People who regularly attend church services or who have joined a local faith community have particular giving habits and patterns. It’s important that those who steward the financial resources of a congregation understand that donors are not motivated equally by every appeal. In my pastoral experience, there are eight different pockets of giving in a congregation.
First, there is the regular giver to the general fund. These are the people who are committed to the core values and mission of the church and support the operating budget on a regular basis with their tithes and offerings. These funds represent the basic support structure for fixed expenses as well as the program ministries of the church.
Next is the giver who supports the building fund or the debt retirement from a previous capital campaign. They are motivated by capital improvements whether it is new construction or the renovation of a facility that needs modernization.
Third is the donor who values missions and missionaries. They are generous givers to annual mission offerings through their denomination and/or toward individual missionaries that the church supports. These gifts are usually significant and rightfully so, given the fact that many denominations require their affiliate missionaries to raise their own support. Some church members may be giving to missionaries directly, bypassing the church offering plate.
Then we have those who support benevolence ministries or social programs within the community. Churches may make appeals for these funds above and beyond the operating budget. These needs will touch some of the members who will in turn give generously of both their time and money.
Giving pocket number five is those who support the program ministries of the church. Ministries to children, youth and music are often underfunded because that’s how churches balance their budgets. Fixed expenses are, well, fixed. At the end of the day, utilities, insurance and payroll are not going to be cut for programs that can either reduce or even eliminate their plans for the year. Some congregants will provide support to these ministries out side of their regular giving because they know they are the key to vitality.
Number six is the giver that supports parachurch ministries such as the Gideon’s International, Focus on the Family, or Operation Shoebox. While churches may have some of these organizations in their budget, some people may be motivated to give directly to them.
Seventh, are the financial supporters of memorial funds. These can be tricky for pastors and stewards to navigate for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the memorial has to be honored in perpetuity. Every established church has to determine how to maintain an item that has been given in memory of a person regardless of whether or not anyone in the church remembers the decedent. Another reason it is tricky is that the family of the deceased may want to direct memorials to an item that the church either doesn’t need or toward and item that is out of the price range of the request. Wise and gentle leadership will need to work patiently with families to help provide guidance and support as they make their decisions. Memorial gifts can be an excellent opportunity to seek win-win solutions that honors the member and helps the church.
Finally, there is the member who has committed to remember the church through a planned gift. Planned giving can make a significant impact on a church’s financial well being. Pastors may be surprised how willing faithful congregants will be to remember the church in their estate planning if they will simply plant the seed with a nine word question. “Have you considered including our church in your estate?” Perhaps they have on their own accord. Perhaps they are willing, but haven’t been asked. Pastors do not have to be attorneys or financial planners to ask this question. If the member is motivated, they will do the rest.
So what are the takeaways from knowing about eight pockets of stewardship?
- People have finite resources, so choose wisely how they will give. Every offering appeal will diminish the ultimate goal of advancing the mission and ministry of your church. Churches are wise to limit endless appeals in favor of a unified budget that is inclusive of the values and partnerships that have been established.
- Evaluate the number of appeals your church makes each year. Pastors will focus primarily on the offering appeal during the service. But the wise pastor will also do his or her best to eliminate giving fatigue. Your coffee and hospitality counter is an ask. The missionary offering is an ask. The youth bake sale is an ask. So is the $10 for the kids to attend Bible School. The benevolence need is an ask, right down to the canned food drive and the request for gently used clothes. How many “asks” is your church making on a given week? In a month or year? We should not be amazed that people complain that all the church does is ask for money even if the pastor preaches on giving once or twice per year.
- Not every donor is motivated by all requests. In the aforementioned list of eight, some will give generously toward two or three, while someone else may give toward a different three or four. Seldom will you find a member who will generously support all eight. It is critical to know your audience and to time and make your appeals strategically to maximize impact.