If you want people in your church to show more generosity, try telling them a story. Help them imagine what you are asking them to give to. You will communicate with them why you want them to be generous. People are motivated to give to something meaningful.
And people of all ages respond to stories. We all know that the sermons people remember are the ones with the best stories. The Bible is filled with wonderful stories for a reason.
Here are two ways to tell the story: tell the story of the past, and paint a picture of the future. Both are important.
Tell the story of the past (recent and distant). Share with the congregation the ways your church has ministered in the past and present.Here are a few ideas on how to do that.
- Tell a brief ministry story each week or once a month before the offering.
- In a sermon, tell a story from the more distant past that connects with what you are doing in the present.
- Include a ministry story in the quarterly report of giving.
- Make the annual report and meeting a story. Do more than share reports: have stories and pictures.
When people are excited about what is going on in the church, they will want to give generously to support it. (But don’t forget to ask.)
Try this: at a stewardship meeting, ask yourselves, what are 20 ways we could share the story? Think fast, generate ideas (some of them ridiculous) and pick three that sound doable and fun.
Paint a picture of the future.
Share the vision of what you want for the future, and invite people to support the vision. Visioning can be a long process, where you have a conversation with others and clarify where you want to go together. Part of the work I do is helping churches with that process.
You can begin at any time, simply by sharing something of what you want for the future with the congregation, and painting the picture. Fill in the detail, for yourself and for them. How would you know the vision was coming true? What would be happening? Think more than one year out: imagine five, ten, even twenty-five years from now. You may not be the pastor there in ten years and probably not in twenty-five. Many of them will no longer be alive. But the decisions you make now and the resources that people give now will contribute to what will happen in twenty-five years. This includes whether your church (and the wider church) will be in business or not.
Visioning like this is not a prediction, but a direction. You are inviting people to take a journey with you. The more compelling the story, the more likely they are to want to come along and support it with their resources.
Finally, it is important to bring the focus back to the coming year. What decisions and resources are needed next year to make the story come true? A narrative budget is one way to begin to put numbers with the story. Here’s a great sample guide from the United Church of Christ.
Instead of a simple line-item budget with salaries, program and building costs (which causes most people’s eyes to glaze over), you can talk about ministry areas – and again, include stories and pictures. Have the numbers available for those who really want to look at each line. But most people don’t – it’s the story they care about.
Try this: just for yourself, take two minutes and write down what you want for your church in twenty-five years.