Giving is a matter of communicating the mission


PEORIA – Annual Conference speaker J. Clif Christopher must feel like the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke when discussing financial stewardship in churches – a failure to communicate.

And judging from the comments on the conference Facebook pages and buzz on the annual conference floor – both positive and negative – Christopher certainly gave lay and clergy alike much to ponder when challenging ways in which they communicate their mission and conduct financial campaigns.
Borrowing from an old Oldsmobile ad, Christopher said, “It isn’t your father’s offering plate. We can’t change our slogan, but we can change how we do financial stewardship.”
Christopher said the question which churches must be able to answer is not “why give?” but “why give to you?” Charitable giving continues to grow but giving to churches continues to diminish. “We’re losing market share and it is because we answer, “we’re the church.”
He pointed out that Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are saying with their giving, “it’s not an issue of whether we are going to give; but why give to you?”
Telling the story of a faithful United Methodist layperson who gave $6 million to the University of Arkansas for an arts center and $300,000 to the church for a project, Christopher said the levels of giving were telling.
“He told me that he wanted to make sure to dispose of the money in a way pleasing to God,” Christopher said. “’Clif, I believe God wants to change lives in dramatic ways and the university made the case for the arts center.’”
When Christopher asked the question: “Do you believe the arts center will change more life than his church, the man responded, “It’s the truth.”
“The president of the university made the case and won the day and that is playing out all over the United States.
Christopher said there are three reasons why people give:
  • Belief in the mission. “Non-profits spend much of their time telling how they are living their mission,” he said. “Many churches are only communicating ‘give to the budget.’ If I was only interested in the budget, I’d run for Congress. People want to hear about changes lives and the church’s unique mission is winning people to Christ through a changed life.”
  • Regard for staff leadership. “ Christopher noted that the man who gave $6 million had a personal relationship with the president of the university and his ability to identify his leading donors. “The president said, ‘I have a vision for changed lives. I have everything I need except the building and money.’” Contrast that to findings by George Barna that report 74 percent of pastors do not have an idea who their donors are. “There’s a word for that,” Christopher said. “Stupid! Churches are passionate about keeping secrets from their pastor.” Christopher clarified his comment by noting that he wasn’t hung up on money; it is about the mission. “I am not and never will be in the money business,” he said. “I am in the Jesus business.”
  • Fiscal responsibility. “Jesus never said your goal was to balance the budget,” Christopher said. “Our product is a change human being. We are human-change agents.”
In order to reverse the trend, Christopher said five things must happen:
  • Clergy must lead. Christopher told the story of Mike Slaughter’s seminary professor who encouraged the pastor of Ginghamsburg Church to tithe. “If you aren’t going to tithe, get out of the university,” said Slaughter. “We aren’t going where you aren’t leading.”
  • Set high expectations. “Higher percentage giving denominations have a larger number of worship attendees than members,” he said. “I think we have the greatest theology but we have the worst delivery system because we have lowered the expectations of membership. We have to raise our discipleship before they are members not after.
  • Tell life-changing stories not statistics. “What’s on the front page of your websites or newsletters? Pics of the pastor or the building? “The message often time is: we do stuff not that we change lives,” Christopher said. “The reasoning is that if we just tell them how hard it is and people will give. But changed lives will get people to give.
  • Seek gifts from all three pockets of finances – the annual giving for routine budget; the capital budget that provides giving opportunities for accumulated wealth that matches up with a person’s life stages; and planned giving, which deals with helping people see that their giving goes beyond death. “The church ranks fifth in bequests among non-profits because we don’t ask,” Christopher said.
  • Pastors must know their donors. “If we do not know specific information about how people give, then we are left guessing,” he said. “The mission is too important for guessing. Our job is to take persons where they are and move them to the place where God wants them to be. The last thing a person lets go of is their money – and that is what you learn.” He noted that many local church finance committees are “old men from financial occupations” and yet we say we want to reach young people. “We need to put people into leadership that understands not Wall Street but the Emmaus Road – as someone who has met Jesus.”