Growing a Church in a Changing Financial Climateby Brad Leeper

Perceptive church leaders know how to attract new givers and encourage current ones. Despite changing financial conditions, growing a church can be an exciting opportunity.

What if the great resignation (staff) or the great reshuffle (church shifting) becomes a great financial giving reshuffle?

Emerging indicators signal a change in giving patterns in the last half of 2022. If financial giving is reordered, how would you lead your ministry with less financial resources?

Or how might you grow giving in the face of a shifting tide?

Consumer prices increased 7.9% through February, according to the New York Times’ “Surging US Inflation Raising Stakes as War Pushes Up Prices.”

Gas prices are at record levels. A war threatens to expand and further exacerbate economic disruptions and supply chains.

Economic confidence is under duress and household budgets are stretched, especially for the middle and lower class. Even those with steady jobs with wage increases are wary.

When confidence decreases and inflation increases, giving suddenly becomes optional. Many are likely to continue to give, but are much less likely to increase beyond their current level.

Increased wages and savings accumulated over the last two years have cushioned much of life. Now, that buffer has likely eroded.

Just over four million more people are out of the workforce. And more than two million fewer are on company payrolls. You can probably think of many in your giver base who are no longer working. Giving presumes people are working and earning. Fewer working people translates into fewer givers.

Lower household income translates into lower giving amounts if the household calculates giving on a percentage basis.

You might be in a state where workers have left for lower-cost areas or who are now free to work from anywhere in the world. Giving generally relocates with them.

Fewer people engaged with your church in person and online means fewer first-time givers to a church. You will likely pick up some reshuffled attendees but that giving might take time to come to the new church they are exploring.

So, can leaders increase financial resources if giving undergoes a great shuffle? 

You bet.

Pastoral care and leadership mean you unapologetically frame spiritual formation around money and treasures of the heart. As Tish Harrison Warren says, “Christian discipleship is a lifetime of training in how to pay attention to the right things, to notice God’s work in our lives and in the world.”

Remaining silent on stewardship and spiritual growth is an injustice to the congregation. They need to know about faith and finances, God and His faithfulness, and how to navigate trust and budget pressures. Your pastoral voice must be engaged.

Rather than presume giving will remain stable from the core, take the lead to invite people into making their lives and finances engage in God’s work. My observation of givers over 20 years is that more will give with joy and passion when invited into the immensity of God’s character and unfolding story.

How can you prepare for and thrive when a giving reshuffle occurs? 

Here are six ways you can prepare:

1. Make sure your board of directors is prepared and aligned.

Ill-prepared, reactive boards stall and inhibit giving and mission at a time when speed and impact are most needed. Boards appropriately trend toward caution. Downward giving trends pump the board’s brakes even more.

Without coaching and alignment, boards focus on expenses rather than income because expense control is easier. Give your board an alternative.
Invite the board into the generosity culture as an ally, not an adversary or passive observer. If a board is unaware, ill-prepared, and more influenced by the immediate cultural fears (whatever the fear of the moment is), then the mission will be stalled until giving resumes or grows beyond budget projection.

Meeting with board leadership in a rhythm outside of board meetings allows a more thoughtful, more visionary, more greenlight-oriented group. Guide your board now to align leadership, mission, and finances beyond merely approving a budget.

2. Model privately and publicly your personal resolve to biblical stewardship.

Core leadership principle: You cannot ask people to do something you as the leader are not doing.
Keep your own trust in God and grow in giving even in difficult seasons. Your people are not asking you to be perfect. They are asking for authenticity and life steps such as financial giving that set the tone for an eternal reality. Pastors, you lead the way in growing a generous community.

3. Care for the souls of your people more now than ever.

People are no less interested in your mission but are more eager to be part of an active community, especially a community that engages the emotional, spiritual, and family aspects of life. Core givers will dutifully give from a sense of obedience and loyalty. White-hot giving happens when a heart and mind sense authentic faith embedded in a life-giving, worth-it-all mission.

The more your congregation knows you love them, care for them, and desire their best above all else — the more their giving will prioritize your church and mission.

The trending word for this is attunement. Attunement means being aware and shepherding the soul in needs, wants, emotions, and personal pain when that pain comes. For the last decade, the primary emphasis has been on leadership. Yet, that leadership focus might have been skinny on the pastoral care side.

It is valid to weep with those who weep, to sit in the pain of life with others. With all of the credible attention now on mental health needs, can your church be the primary place the community knows they can trust, be loved, and find truth?

And that’s probably why you opted into ministry in the first place.

4. Rather than presume pre-existing giving patterns, artfully craft an environment that invites people into a community story.

Do you really want to passively presume that people will stay the course in core giving without interruption this year? Do so at your own risk.

Better, craft the story of Gospel impact that your church creates. Brag on what God is doing in and through your church. Tell stories of life-change from the children’s ministry through senior adults. Celebrate baptisms, allow announcements, and offering moments to galvanize the story along with a correlation between a household’s giving and eternal impact.

Meeting budget goals fails to inspire people. However, impacting eternity multiplies momentum and credibility. Churches that spotlight Gospel impact rarely lack financial resources.

The local church always has a home-field advantage. You have access to your givers more frequently through a more intimate connection than other places they might choose to give.

Do not waste that home-field advantage.

5. “Major giver” discipleship and development are paramount.

With the increased investment accounts, cryptocurrency adventurists, and lofty bonuses in some sectors, major gifts are at a broad level I’ve not seen in 20 years of giving consulting.

The last few months have revealed more speed bumps for major givers; however, major gifts are very much available for a church that has a vision, a compelling project, and the boldness to ask for a significant financial investment.

Some major givers are much younger than prior generations of major givers. This reality means discipling major givers and cultivating spiritual growth can result in a willing group who wants to prioritize your church now and for years to come.

Here’s the more frequent reality: Your major givers consider your church an option, not the priority option in their giving. Discipleship of this group — over time — appropriately builds the connection to where your church can be the priority in their giving, not just one of many.

If your church has a need for financial investment now, consider crafting a plan to make that happen. This sub-strategy does not necessarily need a formal campaign context. We have several churches now that are taking advantage of major gifts with the larger church conversation happening this fall or early 2023.

6. Retool how you engage new givers into your community.

We all know that attendance is down for most churches. Those who have left are likely not coming back. Think about the parable of the sower and seed where the sun has worn out a particular segment of attendees. Since that group gave very little financially, the financial resources have not been impacted.

However, fewer people visiting means fewer first-time givers to replenish those who have left even for appropriate life moments such as retirement or relocation.

Now is the best time to restructure how we connect with those engaging with your church for the first time. We have a new opportunity to help them assimilate with giving as part of that assimilation. My observation is that it’s easier to engage new people in giving than ever before. They want to be at the church more than a cultural expectation that attending church is good.

One of the easiest places to engage in giving is a more practical and guided process in your new member or orientation process. Other than reviewing stewardship ideals and leaving the giving choices open-ended from there, simply create a worksheet that includes these questions:

  • What will be the date of your first gift as a new member?
  • How will you give? (Note: This is a great place to invite them to download the app or give digitally with a prompt to recurring giving).
  • What amount will you give that is based on Biblical stewardship principles?
  • You can also prompt them to send a text or email to the person leading the class to let them know of their first gift so we can celebrate together. Giving for the first time as a new member is a special moment worth celebrating together.

Do not be surprised at the great giving reshuffle this year. Take steps now to engage givers to joyfully engage deeper in spiritual growth and being on-mission as a faith community.

This article originally appeared on Carey Nieuwhof’s website.

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