As church leaders, we like our numbers, don’t we? One of the first questions we ask one another is, “How many people attend your church?” We love learning how many people came to our Christmas and Easter gatherings. We get excited when a long-planned community event is well-attended. We know it’s not all about numbers, but we also know those numbers represent something meaningful: individual lives impacted by Jesus Christ.
While we’re happy to talk about attendance numbers, we’re not always as interested in talking about financial data—until there’s a specific reason to do so. We typically do a quick review of income and expenses at a board meeting, but beyond that we tend to talk about our church finances the most when our giving is down, when we may not meet our budget, or when we need to inspire significant generosity for a specific project.
As 2017 came to a close, one topic seemed to dominate the headlines: tax reform. As news of sweeping changes made its way from Capitol Hill to Facebook, assumptions were touted as truth, and opinions spawned heated arguments.
Personally, I began receiving emails from concerned clergy: How will tax reform affect people’s giving to my church? While we don’t really know for sure, let’s explore some details that may inform how you approach the conversation with your congregation.
I’ve partnered with churches for more than 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for a church to disciple people well and make a difference in their community. Without a doubt, church communicators play a significant role in their church’s effectiveness.
As I’ve met with communications directors around the country, I’m consistently struck by how challenging their responsibilities are. Kelley Hartnett, a church communicator with whom I first became acquainted through my work with Morning Star Church near St. Louis, Mo., understands—first hand—how demanding the work can be. Her recently released book, You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators, offers her tribe some much-needed encouragement and practical insight.
A study from Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects that charities are forecast to receive more than $6 trillion from final estates between 2007 and 2061. This is great news for your ministry. If, that is, your church is among those charities. But because legacy giving—a present decision to make a future gift—is rarely discussed in American churches, it’s likely not.
Few things are as frustrating as a ministry with a God-inspired vision that is prevented from fulfilling that vision due to lack of funding. Legacy giving is an important tool that better equips the local church to fully resource the mission and ministry that God has given you to impact your community. To help pastors begin or strengthen their legacy giving strategy, I’ve written a new eBook, Establishing a Culture of Legacy Giving in Your Church.
Many pastors feel uneasy about bringing up the topic of money. You might get brave enough to talk about it during November as part of an annual “giving campaign,” and you’ll preach four or five money-themed messages (in a row!) during a building project every few years. But frequent and regular mentions of money typically don’t happen.
You see, pastors tend to reserve conversations about money for special occasions and big asks, thinking they’re less likely to offend or anger their church family if they talk about touchy subjects less often. In reality, the opposite is true. The more we normalize conversations about money, the more joyfully and sacrificially people will give.
Year-end giving is a big deal. According to recent data, 31% of annual charitable giving occurs in December, with 12% of donations given during the last three days of the year. Why is that? Surely it’s because of your inspired preaching during the Advent season, right? Of course it is.
However, it may also have something to do with a date far into the future—April 15, Tax Day. That’s right: In addition to being motivated by compassion and the “holiday spirit,” many of us want to maximize our charitable contributions before the year runs out.
As you plan your year-end giving strategy, be sure to communicate these important dates:
As the proud father of two young adults, I might have a slightly biased opinion, but I think Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1998, have gotten a bad rap. Now the largest living generation, Millennials have been pegged as entitled, lazy, insubordinate, selfish coffee snobs whose face-to-face social skills have been completely wrecked by texting and social media.
While there’s at least a drop of truth in that description—as is the case with most stereotypes—I’d like to suggest an alternate descriptor: Millennials are misunderstood. And that’s particularly the case when it comes to the idea that they’re selfish. The truth is, Millennials are exceptionally generous with both their time and financial resources. Dollar for dollar, they may not be giving “as much” as older generations; however, as a percentage of total income, their giving is on par with that of Baby Boomers.
“But Rusty,” you might be thinking, “My church is full of Millennials, and they’re not giving.” First of all, congratulations on having a church full of Millennials. Given that 32% of adults under age 30 have no religious affiliation, you must be doing many things well. And my guess is the Millennials at your church are giving—somewhere else. If they aren’t yet contributing financially to your church, that may say less about them, as Millennials, than it does about your church’s generosity culture.
The months leading up to a generosity initiative can feel exhausting. Given the number of decisions to be made, conversations to have, and plans to implement, it’s natural to reach Commitment Weekend and think, “Whew! We’re finally at the finish line!”
I hate to break it to you, but Commitment Weekend is more like the end of the third lap. To finish well, you’ll need to turn your attention to the last—and critical—phase of your initiation: the Giving Season or Fulfillment Phase. Implemented well, you’ll receive 92% or more of your commitments. Done poorly or neglected? Your people will meet as little as 50% of their pledges.
FOUR TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL FULFILLMENT PHASE
Maintaining momentum during a generosity initiative isn’t difficult, but it does require some intentionality.