CLIMB Higher: Reaching New Heights in Giving and Discipleship

CLIMB Higher: Reaching New Heights in Giving and Discipleship

by Kristine Miller, Scott McKenzie

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CLIMB challenges the negative connotations associated with “stewardship” and invites congregations to completely change the conversation around this critically important topic.

Instead of talking about the needs of the church budget, CLIMB suggests a discovery of your congregation s compelling vision for ministry. Instead of selecting your stewardship leaders by default, CLIMB encourages the development of strong leadership through setting clear and challenging expectations.

CLIMB involves changing the entire culture of your congregation to one of gratitude, where conversations revolve around sharing God's abundance rather than holding on fearfully. CLIMB encourages the sharing of ministry stories rather than pledging to a budget. And, finally, CLIMB asserts that if you truly believe expressing generosity results in a deeper connection to God, you have no choice but to boldly ask others to become more generous givers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426731167
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 05/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 518 KB

About the Author

Kristine Miller, CFRE, Ministry Strategist with Horizons Stewardship, has assisted churches and nonprofits in fulfilling their visions for ministry for over fifteen years. Ms. Miller was the Director of Stewardship and Planned Giving for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan and a Senior Vice President with a national stewardship consulting firm. Having worked with hundreds of clients across the country, Ms. Miller has become a nationally-recognized expert in the field of nonprofit organizational leadership and development. Ms. Miller is a prolific writer and frequently been a top-rated speaker at conferences and other events.

A native of Ohio, she did her undergraduate work in Business Administration at the Ohio State University and received her M.B.A. from Northern Illinois University.

Dr. McKenzie passionately believes generosity is ultimately a question of faith development and discipleship.  He is a Sr. Vice President and Partner with Horizons Stewardship As a national workshop leader and conference speaker, he teaches generosity  as “grounded in gratitude, revealed in prayer and lived in faith.”  He holds degrees from Messiah College and United Theological Seminary.  His Ph.D. is in spiritual formation from Duquesne University.  He lives in York, Pennsylvania.  Scott is the co-author of Climb Higher: Reaching New Heights in Giving and Discipleship and Bounty: Ten Ways to Increase Giving at Your Church.  Scott  is the author of Generosity Rising: Lead a Stewardship Revolution in Your Church.  He is co-author of the soon to be released book, Generosity Challenge.  

Read an Excerpt

Climb Higher

Reaching New Heights in Giving and Discipleship

By Scott McKenzie, Kristine Perry Miller

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-3116-7


Clear and Compelling Vision

In the spring of 1996, more than thirty expeditions representing teams from America, Taiwan, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Russia, Tibet, Norway, and other locations camped on the flank of Everest at 17,600 feet. Though separated by nationality and language, their mission was the same—29,035 feet—to reach the summit. To accomplish this mission, one had to endure altitude sickness that could render a person unconscious; frostbite that made amputated toes and fingers a real possibility; and the fickle nature of Everest storms that could quickly turn a trip to the summit into a fight for one's life. Even after six climbers died in the spring of 1996, a seemingly endless stream of climbers, intent on reaching the pinnacle of Mount Everest, hiked past bodies still frozen in their final resting places. With such a visible reminder of the dangers of Everest in front of them, why would they possibly continue? Two words—the summit.

In our combined twenty-five years of consulting with churches and a variety of nonprofit organizations, we have discovered compelling similarities between mountain climbing as described by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air and achieving the "summit" of effective and enduring Christian stewardship. While Christian financial stewardship education and annual commitment campaigns do not share the physical challenges and dangers of an assault on Everest, many pastors and the chairpersons of pledge programs can relate to these words by Krakauer: "I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering."

