A friend recently asked me to give $50 to a church-related video project he’s working on. I immediately wrote him a check. I believe in him and in the project — but I wouldn’t have given any money if he hadn’t asked me.
Testifying, then asking, is one of the best ways to encourage others to give more. It is self-definition. It is far more powerful than the leader telling others what they should do. This approach is more than a stewardship technique. It is a way to become more fully present while speaking about giving to others.
It’s critical to have a sense of where you end and other people begin. You must allow others to make their own choices, while stating your own position. As you state your own beliefs about ministry and about giving, you clearly invite others to think through their own giving and make a commitment. You can do this from the pulpit as well as individually with key members.
Why is self-definition so important? Isn’t the point of preaching and conversations about stewardship to get people to give more, to change their relationship with money, to support the ministry better? I liken it to evangelism – the most powerful evangelism involves telling your own story and inviting people toward the possibility of faith. Stewardship education at its best is an invitation to a new relationship to God and to our resources. People resist and resent being willed. Anxious preaching and conversation about money quickly becomes willful, and, paradoxically, has less impact than a clear telling of our own relationship with money, coupled with an invitation that is freely offered, allowing people to make their own choices.
There’s a difference between the clergy leader having conversations with key givers and potential givers, and that leader anxiously taking responsibility, carrying the weight of funding the mission of the church. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. It’s the emotional energy you bring to the task. It’s exhausting to feel that funding the budget depends on you. It can be enormously exciting to talk to people about what their giving can make possible.
If you are the pastor, there’s no escaping the key leadership role you have in asking others to give, from the pulpit and in personal relationships. Many church leaders make assumptions about people’s interests and capabilities and so fail to speak and to ask clearly and compellingly. When you do this, you allow them to continue to underfunction with their giving in congregational life. Edwin Friedman suggested that people respond better to challenge than support. In this case, you need to challenge many of your people to give more.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. What do you believe is the greatest value of your church’s ministry?
2. Why do you yourself give to your church? Why do you want others to give?
3. What makes you most anxious about asking people to give? Could you lower that anxiety 10%?
4. Is there one person in your congregation you might ask for a specific gift? How might you approach them? What could you say?
5. What did you learn from your family about giving and asking for money?