Time to strategize for generosity. Ken Sloane, leader at Discipleship Ministries, offers five stewardship tips for 2021 borrowed from gridiron heroes.
As 2021 gets underway, many people will move their attention toward the Super Bowl, to be held in Tampa on Sunday, February 7. As with many events in this time of the pandemic, the Super Bowl will look different. Only 14,500 tickets will be sold; an additional 7,500 tickets will be given free to vaccinated healthcare workers from across the country. Filling only 22,000 seats in a stadium with a seating capacity of 66,000 will be a first for the Super Bowl, but that restriction is not surprising in a time of precautions and restrictions. For the teams that will be on the field, “the main thing will still be the main thing.”
For local church finance and stewardship teams entering 2021, things have looked different from the way they did before March 2020; and it appears that different will continue a while longer – in some ways, from here on. For us, too, the main thing will still be the main thing – growing generous disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Together, we try to figure out the best ways to approach our task. Let’s see what insights we might get from our gridiron heroes.
1. ASSESS YOUR STRATEGY ONE QUARTER AT A TIME
In football, a team will spend six days developing a plan for Sunday’s game and then often cast that plan aside in the first fifteen minutes of the game when they realize they face something unanticipated. Changes in strategy, execution, and how team assets are used will often be implemented and then evaluated at halftime and again before the fourth quarter.
In 2019, most churches developed a 2020 budget with no clue how that year would turn out or what would be required to keep the ministry going during a pandemic. The advice we offered was to move quarter by quarter, assessing and making changes based on the best information available. While 2021 looks more hopeful with vaccines beginning to be administered, the pandemic is far from over. It would be wise to continue careful assessment of giving and expenses quarterly. Be sure to get buy-in for the budget to be managed in this way from your church council as a whole and from individual leaders who make ministry decisions.
2. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR TEAM OFTEN
Football is a game heavy with communication. Some of it is obvious – locker-room meetings and offensive huddles before each play; some, less obvious. For years, coaches have yelled to their players and used hand signals from the sidelines (and still do). New technology has still opened the door to innovations like helmet speakers that let coaches speak directly to their quarterbacks and defensive captains via headset radios. This constant flow of communications keeps players informed and better equipped to complete the mission at hand.
In the midst of the pandemic and the isolation that comes with it, communication across your church has never been more important. Letting people know that the church is there for them is crucial, but letting them know that the church is still in mission and ministry with members, the community, and the world is also important. Fortunately for us, technology has also opened doors for churches to innovate and raise their communication quality. Using a variety of platforms to stream worship and facilitate small groups, using social media to tell stories of where your church is making an impact and improving lives, using email and texting to check-in with members to see if they have needs, and making giving easier through offering an online giving option provide much-needed connections.
With all these tools, seize the opportunities to say “thank you” many times for all the gifts of financial support, prayer support, and time. If your church has not been in the practice of sending quarterly statements of giving, this would be an excellent time to start.
3. LISTEN TO COACHES ON THE SIDELINES AND IN THE BOOTH.
No matter how famous a football player may be or how large his paycheck, his contribution to the team is dependent on his ability to listen and learn from the coaches who are there to help. Sideline staff focus on aspects of the game that a quarterback can’t possibly be aware of in the middle of a play with a 280-pound linebacker running at him. The coaches in the booth can see the larger picture that players on the field can’t—the whole team benefits from different perspectives and a variety of focus and attention.
As churches that are part of a connectional church, take, listen, and learn what you can from those ready to offer insights and different perspectives on the situations we are facing. I remind local church leaders, “You are the context experts for your local church.” However, I continue to believe in the value of helping those same leaders listen to different perspectives and to those who can focus more intensely on important developments. Conferences, United Methodist Foundations, and our General Church Agencies will continue to share information and resources to support your work, such as assistance programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, innovative ideas for virtual worship and giving, and for the time when we move back into our church buildings.
4. GIVE KEY PLAYERS THE REST THEY NEED
Resting players is an important part of a team’s strategy. Play one player too much, and there’s an increased chance of losing that player for a season or for good. Rest is essential to keep players and the team as a whole performing at their peak.
We know many clergy are exhausted from the extra work brought on by pandemic precautions and by the steep learning curve demanded by the technology many have had to adopt. Yet all across our churches, staff and volunteers need to be cared for to perform the work this time has required. This may be the best time to train new people, go to your “bench” and invite some folks to get more deeply involved.
5. BE BOLD IN ASKING THE TEAM TO GIVE THEIR VERY BEST.
The Hollywood sports stereotype depicts the locker room speech that gets the team fired up to turn a sure defeat into a triumphant victory. Yet is there anyone out there who believes it can’t happen?
I’m sure we would all agree that in addition to the feelings of anxiety and loss that the pandemic has brought to all of us, there are some for whom the pandemic has brought economic hardship and uncertainty. In speaking about giving to the church, we need to be sensitive to those who can’t afford to give as they would like. However, there may be others who want to be challenged to rise to this moment in history, be a part of making a difference, and be inspired to do more than what they might have thought was within their capabilities. Be bold, then, in challenging people to make the coming days a time of growth in generosity, witness, prayer, and connection.
In the beginning, the pandemic seemed as if it would take some churches that were already trying to keep themselves afloat completely out of the picture. For many, what seemed to be a story of defeat has become a saga of survival, with the bold reminder that we are called to be the church for just a time as this!
~ Discipleship Ministries is one of 13 international agencies of the United Methodist Church. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Discipleship Ministries connects leaders with needed resourcing, training, consulting, and networking that support spiritual formation, new church development, revitalization of local churches, and materials for use in Central Conferences. T