Whether conducting a Christian financial stewardship program or attempting to climb Mount Everest, having a clear and compelling vision is a crucial first step. In the not-so-distant past, clergy could announce to their congregations, "We need money for ...," and, for the most part, people would contribute appropriately. But in the last few years the landscape has changed drastically, and the number of solicitations has grown exponentially. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of nonprofit organizations (501[c][3]) in the United States increased from 819,000 to more than 1.2 million. Now instead of one or two worthwhile organizations asking for charitable contributions, we are bombarded with requests from nonprofits every day. Organizations ask us to help find a cure for cancer or provide food and water to starving children. Pictures and videos of people who have suffered the effects of malnutrition or of birth defects create great emotion. A world where children have enough to eat and clean water to drink is a worthy goal. If a close friend or family member has been afflicted by an illness, prospective donors will likely have an affinity for supporting the organization that is trying to eradicate it. To everyone who has been touched by the effects of cancer, a cancerfree world is a compelling vision. A compelling vision inspires generosity.

And yet for many churches, when it comes time for the annual pledge program, the finance chairperson stands up and talks about how utilities have gone up, the pastor hasn't had a raise in three years, and how requests from the denominational headquarters have increased once again. But is this really the vision God has for your church? Isn't God calling your church to be something more than a static place for maintaining your facilities and Sunday morning worship?

The most important question in any fund-raising program (church or otherwise) is not the question of how much—How much do I give? or How much do we need?—but instead the question is, why? Why should I part with my hard-earned dollars? What will be the effect of my giving to your organization? And much more important, what will be the effect of my giving on people's lives?

Perhaps one reason some congregations struggle to clearly articulate their vision is that they don't really believe that people's lives are being transformed as a result of their ministries. In one church where we worked, the congregation was trying to raise funds for a new building because they were out of space. One of the leaders said, "We can't advertise; we can't invite new people because we have no space, no place to put them." We asked them, "What if you knew you had the cure for cancer and decided to keep it to yourselves? Wouldn't that be unthinkable? Wouldn't that be almost criminal?" They nearly shouted back, "Of course!" So we asked another question: "Do you believe you have the answer for a world that is broken and hurting?" Again they answered, "Yes!" In the end, a clear and compelling vision for transforming lives led to a highly successful capital campaign for a new church building. Climbing the mountain of Christian financial stewardship requires a clear and compelling vision— and just paying the bills and keeping the doors open isn't it!

At this time, stop reading and reflect on the following questions:

1. How has your life or the lives of the people you love been transformed because of participation in the church?

2. What do you see happening in the lives of others that makes you excited about giving to your church?

Mission vs. Vision

In A Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen says:

Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, "Please could you help us because lately it's been hard."Rather, we are declaring, "We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you—your energy, your prayers, and your money—in this work to which God has called us."

Nurturing generosity in the church sends us back to the question of, What is this work that God has called us to? This is the question of mission and vision. Depending on the source, mission and vision can be described and defined in many different ways. For the purpose of C.L.I.M.B., our definitions are relatively simple. Mission is the basic and most fundamental reason we exist as a church. You might call it our unchanging driving force or our unyielding intent. The mission is the same for every Christian church in every denomination. Our mission is simple and was given to us in the Great Commission:

Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

As a church, the ultimate goal—the shared mission—is to make disciples. In our work, we have consulted with churches of different sizes, denominations, and traditions all over the country. From Protestants and Catholics in large megachurch settings to small urban and rural churches, all share the same mission—to make disciples. Different words may be used, but the mission is always the same—to create disciples for Christ.

Though we give voice to a shared mission, an unyielding intent, and a driving force of proclaiming the good news, when pushed most congregations admit to a very different reality. We often ask people in our churches to discuss the question, What is the actual driving force in your church? One way to encourage churches to be honest about this issue is to put the question to them this way: When a new program or ministry is brought to the governing board or council, what is the first question people ask? The response in hundreds of churches across the country has almost always been, How much is it going to cost? Never has a church responded that the number one question people ask when a new program or ministry is proposed is, How will this help us make disciples? or Is this what God wants? So while we may think our mission is to fulfill the Great Commission, the reality in many churches is that the driving force behind many stewardship programs is a plea for survival. Here is the budget. Here is what we need to survive. Would you please give to help us pay the bills?

