By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
I call it “The Sermon on the Amount.”
Everybody knows it’s coming: ”Turn in your Bibles to Malachi.” Veteran Christians can predict that it’s time for our annual sermon about how we’re not meeting the church budget and everybody needs to “give until it feels good.”
This is a big issue we need to resolve in our churches when talking about money and giving. If we’re not careful, as my friend Kenny Jahng, founder of Generositylabs.org, says, we become “opportunistic” and talk about money only when we need something.
A recent survey found that 84% of churches are at or below the giving level needed to meet their budgets. That means only 16% of churches have margin to respond to ministry opportunities or community needs.
“When your budget is tight and you don’t have any margin, you feel like you’re forced to talk about money because people aren’t giving enough,” says Kenny. “Then you lose control of the message.”
Kenny and Generosity Labs help churches and cause-related groups develop online and digital donor strategies. He advocates taking a holistic approach that makes generosity only a part of the full picture of spiritual formation.
“Then you start to understand it’s not just about filling your budget,” Kenny says. “It really is about what it means in people’s heart and not in their wallets.”
Kenny hit the nail on the head. Teaching stewardship and giving is not a fund-raising strategy. It’s how you grow Christians, not how you grow budgets.
“When you shift that perspective, it opens up so many options for how you talk about money,” Kenny says. “One of the core things I say is, ‘Stop talking about what you need money for. And start talking about what your church is for.’ What does your church support? What is the vision for flourishing your communities?”
With that in mind, Kenny gives some great input for developing digital giving strategies that allow people to exercise this act of the heart:
Offering Multiple Platforms is a Must
There are now so many online, mobile and text giving options, it can be overwhelming. But churches must get in the digital game to maximize how God may move in a person’s heart.
“When people want to give their hard-earned money to the church, checks and cash just aren’t doing it anymore,” Kenny says. “When was the last time you wrote a check? It was probably in church, because they don’t take credit cards or mobile gifts.
Get Past the 3% Fees
The biggest objection Kenny hears from pastors about offering credit card giving is the 2-3% fee that “should be coming to us.”
Kenny says that’s a short-sighted objection when you consider the increase in giving that almost always accompanies a credit card option. Kenny recently talked with a church finance director who wanted to credit 3% less on congregant’s giving records to make up for the charges. “Even though you dropped $100 on your credit card, they wanted to take $3 away,” he says.
Add to the equation that it costs money to process every type of donation, such as for staff labor including to oversee volunteers. When people give cash or checks, someone must manually count it, drive to the bank to make a deposit and reconcile the account.
“Let’s compare apples to apples,” Kenny says. “If we’re going to play that game, let’s be fair and call a foul on both sides.”
Get in the Text-Giving Game
Mobile and text giving is common to people in our churches, with Venmo, Paypal and other digital money exchanges. When you add text and mobile giving, Kenny advocates showing a step-by-step process on Sunday mornings, on your website, on emails, or in an instruction video.
One church launched a “Dollar Campaign” during weekend worship services, and asked everyone to pull out their phones and donate a dollar to demonstrate a new mobile giving platform. “Now they’re ready to use it anytime,” Kenny says.
Tell Transformation Stories
Kenny says our most important move is telling compelling giving stories. “What happens when I give? You need to tell me that as an active giver,” Kenny says. “Show the acts of transformation.”
Those stories can be told in a blog, in worship gatherings and other meetings, or on a giving section of your website.
“Pull out all those little and big stories of what happens because we had supporters like you in our community,” Kenny says. “Whether it’s fixing the windows, buying a new computer for the children’s ministry or buying equipment for the soup kitchen.
“Show those transformation stories so that when I give today, I know I’ve made a very good decision.”
Bottom line, use any tools available to help people become generous givers.
“One of our jobs in the generosity space is to help people align their intention with their practice,” Kenny says. “Let’s honor the giver, and help them flourish in their generosity profile.”
Andy Williams contributed to the writing of this article.
Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.