capital improvements: (a) For small missions or capital improvement projects, members respond to a “general appeal letter.” (b) Larger capital improvement projects require a highly organized, internally led, “Miracle Sunday” type of campaign. [Wayne C. Barrett, The Church Finance Idea Book (Nashville: Discipleship Resources), pages 95-98.] (c) Gigantic capital improvement projects such as new buildings require outside leadership by a capital-fund expert. (In large capital campaigns, “doing it ourselves” reduces total giving by at least 50 percent.)

6. Provide year-around stewardship education. Examples: (a) Stewardship Nuggets (Nashville: Abingdon Press, downloadable from the cokesbury.com) provides motivational short stories and ideas on financial stewardship in a fifty-two-page format-one for each week of the year-designed for use in newsletters, worship bulletins, and stewardship moments in worship. (b) Occasional three-minute personal witness by different laypersons in the worship services. Ask Ann Clinton, LakeRidge United Methodist Church, 4701 82nd Street, Lubbock, Texas 79424, for a description of that congregation’s “Witnesses” procedures. Send a $5 donation to cover postage and handling. (c) Newsletter, worship bulletin, and announcement material from Effective Stewardship: Building on Biblical Principles (Belleville, Illinois, KLW Enterprises), telephone 800/805-8702 to obtain a free video and explanation materials.

7. Mail quarterly “giving-to-date” reports to each household. Despite their best intentions, a few people forget to give to the church during the first few months of the year (or think their spouse took care of it). If six months go by before they learn of their error, the amount they should send may feel overwhelming. So they decide to send nothing and “start over next year.”

8. Accurately report congregational giving in the newsletter. Distortion is inevitable if you divide anticipated income by fifty-two weeks in the year and report that as a “Weekly Need,” since giving is always small on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. The same inaccuracy results if you divide by twelve months in the year and call that a “Monthly Need,” since giving in December is often much larger than other months.

Ask your church treasurer to do a five-year study of financial reports to determine the average percentage of our congregation’s annual income given during January, during February, etc. The amounts will not be 8.3 percent per month, because in most churches December giving is much larger than the other months.

In addition to standard accounting procedures, ask your treasurer to prepare the following monthly report for your church newsletter or worship bulletin. This example is from an end-of-June treasurer’s report in a church that uses this method: “(a) We are 50 percent of the way through the budget year. (b) We have received 44 percent of our anticipated income for the year (the previous five-year average received by this date is 43 percent). (c) We have expended 43.8 percent of our anticipated expenses for the year. (d) We have received $567.00 of income in excess of expenses this year.”

This procedure (a) provides the finance committee a way to monitor the progress of monthly giving that does not distort reality during the early months of the year and (b) provides a means of reporting that progress to the congregation, giving donors confidence that the finance committee keeps careful watch over financial procedures and operates in a businesslike manner.

9. Develop a comprehensive “Wills and Bequests Policy” and endowment funds. Establish three permanent endowments: (a) facilities endowment, (b) missions endowment, and (c) general endowment. Different kinds of people like to contribute to different kinds of endowments. If church leaders frequently publicize the ministries these three endowments accomplish in appreciative ways, the endowments continually attract planned giving contributions and gifts through wills and bequests.

10. Sponsor a “Wills and Estate Planning Seminar” every seven years. Schedule this one-and-one-half-hour event on Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. Invite three people to make brief presentations, followed by a question-and-answer session: (a) development staff member from one of your church agencies, (b) local lawyer, and (c) local CPA who is a tax expert. These presentations provide insights for church members and friends who will not otherwise take time to seek out information that can benefit them and their heirs. While not designed to influence
people to put the church into their wills, some of that inevitably happens as a by-product.

The Bottom Line

In his lengthy definition of financial stewardship, the Apostle Paul cites twin goals: (a) Help people grow spiritually through their financial giving. (b) Provide sufficient resources for the Church’s mission and ministry (2 Corinthians 9:11-13).

Poverty-syndrome churches neglect one of those twin goals. Congregations that ask people to give in a variety of spiritual growth-focused, biblically-based ways receive everything they need to
accomplish the missions and ministries to which God calls them.

Does your church invite people to grow spiritually through generous giving? If not, which of these ten principles should you begin using?