“We don’t have money problems anymore.” Imagine hearing that in your church. That’s exactly what one of my Catalytic Church Growth Pastors told me last week. It’s like a breath of fresh air, isn’t it? But let’s be real – even in churches where the offering plate seems always full, there’s never enough cash to cover all the dreams and needs we have for our ministries. Our world’s needs are just too big, too pressing.
But hey, this isn’t a doom and gloom chat. I’m here to share some hope and some proven ideas to boost your church’s giving. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room first – money. It’s kinda like that awkward family topic no one wants to touch. A lot of pastors would rather walk over hot coals than preach about finances. Why? Because it often feels like we’re always asking, asking, asking. And let’s face it, nobody likes to be on the receiving end of that all the time.
Then there’s the whole offering time. How many times have we seen those moments turn into a snooze fest with spreadsheets and out-of-touch scripture quotes? It’s like trying to inspire a teenager with a lecture on quantum physics. And transparency? Some churches are so hush-hush about their finances that it feels like they’re guarding state secrets. On the other hand, others are so obsessed with budgets and numbers that they forget what they’re all there for. Remember that bit in the Bible about money being the root of all kinds of evil? It’s not just about greed; it’s about obsessing over money (and money issues!).
But there’s good news – it doesn’t have to be like that. You can create a church culture that reflects generosity and support. And no, it’s not a quick fix. Changing culture is like running a marathon with a couple of sprints thrown in. It takes time, patience, and a good bit of elbow grease. Stick with me, and let’s dive into how storytelling, transparent budgets, and building a giving culture can turn your church into a place where “We don’t have money problems anymore” is the norm, not the exception.
Storytelling: The Heartbeat of Effective Church Giving
Ever gotten one of those fundraising letters from your college or a big-time nonprofit like World Vision or United Way? If you’ve got one lying around, take a peek at what’s missing. You won’t find a word about their budget woes or a sob story about running out of cash. And you definitely won’t see any doom-and-gloom threats about cutting back on their work if you don’t chip in. Instead, these letters are filled of hope and success stories. They spotlight folks who’ve been lifted up by the organization, thanking supporters like you for making it all happen. And once they’ve inspired you by what’s going on, they share a vision of how many more lives will be inspired when they finish building their new library, expand their facilities, or share some other hope-inducing vision. These letters are upbeat, forward-looking, and, let’s be honest, pretty darn inspiring. They’re not just asking for your support; they’re showing you, in living color, why it matters.
On the other hand, let’s turn the lens on our churches. Think about what we hear from the pulpit, read in the newsletter, or the usual spiel during offering time. It’s often a far cry from those energizing letters, right? No wonder church giving sometimes feels like pulling teeth. But what if we flipped the script?
Storytelling is the answer. We need to be on the lookout for those heartwarming, life-changing stories happening right in our ministries. Maybe it’s the adult who found a new path through your church’s 12-step program, the kid who’s thriving thanks to your foster care focus, or the teenager who’s fired up about ministry after being part of your youth group. These stories don’t just warm the heart; they open wallets.
But here’s the key: we’ve got to be intentional about collecting these gems. Most churches have a membership database, right? That’s a perfect tool for collecting, tracking, and accessing these stories. And when it comes to sharing them, think video. Get those who’ve been touched by your church to share their journey on camera (with their okay, of course). These videos can be gold – use them in services, on social media, your website, you name it. And don’t forget to transcribe them for your newsletter, bulletin, and more.
Live testimonies? They’re great, but unpredictable. With videos, you’ve got control. Need to clarify something? Just hit ‘record’ again. And when the conversation runs long (and better too long than too short!), editing means you can tailor the length for different platforms – quick snippets for social media, longer cuts for your website or services.
So, why does storytelling work so well? Simple. Let’s face it. Spreadsheets don’t inspire! But stories do. They paint a picture of what’s possible, of lives transformed. And that’s something people want to be a part of. By focusing on storytelling, you’re not just asking for donations; you’re inviting your congregation into a narrative of change and hope. And that’s a story worth telling – and supporting.