Is it any wonder that many of our churches struggle to make ends meet?

At this time, stop reading and reflect on the following questions:

1. What is the driving force in your church? What is the unyielding intent for your church?

2. Name one time when people in your church stepped out in faith and did something they felt called by God to do. What happened?

The thirty-plus teams at the Everest base camp in the spring of 1996 shared a common mission—achieving the summit. Yet each team had a differing view of how they were going to reach their goal. Some of the guide groups provided the ropes, oxygen, tents, food, and supplies, but the climbers were on their own for the actual climb. Other groups made every effort to see that the climbers personally made it to the summit, even if that required putting a rope around them and pulling them up. The late Göran Kropp became a worldwide celebrity following his epic 1996 bicycle journey from his native Sweden to Nepal. He biked seven thousand miles, summited Everest without oxygen, then rode his bicycle home to Sweden again. Göran Kropp shared the same mission, the same driving force as the other teams, but he had a very different vision of how he would reach the summit.

Effective stewardship programs require an unyielding desire to reach the summit, and also a compelling vision of how the mission will be accomplished. While creating disciples is the mission for every church, the vision, or implementation of this mission, is unique to each church. Many churches will spend months agonizing over the development of a mission statement and in the end come up with something that can be summarized as "Love God and love everyone else." Those who are really daring might say: "Worship God and serve others." After spending months coming up with their statement, they unveil it with pomp and circumstance, only to find the majority of the congregation very unimpressed and saying, "Tell us something we didn't know." The mission is easy; after all, it's given in Scripture. The vision is the hard part.

Discovering God's vision requires hard work, study, and prayer.

Here are three simple questions to ask yourselves as a church body that will facilitate the development of vision:

1. Who are we?

2. What is our context or community for ministry?

3. What does God want?

Let's look at each of these questions individually.

Who Are We?

The first questions are, Who are we? What are our strengths and our weaknesses? What makes us truly unique in our community or area? To answer these questions you might want to begin by gathering some demographic material from your own members such as age, income, interests, and careers. Really get to know your people. Don't assume you know the actual makeup of your congregation. One congregation we worked with saw themselves as a retired, older congregation. After their research, they were shocked to discover a significant number of younger members in the church who were not in leadership positions. One easy way to get almost instant feedback on the question of, Who are we? is to do a quick survey using three-by-five-inch cards that are handed out at the end of the message or homily for two or three consecutive weeks.

The three-by-five-inch card may look something like this:

(Front of the card)

In an effort to understand the diverse needs of our congregation, we are gathering the following data. Please complete and return via the offering plate (one per member, please).

1. In which range does your age fall?

_____ 26 or younger

_____ 27 to 47

_____ 48 to 65

_____ 66 to 83

_____ 84+

2. How long have you been attending _________ Church?

_____ less than one year

_____ one to three years

_____ four to six years

_____ more than six years

3. In which ministries have you participated? (List your music groups, outreach, committees, etc.)




(Back of the card)

4. What is your annual household income? [Include ranges that make sense for your congregation.]




5. Other than its members, what do you consider the greatest strength of this congregation?

6. What do you consider this congregation's greatest opportunity for the future?

By allocating time during the worship service to complete the card survey, you will ensure the best possible response. Completing this exercise over two or three consecutive weeks covers those people who do not attend every Sunday. If you want to receive input from a broader base of your members, considerconducting an online survey using Survey Monkey or another online survey company. Please see appendix A for Scriptures and message titles that would be appropriate for those two weeks.

