As a church leader, you probably wish you had more money to do more ministry. But your church’s financial bandwidth is tied to your congregation’s financial generosity—and that can be frustrating. How can you encourage people to trust God and give more?
Some of the strategies for improving your generosity culture have to do with discipleship. Many others, though, come down to improving communication. So today I’m beginning a series of practical posts to help you avoid (or fix) the most common mistakes within the church generosity landscape. The list of six mistakes we’ll be discussing is a result of dozens of generosity audits I’ve conducted with churches all around the country. You can learn from these mistakes!
Ready for church generosity mistake #1? Here it is: Ineffective sharing of financial information.
Old School Communication
When I was young, our church posted stats on a large plaque in the front of the sanctuary: attendance last week, giving last week, number of people in Sunday school. I think they even listed the number who brought their Bible. Do you remember seeing anything like that? (I’m likely dating myself here, but it was very common practice back in the day.)
Today, I often see churches placing similar information in their weekly worship bulletin. That approach simply isn’t effective… at all. What are we to draw from weekly financial information in the bulletin? Most people don’t know what to make of what they see.
In fact, those numbers can often be misleading. For example, if you print Giving Last Week, Budget Last Week, Giving Year-to-Date, and Budget Year-to-Date, you’re not providing an accurate picture. Think about it for a minute. If the need number (budget) is below the giving number—and it almost always is, at least until December—you’re communicating that you’re in trouble. “Our giving is behind our budget.” Well, who wants to give to something that might be failing? Would you purchase stock in a publicly traded company if you thought the business was in trouble? (Enron, anyone?)
And the reverse is equally problematic. If giving is ahead of budget, what does that say? “Great! They don’t need my money!!”
Seriously, there are significant issues here:
- Throughout the first 10 or 11 months of the calendar year, giving is often behind budget. You and I know giving in November and December can be exceptional, and it closes the budget gap. But for the majority of the year, people see figures that continually reflect that you’re behind budget. That’s not good. That alone is reason enough to not publish those numbers in the weekly bulletin. They simply aren’t helpful.
- Numbers tell stories, and they need to be in context to portray an accurate story. Weekly numbers don’t precisely reflect the true finances of the church.
I’m a numbers guy. I study this stuff. I’ve counseled churches for 18 years on generosity. If I can’t figure out what those numbers are truly communicating, the average attendee isn’t likely to get an accurate picture of what’s going on. Weekly numbers are important for your leadership team, but they provide a distorted reality to the congregation.
So if not weekly, then how often? And if not in the bulletin, then where? Those are great questions, and I’m glad you asked!
Use Your Website to Communicate Financial Information, Not the Bulletin
Your church website is ideal for financial content, because you can provide much more comprehensive information, in context, about your church’s finances. Being open and thorough with this information speaks volumes to your church family. Your givers will appreciate—and reward—your transparency!
- Post a monthly summary on your online giving page.
- Include comments that help interpret what’s reflected in the summary.
- Consider including a brief video about the numbers, connecting those figures to ministry impact and church mission. This makes it much less about the “budget” and more about vision. Now that’s something I want to invest in!
Now you’re likely thinking, “What do I do with that section in the bulletin where we’ve been putting our giving data for the last 30 years?” This practice is in place from tradition more than anything else. After all, the bulletin was the primary form of communication back in the day. But not today.
Removing financial information from your bulletin without any explanation is a bit risky. Some people might think you’re hiding something: “Are we in trouble? What happened to the numbers that used to be in the bulletin?” Here’s a simple solution: In place of that giving information, include a simple statement: “For a full monthly update on our finances, visit our website…” and provide the exact URL to access the content. That says you have nothing to hide, that you’re fully transparent, and that I can trust you.
In addition to sharing regular, monthly updates, you will also want to produce an annual report. This provides the greatest opportunity to celebrate the finances of the past year and the amazing results realized through your ministry. Check out these resources to help you plan this year’s annual report:
- Effective Annual Reports (blog post)
- Annual Reports Tell Stories That Increase Generosity (blog post)
- Annual Giving Statements Guide (free eBook)
Churches are notorious for getting into “we’ve always done it this way” ruts, and some of those ruts can be costly—literally. Identifying our mistakes is the first step toward fixing them. If you’re interested in uncovering your church’s generosity mistakes, I can help! Contact me today about scheduling a generosity audit.
Stop feeling stuck, and gain the financial freedom to fulfill your church’s mission!