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Rich Church, Poor Church
Keys to Effective Financial Ministry
By J. Clif Christopher
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
WHY GIVE TO THE CHURCH?
I was working with a pastor of a midwestern Protestant church, assisting his recruiting persons to serve in an upcoming capital campaign. A few weeks before, he and I reviewed the candidates and determined those we thought would be the best fits for his campaign. The campaign was not an exciting one. The funds would primarily be used to do delayed maintenance on the facility and replace some old HVAC systems. The church's operating budget had no room to absorb these expenses, so the church was calling on a capital campaign to produce the revenue. I felt that we had a pretty good lineup of active laypersons who would do their best to lead in the campaign. Each one was asked to come in for a thirty-minute session with the pastor and me to hear what the job would entail and hopefully to say yes to serving.
The third person we met on the first morning of recruiting was someone who I felt would be a slam dunk to serve. She had been the immediate past chairperson of the board and a member of the church for the last twenty years. She and her husband were the third largest donors to the church. I did not anticipate any problem.
The pastor quickly introduced us and asked her to take a seat. He then asked to me to explain the job in a bit more detail. I did so in about five minutes while the church member listened politely, but with a serious look on her face. I expected to get a quick positive answer and to move on to the next candidate. It was not to be.
After I finished, she let silence enter the room, and then spoke: "Pastor, thank you for the confidence you have shown in me. I am honored to be asked to serve. As you know, my husband and I have been a part of this church for a long time, and we have always been happy to serve. We have obviously known of this upcoming campaign and have talked at length about what might be expected of us in it. I have some concerns.
"We have always supported the church financially and, we think, faithfully. Last year, however, we also began supporting World Vision and Oxfam. We have been very impressed with some of the work they are doing around the world and the difference it seems they are making. We are considering increasing that support. At the same time, we have been observing that our church seems to be getting smaller. I know that worship attendance is down this year from last year, and I think last year was down from the year before that. I can't remember when I last saw a youth or adult baptized at our altar. Just looking around on Sundays, it seems that we are getting older and older. I see a lot more persons with gray hair or no hair than children. Pastor, can you honestly tell me that my church is the best place for me to give?"
I was stunned but also very interested in how her pastor would answer this probing question about the future of his church. I leaned back to watch the drama unfold.
The pastor squirmed in his seat a bit and began to stammer out some words about how grateful he was for them and how much he valued her willingness to share with him. I think he repeated that about four times. He talked about his appreciation for the two organizations she mentioned and said he agreed that they did good work. He stumbled on for another minute or two and then finally got to her question. His answer was, "I think Clif might help us answer that question." He turned to me and smiled.
I did not know what to do for a moment. I knew that she did not want to hear from me. She was well aware of who I was and that I was temporarily at her church. She knew I did not even live in her state. I could not embarrass the pastor, however, so I babbled a bit about the "body of Christ" and such, and when I quit talking, she thanked us both and said she would get back to the pastor in the morning with her answer.
After she left the office, he looked at me and asked, "Do you think she will serve?" "No, she will not," I answered. "However, she has done you a great favor. She has given you the question that you must be prepared to answer if you have any hope for success in this campaign." He nodded and then asked me if I had a template to assist him. I could only shake my head and wonder if I could make it to the end of the campaign.
This woman was a giver. She was a devoted member of the church and, as far as I could determine, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. She felt, however, that she had a stewardship responsibility to use the gifts God had given to her and her husband in a wise way. She wanted her money to make a difference on behalf of the kingdom of God. She wanted a return on her investment. She wanted to feel that what she gave would change lives and transform the world into a better place. She asked the question that more and more church members are asking: "Is my church the best place for me to invest to make a difference and change lives?" Her pastor was not prepared to answer the question.
In far too many churches, pastors still preach that persons should just give to the church, without spelling out why. Every seven days people drop money into the plate and never really understand what difference it makes. Outside of the church, people hear and see compelling stories of healing, feeding, rescuing, saving, and helping. They are inundated with one solicitation after another from the charitable world and told heartwarming stories about how lives are being changed daily by the work of these agencies and organizations. People can understand and often personally relate to these stories.
Meanwhile the church continues to promote itself with word that the budget is up 3 percent, and we want all members to increase giving by 3 percent.
