For many churches, budget time and stewardship time is approaching (dun dun dunnnn), so ministry leadership is paying extra close attention to giving levels. One of the favorite barometers of church vitality is the dreaded “giving this year compared to last year” statement.
What does this year’s statement look like for you? How has the pandemic affected giving?
Depending on how it looks, this giving comparison statement can (and often does) send leadership into a tailspin, frantically clawing for solutions or answers or ways to keep their church open.
But maybe desperation isn’t the best place to be; maybe there’s another way to move forward when you’re looking at those statements.
Here are three reasons why I think this is a better approach:
1. Fear-based giving strategies rarely work. Even as the pandemic raged and churches were closed, I urged congregations to talk about what they want to do, not about what they can’t do. Because fear-based giving burns out your givers. It causes them to carry weight that isn’t theirs to carry: the well-being of the entire institution.
After all, it isn’t an individual person’s job to “save the church.” That seems like more a divine calling to me, than a calling for individual people. I hate the pressure that I feel when if I don’t give, something will fail. It could be because I’m an anxious person, but that kind of pressure locks me up and often I don’t end up giving at all.
2. Seasonal giving fluctuations are normal, even in a time of pandemic (maybe the pandemic itself can be thought of as a season… a very long season?). Allowing these fluctuations in giving to affect your messaging will only result in more erratic giving, because your messaging will be reactive (and so will giving). The giving fluctuation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you preach scarcity, so people give until they burn out. You preach scarcity because giving goes down, and people (maybe) give until they burn out.
But this strategy, chasing seasonal and situational fluctuations, turns into a case of “water circling towards the drain,” because as I mention in reason #1, scarcity and fear-based giving strategies rarely work long-term.
Pay attention to seasonal giving fluctuations, sure, but understand they are sometimes part of a congregation’s ethos. You can use that information to help create automated giving strategies to work to level out this curve (using online giving or online banking), sure, but don’t allow the data to push you into scarcity mode.
3. If you come from a season of lower giving and a scarcity mindset and translate that into a budgeting conversation, things can get hairy in a hot second.
Scarcity mindset can keep you from investing in infrastructure that can actually strengthen your church’s bottom line. For instance, churches often look to children’s programs as a place to cut, hoping that volunteers can string things together with donated glue sticks and construction paper… I’m not sure why children’s programs are on the chopping block as much (could it be that children themselves are not “giving units”?) but in the majority of cases, churches will find the quality of programming diminishes with decreased investment.
When programming suffers, you lose people.
Another area that budgeting can get cut when a scarcity mindset is at play is that of technology, marketing, communications, and similar infrastructure.
You don’t have to budget a lot of money in these areas to make a big impact. This coming year, I’m going to be talking to my church about what that investment looks like, but for under $1,500, you can invest in a smashing website, online giving platform, and even have money left over for Facebook ads or other marketing approaches (yes, I’ll work on getting a blog post together for that too!). Heck, we’ve even started using lawn signs during these socially distant times – you never know where marketing will take you, if you aren’t afraid to invest in it.
These two programs will help people find your “front door” of ministry – if you’re so scared of closing your doors that you literally close your online front door… you’ve already lost.
But I’m not telling you things you don’t already know.
Resist the urge to go all scarcity and fear mindset on your giving base.
That doesn’t mean you don’t strategically look at what’s happening – you might need to refine your message or add to what you’re already doing.