Understanding who you are also involves examining your geographical location and physical plant. The vision of an older downtown church with no parking will be significantly different from that of a suburban church with ample parking and new, state-of-the-art facilities. Not better or worse, just different. Conduct a survey of your building and grounds while asking the question, How might both the strengths and weaknesses of our buildings influence or help define our specific vision? Here are some categories and questions you should consider:

Building Survey


1. When someone comes to worship for the first time, are they able to easily find your church? How could signage and lighting be improved to make your building stand out?

2. After a person arrives at your church, is he or she able to find the parking lot? Do you have spaces marked as reserved for visitors? Are all the close spaces taken up so visitors are forced to park farther away?

3. Do your church grounds look well-tended and inviting? Does looking at your building from the outside make you want to see what's inside? Does it look like the people who attend your church care about its upkeep?

4. Is the main door easily identified? If you have several entrances, will people know which one to use?

5. Once inside, will a visitor be able to easily find her way to your nursery, classrooms, sanctuary, and restrooms? How can you improve your signage regardless of which entrance your visitors use?

6. Did you know that most visitors arrive just before (or in some cases, just after) the worship service begins? When they arrive in worship, is there a place near the back for them to sit?

7. What can you do to make your facility more available and why you exist. Remember this: without ownership of your vision and commitment to discerning God's will for the church, the rest of the process will not work.

8. accessible to visitors? 8. Is your parking lot or worship space at 80 percent of capacity? Statistics indicate that if that is the case, a visitor will determine the church is too full and will simply go home. Most will never return.

9. How welcoming is your nursery and children's church school space? Most parents of toddlers will choose whether or not to return to your church based on the condition of the nursery. It should feel homey, look upto-date, and smell fresh.

Space Usage

1. How much of your facility is used? How much of the time? Are your classrooms, meeting rooms, and other spaces utilized to their capacity? Do you have room to spare?

2. Do you have land available adjacent to your property? Are there ways in which your land could be used for ministry (for example, outdoor meeting/worship space, children's activities, fellowship opportunities, fruit/vegetable garden for your community, and so on)?

3. Are there organizations in your community that have needs for the kinds of spaces you have available?

4. What programs or events could you host that would further your ministry objectives?



What characteristics of your building are particularly noteworthy? How might they enable you to further your ministries?


How could you improve the condition, size, or utilization of your facility to enhance ministries?

Vision requires us to take a look at ourselves, our facilities, and also our programming. What are your church's strengths and weaknesses in the area of programming? Are there significant gaps in terms of age-related ministries or programs? For example, some churches find they have a strong children's ministry but a weak or nonexistent ministry to seniors. And yet, as they look at their demographics, they often see a significant number of people over the age of seventy. Another way to address the question of programming and its potential effect on vision is by asking the questions, What do we do better than anyone else? What are we known for in our community or area? How might God be calling us to build on that strength? A note of caution: parishes that attempt to be all things to all people typically fail. Building on your strengths may require an objective review of all your ministries to determine which ones may no longer be a part of God's vision.

Let's return to the base camp at Everest. At base camp there were more than thirty teams with the same mission, the same purpose, the same unyielding intent—achieving the summit. However, before setting out for the summit, a clear and honest evaluation of each climber's strengths and weaknesses was required. If a climber had false perceptions of his strengths and weaknesses, not only would he be unlikely to attain the summit, but he might also jeopardize his life and the lives of his teammates. And in terms of Christian stewardship, to truly climb and successfully reach "the summit" requires a willingness to honestly evaluate not only who we are but also our strengths and our weaknesses.


Excerpted from Climb Higher by Scott McKenzie, Kristine Perry Miller. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Clear and Compelling Vision,
2. Leadership Development,
3. Inspiration,
4. Motivation,
5. Boldly Ask,
Appendix A: Scripture and Themes for Vision and Mission,
Appendix B: Leadership Resources on Vision and Mission,
Appendix C: Resources for Stewardship Education of Leadership,
Appendix D: Stewardship Statement Examples,
Appendix E: Ministry-Focused Budget,
Appendix F: Making Contact,

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