Transparent Budgets: From Numbers to Inpsiration
Remember how we said spreadsheets aren’t exactly the life of the party? Well, that’s especially true when it comes to church budgets. But here’s the thing: while a dry, line-item budget can make eyes glaze over, it’s still crucial for the behind-the-scenes financial health of your church. The trick is finding the sweet spot between being transparent about your finances and not boring your congregation to tears with the nitty-gritty details. Enter the narrative budget.
A narrative budget is like a breath of fresh air in a room full of spreadsheets. It’s a way of presenting your church’s finances that tells a story – the story of your church’s mission and ministry. Instead of just numbers and line items, a narrative budget paints a picture of how each dollar contributes to the transformative work your church is doing. It’s about connecting the dots between the offering plate and the real, tangible impact on people’s lives.
Creating a narrative budget is like telling the story of your church’s mission through numbers. Let’s dive deeper into how you can transform a traditional line-item budget into an engaging narrative, using the worship budget as an example.
In a typical line-item budget, the worship section might list expenses like the altar guild, communion supplies, worship leader, choir director, and musical section leaders. While these are indeed worship-related costs, they don’t quite capture the full picture of what goes into creating a meaningful worship experience. And when people see items like ‘utilities’ or ‘salaries,’ especially the lead pastor’s, which often takes up a significant portion of the budget, it can be a bit of a shock. They see big numbers but not the big impact.
Here’s where the narrative budget comes in. It’s not just about listing expenses; it’s about weaving them into the larger story of your church’s mission. For instance, in the worship budget, you’d still include all those specific worship expenses. But you’d also allocate a portion of the pastor’s salary to this section, reflecting the time and effort they invest in leading and planning worship services. Similarly, a substantial part of the utilities cost would be included here too. After all, those lights, heating, and cooling are what make the physical space conducive for worship.
But don’t stop there. General overhead and administrative costs also play a role in supporting worship services. These should be proportionally distributed across various ministry areas, including worship. This approach gives a more holistic view of how each dollar contributes to creating an inspiring worship environment. It’s not just about paying bills; it’s about facilitating a space where the community can connect with God and each other.
By reframing these costs within the narrative of worship, your budget becomes a tool for storytelling. It illustrates how every aspect of church spending, from the pastor’s sermon preparation to keeping the sanctuary comfortable, is an integral part of the worship experience. This method of budgeting helps your congregation see beyond the numbers to the real, life-affirming impact of their giving. And for those who would like to “designate” funding for worship, the narrative budget allows you to more judiciously apply those funds to the larger budget.
In summary, a narrative budget for worship doesn’t just list expenses; it paints a picture of how each dollar enhances the spiritual life of your church. It’s a way to show your congregation that their contributions are vital to sustaining and enriching the worship that is central to your church’s mission.
But don’t toss out that line-item budget just yet. It’s still needed for the nuts and bolts of your church’s accounting. Think of it as the backstage crew that keeps the show running smoothly – essential, but not always front and center. The line-item budget should be available to anyone who asks, but it’s primarily a tool for your church’s financial team.
Why are narrative budgets so inspiring? Because they turn abstract numbers into stories of hope, growth, and community impact. They show your congregation that their giving isn’t just keeping the lights on; it’s changing lives, supporting growth, and spreading love. It’s a powerful tool for ministry planning and visioning, helping everyone see the bigger picture of what your church is all about.
In a nutshell, narrative budgets are about making the connection between financial stewardship and spiritual impact crystal clear. They’re a way to celebrate how every dollar given is a step towards fulfilling your church’s mission and vision. And that’s a story worth sharing.
Cultivating a Culture of Generosity
Creating a culture of giving, support, and generosity in your church is about so much more than just the moments we pass the offering plate. It’s about consistently sharing the inspiring stories of life transformation and the effectiveness of our ministries. These stories are the lifeblood of a generous church culture.
Let’s face it, the days of obligatory giving are long gone. People open their hearts and wallets when they believe they’re contributing to a cause that makes a real difference. And what cause is more impactful than the work of the church? Yet, we often fall short in celebrating our victories, both big and small. In my work with church growth catalytic pastors, we start every session by sharing wins – focusing more on the small victories that often go unnoticed. This is crucial because, traditionally, churches have been more about introspection and penitence than celebration. We need to embrace the victory and resurrection focus of Eastern Orthodoxy, highlighting the great things our churches accomplish. When people are inspired, they give.
