For most churches, summer vacations bring a dreaded trend: Attendance wavers more than usual and giving declines. And with the exception of the most mature givers, people simply don’t make up that giving when they return. The result? We lose valuable ministry revenue. Fortunately, you can take five very simple steps to counteract the summer giving slump.
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.
Not all thank yous are created equal. When it comes to thanking people for their charitable contributions, your approach matters.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the value of saying thank you. I talk frequently about the importance of sharing stories to show how giving creates change. I’ve even written an eBook about the connection between communication and generosity.
Today, I thought it would be interesting to bring the point home again by comparing and contrasting a couple of thank-you emails I recently received from charitable organizations. We can learn from others how to thank givers.
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.
In 2016, people gave $390 billion to charitable organizations, a record level for the third year in a row. According to the most recent data available, online giving is growing at more than four times the pace of overall giving, and data shows 31% of online contributions occur in December—with 12% happening during the last three days of the year.
There’s no doubt that the month of December is a valuable opportunity for you to encourage and equip your congregation to participate financially in your ministry. Follow these steps to ensure a successful year-end giving appeal.
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.
Did October sneak up on you, too? It seems like just yesterday you were powering through Vacation Bible School, and now—suddenly—it’s only 10 weeks until Christmas. (Did your blood pressure go up a bit just now?)
Along with the stress of planning for the Christmas season, many church leaders feel some anxiety about what comes after Christmas: the end of the fiscal year. There isn’t much time left to meet projected budgets. How will you leverage the remaining weeks of 2017 to accelerate generosity in your church?
The idea of a “giving pathway” isn’t a new concept. We’ve talked about the Next Steps of Generosity before, and I have shared a generous giver’s prayer. But what if we stopped thinking about this journey of generosity so much in terms of percentages and numbers?
First – why is a pathway important? For the same reason you likely have a formal assimilation program in your church – you desire to move people from where they are, to where you (and God) want them to be. You have developed a logical “next steps” process – for example:
If you’re a first-time guest with us this weekend, we invite you to our monthly “Open Mic” night – come and learn anything you’d like to know about our church, mission, and ministries. At Open Mic night, you talk about their next step – attending your New Member class. Then in the New Member class, you talk about the importance of getting plugged in – take a spiritual gifts assessment, and get involved in a small group. Once engaged in the church and involved in a small group, you work to get them serving in a ministry area that aligns with their gift assessment. And so on. There is a logical, and easy-to-understand series of steps that helps the worship guest know how to engage with you and the church.
A similar process is wise in your giving discipleship program:
- Non-givers need help understanding what their first step might be. “I’ve never giving before – where do I start? How much am I supposed to give? How/where do I give?” These may seem like easy questions for you, but consider the new believer who wasn’t raised in the church. Don’t assume even the most basic of questions – anticipate and answer them all.
- Casual givers need a nudge to become a consistent giver.
- Those who are tithing often believe they’ve “arrived” – that there is no next step for them. They believe they are right where God commands them, without considering that there is room for them to grow in their personal journey. We know that to be wrong, don’t we? Isn’t God always challenging us to grow with him in ALL areas of discipleship? Prayer, Bible study, service, giving, sharing the Gospel. A pathway helps to understand that we are always challenged to grow in our giving.
Often a giving pathway (or “Generosity Ladder” as first coined by Nelson Searcy in his book by the same name), is somewhat organized by gift amounts or income percentages. The first level is initial giver, while a higher level represents a tithe, and a still higher level represents an amount above the tithe. Well…can’t an initial giver begin giving at the level of a tithe? Do we have to wait until a higher step to reach that amount?
Today I want to challenge you to consider this pathway from a new perspective. Let’s look at this concept in terms of behavior. Rather than defining each step by an amount given, or a percentage of income, let’s define each step with a new behavior. How can we define each step in the pathway by a new behavior?
Let’s start at the beginning – with someone giving for the very first time.
An Initial Giver is someone who decides to give for the first time; someone who decides to give something and trust God and the leaders of the Church with this gift (2 Corinthians 8:7; 15). Before doing so, there are five things a first-time giver will likely need to know before they will give. These five things educate them, reassure them, and provide logistical information to empower them to give for the very first time. And as church leaders, that’s our job – to empower our people in spiritual growth. The new behavior – practicing generosity through a tangible act of giving.