Ken Sloane, Director of Stewardship and Generosity for Discipleship Ministries, thinks “beyond the budget and checkbook” for a healthy start to 2021.
First, if you’ve come to this point in 2020 and you are still standing, still breathing, and still able to be in ministry with your community, you are a hero. You no doubt spent some time taking care of yourself, but probably spent more of your time learning new ways of doing church. I wanted to brainstorm some ideas about having a stronger financial finish to 2020, which will mean a stronger start to 2021. I’m not suggesting all these ideas will apply to your church – as I often say, “You are the context expert for your local church.”
1. ADD A FIFTH QUARTERLY ‘GIVING THANKS’ STATEMENT
I know this sounds like new math, but your normal fourth-quarter statement comes after the year has been completed, and it doesn’t offer anyone the opportunity to correct a shortfall. Even more important than being a statement of contributions, it can be a statement of thanks for a year of generous giving (through some bleak days). It can also provide an opportunity to celebrate the impact your church has made – even in the midst of the pandemic’s challenges! It is even better if the statement reached people right around their Thanksgiving celebrations.
2. PLAN AND PROMOTE NEW VIRTUAL HOLIDAY SERVICES AND CELEBRATIONS
Even if you have moved back to in-person worship, there will be a lot of folks not venturing far from their living rooms in this holiday season. Explore virtual ways to bring the joy of Christmas to your people! Can you find someone willing to pull together a virtual Christmas pageant? Let the children take over a churchwide Zoom service (with adult hosts and children co-hosts; you can mute everyone else’s audio and video, so the kids take over the screen). Consider a “Blue Christmas” service for those who have lost loved ones in the past year. Promote it through social media like Facebook – not just on your church Facebook page but on community and neighborhood Facebook pages as well. Be sure to provide a link that will enable people to make gifts to the church.
3. LOOK AT WAYS TO EXPAND ELECTRONIC GIVING OPTIONS
I hope by now, I don’t have to convince people how essential it is to offer people a way to give to the church electronically. Examine the mechanics of whatever platform you have in place. Is it easy for donors? It is something that is accessible only to those “in the know” and not geared to those beyond your church who might want to give? Are there services you could add? Are people able to give by text and mobile phone? Be sure to provide a place for someone to give your church a gift in honor or in memory of someone special who doesn’t need more stuff.
4. UPGRADE YOUR VIRTUAL WORSHIP TECHNOLOGY
This is a great season to upgrade the technology you pulled together quickly back in March to provide a better-quality virtual experience. Consider adding an HD computer camera, a higher quality external microphone, or better lighting. A simple switcher to move from one video source to another smoothly may be purchased for under $100, and it will make your virtual gatherings seem almost “studio quality.” You probably have a donor willing to cover the cost!
5. PLAN TO COLLECT CONTACT INFORMATION FROM VIRTUAL ATTENDEES
In my days as a local pastor, I always had two priority logistical concerns for the holiday season: (1) Do we have the candles we need? and (2) Do we have a way to collect names and addresses? Today, names and email addresses are crucial to keeping connected (and cell numbers, using text, messaging to keep connected). These are invaluable in continuing to build relationships with people you hope will grow and form as disciples. How might you offer people an incentive to register their “first-time” virtual presence in your holiday service? What do people need right now? Hand sanitizer? How about a United Methodist Church face mask?
6. CELEBRATE MISSION IMPACT FRONT AND CENTER
Communicating the church’s missional impact is always important, but never more so than right now. Most of us are aware of others who are grieving, anxious, out of work, and unsure of what the future holds; many feel frustrated that we can’t do more to help because of pandemic restrictions. Tell the stories of caring, kindness, compassion, and any work that has been done locally or globally to alleviate suffering. Remind people that we are still the church – even when buildings are closed, our impact results from their generosity!
7. OFFER ALTERNATIVE GIVING OPPORTUNITIES
Do you have older adults in your congregation who are retired or close to retirement? Some folks have all the stuff they need, and they probably do not want more gifts they will have to store or dust. This may be true for people who are not that close to that chapter of life. Suggest that people give gifts to the church in someone’s honor! You can make it easy through your online giving portal – with a place to designate the amount of the gift, whom it honors, and who gave the gift. Then announce to your members this opportunity for “alternative” gift-giving. Mission causes are attractive, whether those causes are local (a COVID-19 assistance fund) or global (disaster response).
8. THINK BEYOND BUDGET AND BEYOND THE CHECKBOOK
Most of a local church’s regular giving comes from people’s income – a paycheck or pension/Social Security income. However, donors may also choose to give from their assets. Gifts of stocks, bonds, real estate, or other appreciated assets can be a blessing to the church and offer significant tax considerations to the donor. Remember that members in their seventies who have IRAs may have to make mandatory distributions, and they can avoid taxes by designating funds to the church. If your church is not familiar with receiving these kinds of gifts, talk to the United Methodist Foundation that serves your annual conference. You can find the contact information here.
9. START A YEAR-LONG STEWARDSHIP STRATEGY FOR 2021
The pandemic came upon us pretty quickly back in March, and it upset all our plans. We know we will start the new year with the cloud of the coronavirus still lingering over us. The best time to plan a year-round stewardship strategy is right now. Gather a team of people who have a passion for generosity and schedule a Zoom call. Develop articles for your newsletters and include stories of impact. Consider providing recorded testimonies from members, offering a Bible study on generosity, or a preaching series on generosity (at a time when you are not asking people to complete a pledge card). Check out a webinar on developing a stewardship strategy.
10. A STEP-UP CAMPAIGN FOR THE NEW YEAR?
If you didn’t do an annual campaign this fall, or if you did one and the results were not what you hoped, don’t despair. Consider doing a “Step-Up” Campaign at the start of the new year. There are a lot of ways you can encourage people to step up. Some can step up to tithing or step up one percent from where they are giving now. Some can step up to electronic giving or, even better, to automatic recurring electronic giving. Some may not be able to do any of these but may be willing to step up their involvement by joining a small group or taking on a new role in the church. Any and all of these will help your church face the future with more confidence!
~Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.