Do you know what has been the biggest surprise of my first 16 months as the Grand Rapids district superintendent?  It’s how many district churches do not conduct a yearly stewardship campaign.   

When I ask pastors why they don’t lead a pledge campaign, I usually receive this answer, “Whenever there is a need, people give.  We don’t have to pressure them.”  But there are other reasons as well. 

  • Some pastors are very reluctant to talk to their congregations about money, even though Jesus talked about money more than almost anything else. 
  • Some pastors do not teach tithing and proportional giving because they do not tithe themselves. 
  • Some churches rely on an “angel” to bail them out at the end of every year, so leaders never have to challenge their congregations to stretch financially.  Yet “angels” don’t stay in a church forever.  In addition, this practice robs other church members of their joy and responsibility to be faithful to God.
  • In tough economic times, some pastors fall victim to a theology of scarcity and are therefore afraid to place high expectations on their congregations.  In doing this, they fail to trust that God will provide when congregations attempt to faithfully follow God.
  • Some pastors don’t understand that stewardship has nothing to do with budgets and everything to do with our joyful response to what God has done in our lives. 

Unfortunately, I have observed a direct correlation between the financial and spiritual health of congregations and their understanding and practice of stewardship. 

  • We don’t give to a budget.  We give to God. 
  • We don’t give because the church has a need.  We give because all that we have belongs to God, and we are asked to return a portion of that abundance to God.  
  • We don’t give because we have to.  We give as a free response to the love of Christ in our hearts. 
  • We don’t give haphazardly.  We pray about, plan for and make specific financial commitments. 

I’ve often heard that people give when they feel good about what is happening in their church.  Certainly, giving often increases when exciting things are happening in churches.  However, I’d like to propose another theory.  I believe that amazing things start happening when people give proportionately and faithfully. 

Consider Coopersville UMC.  For several years Coopersville had been struggling to pay ministry shares and even fund their own ministries.  They were also concerned about the dilapidated state of their building and knew they needed a new facility if they were to grow and thrive.  Year after year, however, nothing happened.  It reached the point where I suggested to church leaders that they might not be able to afford a full-time pastor in the future if they could not grow the church.

As a response, Coopersville used Consecration Sunday for their pledge campaign in the fall of 2006 and asked Dale Hotelling to be their consultant.  The results were incredible: pledges increased by 35% over the previous year!  The congregation gained confidence and felt revitalized and energized for ministry.  Six months later, ministry shares were on target for the first time in many years.  In addition, church leaders discovered a building for sale in Coopersville that would serve the congregation very well. 

The Holy Spirit began moving in a mysterious way.  At the same time as the church put in a bid on the building, a new church offered to buy their present facility.  The bid was accepted, the church held a successful building pledge campaign last month, and Coopersville UMC will hold their first worship service in the new building on January 6, 2008.  The excitement is indescribable!

Pastor John Morse and church leaders are convinced that things began to turn around when they were challenged last fall to become stewards and discern how God was leading them to give.  The money was there all the time. 

Why does your church need to conduct a pledge campaign every year?

  • When people join a congregation, they promise to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts and service.  A stewardship campaign offers an opportunity for church members to make a specific response every year.
  • As leaders, we are called to teach our congregations about the biblical standard of tithing and proportional giving.  The biblical model is for us to be disciplined in our giving and to give of our first fruits.
  • As pastors, we are also called to lead our congregations by practicing what we preach about tithing!
  • Jesus spoke about the danger of loving money and possessions more than God.  It is an act of faithfulness to follow Christ’s example.
  • Stewardship is not about “raising a budget” but about giving ourselves unreservedly to God.  If we ask people to give to a budget, that’s all we’ll get.  If we ask them to give out of gratitude, who knows what will happen?
  • We inhibit the growth of the church when we don’t have the financial resources we need to reach out to others.
  • People must learn to make commitments to the church, just as they make commitments in every other area of their lives. 
  • Every church has far more resources than they imagine.

Scarcity or abundance?  The money is there, friends.

Blessings, Laurie

P.S. The Bishop’s Day for Stewardship and Evangelism is Saturday, March 1.  The workshops and plenaries will be outstanding.  See you there. 

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