Often, our message does not inspire or convince. The message comes without faces or names. It emphasizes guilt and obligation. Scripture is quoted as a means of compelling a person to give. But nowhere is the case made as to why the Lord, who gave you all that you have, would want you to invest those gifts in this church.
Our donors are asking if the Lord was not at work in the hospital that served them with a new heart for Grandpa. Was the Lord not at work with the counselor at the college who helped keep their daughter from dropping out? Was the Lord not at work with the rescue mission that gave the homeless man a bed on the night when it was below freezing outside? Was the Lord not at work in the hospice foundation's caregiver who stayed tirelessly with Mother as she breathed her last breath? How is the Lord at work in my church? Just because it says "church" and has a cross does not mean the work of the Lord is being done there or only there. Why should I give to the church?
Nonprofits understand very well why persons give and what motivates continued giving. The church, by and large, seems afraid to compete. If the church does not learn to compete, however, it will find that fewer and fewer will be choosing them, and gifts will be moved to those who most effectively convinced them to contribute.
Why do persons give?
I have written extensively about this in Not Your Parents' Offering Plate. It is, however, important to restate this elementary understanding before one can fully understand the balance of this book, which will contrast the Rich Church and the Poor Church. The groundbreaking book Born to Raise by Jerold Panas featured research on the topic of why people give. Nonprofits have studied and been shaped by this research. Church leaders have predominantly ignored it to their detriment.
A BELIEF IN THE MISSION OF THE INSTITUTION
The number one reason that people give is a belief in the mission of the institution. People give when they can see a difference created that they value. If they have a heart for young people, they will give to the institution that they believe is most helping young people become the adults the donors believe are good for society. If they have a heart for the world's hungry, they will give where they believe the hungry are best being fed. If they have a heart for whales, they will give to the organization that convinces them they are the best at saving whales.
Nonprofits are well aware of this number one reason that people give, and they do their best at every turn to promote in understandable ways how they are accomplishing their mission. The youth organization will not send out a newsletter telling persons how many youth came by to play ball or how many members they now have. They will put on the cover of their newsletter a story of one youth whose life was turned around from participation in its program. People don't relate to program numbers. They relate to changed lives.
The hunger organization doesn't tell you data on how many persons they fed in so many countries and in so many days. They feature the face of one child and tell you how the child's mother brought him to the food center and how a worker intervened in his life with nourishment, to the point that he is now running and playing with other children. One can easily see how this life has been changed. The whale organization doesn't tell you what a new boat cost or what one trip to sea will mean in diesel fuel. They feature a picture of a giant blue whale leaping in the air and tell you how that whale was saved through action they took in the Pacific Ocean. In other words, they help convince you that they are doing the mission they advertise.
What is it that a church advertises when it puts a cross on the sign and the word church on the front door? What do persons understand the mission to be? Is the church telling compelling narratives about its mission and how they are doing that mission well? The pastor in the Midwestern church could not make the case. Can your church?
REGARD FOR STAFF LEADERSHIP
The second chief reason why people give is a regard for staff leadership. The number one rule in fundraising is that people give to people. They know that programs and buildings do not change lives, but people do. They must feel confident in the leadership to guide the institution in fulfilling the mission. Key investors in institutions want an intimate relationship with the CEO, and this is why nonprofits demand that their leader relate and connect with those able to help them fund their mission.
Many churches want to defy this reasoning, acting like persons of wealth should not desire a trusting relationship with their leaders (pastors). These Poor Churches pretend that lack of information about donors is a good thing for its leaders. They even set up policies that say that no pastor shall know what persons give, making it impossible for a pastor even to say a thank-you to a donor for a major gift, as if being thanked is not helpful or polite.
No college would encourage its president not to be aware of who its main alumni supporters are. No hospital would keep a CEO who does not set specific time aside for relating to those persons who have built new wings or who could establish new programs that would help the hospital do its mission.
In church after church I see pastors asking singers to join the choir, parents to help in the youth program, those who have recreational skills to coach teams, and people with mission hearts to lead mission teams, but I do not see them intentionally spending time with those who are blessed financially and asking them to share those blessings with the church. What is the difference? People want to hear why they should support the church. Many churches are not even in line.
FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE INSTITUTION
The third chief reason why people give is the fiscal responsibility of the institution. People do not want to give to an organization that wastes their money or always seems to be short of money. This sends a message that we are not able to do our mission, and achieving the mission is the number one reason why persons give. People do not want to give to a sinking ship but to one that might actually arrive at a destination.
This is why no nonprofit sends out messages that it is broke and in need of being saved from drowning. Donors do not want to just prop up an institution; they want to enable it to change lives. Nonprofits do not air their dirty laundry to the public. They deal with financial issues in private boardrooms and continue to talk publicly about how they are doing their mission.
Poor Churches, on the other hand, seem to believe that the more they cry wolf, the more they will get support. They publish financial data in their bulletins and newsletters that invariably show that the church is running a deficit. They say things such as, "50 percent of the year is complete, but we only have 40 percent of our revenue in." They always have about 40 percent in at the halfway mark because December is by far the largest giving month. They act as if they don't know that, believing that donors will give more if they think the church is broke. The exact opposite is true.
Pastors of these churches get up in the pulpit and tell people how bad it is or trot out the finance chairperson to do the same, somehow believing that this will make people want to throw their wallets at the altar. The exact opposite is true. This tactic encourages persons to avoid touching their wallets for fear of giving their money to a losing cause.
Amazingly, more church leaders are concerned at running a surplus than a deficit. Their fear is that if persons knew that the church actually had funds on hand they would stop giving. The fact is, if the church shares this good news, along with how it plans to use the gifts to change lives, people might give even more.
It is no wonder that many donors to the church are wondering if they should continue to give. They never hear stories of lives being changed like the ones they hear from other charities. Church leaders don't visit or ask for funds. Potential donors have little or no personal relationship with their pastor, unlike the one they have with the president of a college or the administrator of a hospital or the local director of Boy Scouts. They continue to get a message of gloom and doom that leads them to think that there is not much future in this place and perhaps their funds would be better invested elsewhere.
To have any hope at all of being a Rich Church, understand why people give.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CHURCH
1. How are you sharing stories about how you are changing lives?
2. Are your stories personal and shared in a way that is heartfelt and compelling to a donor?
3. Is the pastor as involved with persons of financial blessing as he or she is with persons with other gifts? Is there a reluctance to ask for financial gifts more than for talent gifts? Why?
4. Does your church subtly send a message that you are always in trouble financially? Is it possible that persons could perceive that the leadership is not a good manager of their funds? Do you publish deficit reports for all to see?
5. How would you answer a person who might ask you why he or she should give to your church?CHAPTER 2
KNOW THE MISSION
MISSION VS. SURVIVAL
The Rich Church, the healthy church, is always focused on its mission. Everything revolves around the mission. The mission keeps persons of varied backgrounds and with varied needs united. The mission is what causes things to get done and becomes the measure by which all things are judged.
The Poor Church, the sick church, is always focused on its own survival. Rather than describing the mission, their message to donors is what they require to survive. The primary goal is to balance the budget, regardless of how little is done. A balanced budget is the rule by which they determine their success and thus gain assurance of their survival.
In 1991, I had the opportunity to go to the Gulf War with the First Armored Division. I was in a MASH unit attached to combat support for the ground offensive in that conflict. On the day we landed in Saudi Arabia and every day we were there, I was reminded of the warrior ethos of the army:
I will always put the mission first
I will never accept defeat
I will never quit
I will never leave a fallen soldier on the field of battle
Every staff meeting that I attended centered on the mission: to remove the Iraqi army from the sovereign nation of Kuwait. Each time we gathered to review plans, it was that overall mission that guided how those plans were constructed. In staff meetings the supply officer reported on whether he had enough supplies to do the mission. The intelligence officer reported on whether he had enough information to do the mission. The sergeant major reported on whether he had the personnel to do the mission. I was asked to report on the morale and spiritual welfare of the troops to do the mission. The mission was always first.
If in one of those meetings someone brought up something that seemed outside the box, the commander would always interject, asking what that had to do with the mission. If it was not congruent to the mission, it was dismissed. I could have brought up that I would like to have air conditioning in my tent and that my cot was about four inches too short, but I would get nowhere because air conditioning and a more comfortable cot were not necessary for us to accomplish our mission. Taking care of me was also not our mission. Our mission was outside of us. It was them.
Excerpted from Rich Church, Poor Church by J. Clif Christopher. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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