But let’s not forget that gratitude is a two-way street. As pastors, it’s vital to know who’s giving what. This isn’t about favoritism; it’s about stewardship and acknowledgment. Just like Jesus had his inner circle and knew his followers well, pastors should recognize and appreciate their congregation’s contributors. Your alma mater does it, and so should your church.
I always get lots of pushback from pastors and church leaders when I suggest the pastor should know what people give. I will tell you that every church financial book I’ve read, and that’s quite a few books, they virtually all say the same thing. The pastor should know what the members are giving because giving is an indicator of spiritual health. I often hear that church leaders are concerned that the pastor will treat big givers differently. The truth is, of course, they will. And they should! Let’s consider Jesus’ model of relationships. He had different circles of influence – the crowds, the 72, the 12 disciples, and within them, the inner circle of Peter, James, and John. This wasn’t favoritism; it was strategic and purposeful relationship-building. In the same way, pastors should be aware of their congregation’s giving patterns. Knowing who gives what isn’t about preferential treatment; it’s about acknowledging and thanking those who contribute significantly. Just as Jesus invested differently in his followers according to their roles and commitments, pastors can wisely steward their relationships with congregants, especially those who are deeply invested in the church’s mission. Regular thanks and attention to your top givers are essential, but remember, they don’t dictate church policy. They deserve your ear and gratitude, but the church’s direction remains in the hands of its leaders.
Expanding on preaching about money, it’s important to navigate this topic with care to avoid the pitfalls of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel, which equates faith with financial blessing, is a distortion of biblical teaching. However, avoiding the topic of money altogether isn’t the solution. Jesus talked about money and wealth more than any other subject, except the Kingdom of God. He taught parables like the Talents, emphasizing the importance of wise investment and stewardship of resources. Paul echoed this sentiment, advocating for hard work and wise financial management. In a culture that is literally drowning in debt, from our national government to our own church members, preaching about the wise handling of money is absolutely critical in today’s world.
You can explore a wealth of topics around money that align with biblical teachings: the joy of generosity, the responsibility of stewardship, the dangers of materialism, and the importance of trusting God with our finances. And don’t forget there are the practicalities of getting out of debt, staying out of debt, a healthy work ethic, the need to balance work and life, and of course the emphasis on entrepreneurship and, as Paul says, minding your own business which has nothing to do with being nosy and everything to do with working as the boss. And since everyone can’t be the boss, it’s helpful to remember that those words still apply because if we work for our boss as if we were working for ourselves, we will not only do a better job, we are more likely to be noticed and rewarded appropriately. These teachings can guide congregants towards a healthier, more balanced relationship with money, one that honors God and supports the church’s mission.
Building a culture of generosity in your church involves celebrating the small and big victories, acknowledging and thanking your contributors, and having open, biblically-grounded conversations about money. It’s about moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance, where generosity is celebrated, and financial stewardship is taught as a vital aspect of discipleship. This shift is key to transforming your church into a community where generosity thrives, and every member feels valued and empowered to contribute to the church’s mission.
The Inspired Church
In summary, transforming your church’s approach to giving isn’t just about tweaking a few practices; it’s about embracing a whole new culture. By weaving storytelling into the fabric of your church’s life, crafting narrative budgets that bring financial figures to life, and fostering a culture of gratitude and wise stewardship, you’re setting the stage for a more generous, engaged, and spiritually vibrant community.
Remember, the journey to a culture of generosity is paved with the inspiring stories of lives transformed, budgets that narrate your church’s mission, and open, honest conversations about money. It’s about seeing beyond the numbers to the hearts and souls impacted by every act of giving. This isn’t just about increasing your church’s budget; it’s about deepening your congregation’s commitment to your church’s vision and mission.
To help you on this journey, I encourage you to download the “Grow Your Church’s Giving Inspiration File.” This resource is packed with insights and practical tips to help you cultivate a thriving culture of generosity in your church. It’s time to turn the page and start a new chapter in your church’s story—one where generosity flows freely, and every member feels empowered to contribute to the church’s impactful mission.
Download the file, embrace these principles, and watch as a culture of generosity takes root and grows in your church, transforming not just your finances, but the very spirit of your community.