Margaret Marcuson shares ideas for asking people to support the church even in these most uncertain times. She says leaders should set an example through their own giving, preach regularly about money and faith, tell the story of people’s gifts at work, and overcome their own reluctance to ask.
“How can I ask people to give to our ministry when they are struggling and there are so many life-and-death places to give?” one church leader asked me recently. Here are my five best ideas on how to ask people to give, even in the most uncertain of times.
1. Give yourself.
It’s hard to ask people to do something you aren’t doing yourself. Give and tell people that you, too, are committed to the same practice you are asking of them. Now, if your own financial situation has changed, you may have had to reduce your giving. I talked with one pastor recently whose wife had been laid off. Her salary had enabled him to serve a small church with low compensation. If you are facing something similar, of course you can’t give as much. Give at least a small amount as a leadership practice.
2. Talk about money more.
Don’t limit talking about money to stewardship “season.” People deal with money every day. Many people are anxious about their financial future even if they haven’t had their income reduced due to the pandemic. It’s a pastoral responsibility to help them think about their money in the light of their faith — and not just so they can give more money to the church. Consider giving a sermon where you create a spiritual context for our financial lives and explicitly say up front, “I’m not going to talk about giving to the church today — the purpose of this sermon is to help you reflect on all your resources in the light of your faith.” Acknowledge honestly the challenges many are facing and your own uncertainty. Stand with them in the emotional and spiritual challenges in their life with money.
If you talk about money more in preaching and in leading it will get easier. When I started preaching about money at least quarterly, it took the pressure off and lowered my anxiety about bringing it up. It normalized the subject for me and for the people.
3. Tell the story.
I once met a woman at a concert who was active in her Presbyterian church. We started talking about church life, and stewardship came up. “It’s not very inspiring when they ask for money to keep the lights on,” she said.
Even more than usual, it’s important to paint the picture this year. In many churches people are not yet meeting in person. Even if in-person services have resumed, not everyone is attending. People have not seen the effort to make virtual worship happen, to support members in need, and to help them connect with the church and with each other. Tell the story of where you’ve been this year and the work that has made it possible.
Here’s one example: Rev. Zachary Bay, pastor of First Baptist Church of Middlesboro, Kentucky, each week invited one person or family to meet him (socially distanced) by the church bell, mounted outside the church, and to ring it as a reminder to the community the church was present. Then he took a picture of them and shared it to the church’s Facebook page. It helped the congregation feel connected to one another. (See a news article about it here.) This is a perfect example of a story that can inspire people to give.
Then share where you hope to go together in the next year. You can share what you know, and what you don’t know. “We don’t know when we will all be back together again. But we will be continuing to worship God, grow in faith through Zoom Bible studies, and share with our community through the box lunches in our feeding program.”
People need stories to touch them emotionally and to motivate them to give. What are the stories of connection? What’s the best Zoom worship experience you had this year? If you have resumed in-person worship, what’s the best thing that has happened so far? How have you reached shut-ins and others in need? How have you touched your community? Telling a story each week is not too much! Share a story before the offering, in a sermon, in an email.
When times are uncertain, you may be tempted not to explicitly ask people to give. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Tell your own story. Share why you give in ordinary times and right now and why giving is important to you in your life of faith.
- Remember that giving blesses the giver. My own father came to faith as an adult and was challenged to give by others. His life of generous giving was one of the most wonderful things he experienced in his life of faith. He was always grateful to those who encouraged him to give and to give more. In this time when connection is difficult, helping people connect with their deepest values through giving is a gift to them.
- Remember that not everyone has less money right now. Don’t assume the pandemic means people can’t give. Go ahead and ask people to give as they as are able.
- Acknowledge that people’s situation may have changed. Give them permission to change what they have given in the past, without guilt.
- Just do it. Take a deep breath and ask. Remember what Jesus said in another context: “You do not have because you do not ask.”
Celebrate the resources that you have in your church — past, present, and the gifts you anticipate in the future. Even if your giving is down, or you worry it might be down next year, celebrate what you do have and those who are giving. Find a way to thank people for their gift. Make it more than a pro forma line on their giving statement. Individual notes are the best. Give heartfelt thanks in worship weekly to those who support the church.
The pandemic changed much about our life as congregations. However, what hasn’t changed is the importance of continuing to invite people to support God’s work in the church and in world — for their own sake as well as for the sake of the ministry.
- Optimizing Annual Financial Campaigns, a video tool kit from the Lewis Center
- 10 Ideas for Your 2020 Annual Campaign by Ken Sloane
- Changing the Tone of Conversations about Money and Church by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.