Any stewardship campaign has to start with the question on everyone's mind, "Why should I give?" There are many ways to answer that question, and it will likely be different for each person, but in stewardship initiatives with a congregation, we must be able to articulate an answer or set of answers that fit the church's vision.
How do we imagine people filling in the blank?
"I give because ____________."
There are two categories of motivation that could help fill in that blank.
First, there is the outcome of the gift. "I give because I want to see the church expand its ministries with underprivileged children," or "I give because I want there to be room for new people in worship." Stewardship expert J. Clif Christopher emphasizes that when making specific appeals for money in the church (or any institution), it is crucial to demonstrate to the giver how their gift will be used toward a certain goal—an outcome of the donation that the giver cares about. The first category of fill-in-the-blank is practical, and depends on the individual church and what ministries it invests in.
But stewardship isn't just about the church having the funds to sustain and expand its ministries. It is also a key lesson in discipleship, instilling the value of giving as an ongoing and essential part of the Christian lifestyle. The second type of fill-in-the-blank is spiritual, and deals with the heart of the giver. The giver gives because of who he or she is. It is on this spiritual aspect of giving that most stewardship programs focus. Consider the following.
I give because . . .
I am putting God faithful.
What happens when you truly put God first in all aspects of your life? In a culture guided chiefly by shiny, life-promising distractions, “enough” seems elusive and keeps us indebted to that next source of satisfaction. What if the Giver of Life offered freedom from this downward spiral—would you take it? Loving God is not about saying the right words, accepting an abstract ideal, or claiming an emotion. Instead it is an intentional commitment to self-sacrifice for the well-being of others. Mike Slaughter's new program first: putting God first in living and giving will help you explore the challenge of putting God first.
I am a disciple.
This holistic perspective sees giving as "a lifelong journey in Christian discipleship," as Bob Crossman's Committed to Christ study says. Financial commitments are just one of the six commitments Crossman urges Christians to make, emphasizing that in all areas of discipleship (prayer, worship, witness, etc.) we can grow by taking one step at a time. This approach seems perfect for a congregation skittish about talking about money, putting that sometimes-scary topic in context of (and on equal footing with) other spiritual practices.
I am generous.
No one wants to be stingy, but generosity sometimes gets written off as something only millionaires and sweet grandmotherly figures can truly master. This values-centered approach highlights generosity as a key virtue of Christian faith that we can all practice. "Extravagant generosity" is one of the five traits Robert Schnase emphasizes in his bestseller, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, and expands on in the Extravagant Generosity program, going deep with all ages of the church to move toward "goal-oriented and mission-minded giving."
I have more than I need.
So many people say they want to simplify their lives—some out of distaste for our culture's penchant for busyness and excess, and others (especially since the economic downturn) out of necessity. Even if we're living with less than we used to, chances are that most of us still have more than we need. It is out of gratitude for such blessings and desire to live purposefully that many people give. Adam Hamilton's Enough study is a lifestyle approach that urges people to "discover joy through simplicity and generosity," viewing money and posessions as tools to do good.
I am able.
This approach, which could be called "total stewardship," emphasizes all each person has to offer. Prayers, presence, gifts, and service—they are all valuable offerings that can be shared generously. Transformed Giving, by John Ed Mathison, guides congregations through 40 days of spiritual development that leads to active involvement. This approach is less intimidating for people who lack financial resources, and can enhance a congregation's vitality by increasing not only financial giving but participation and service as well.
I am called.
As much effort as we put into growing generous, thankful, committed disciples, we must also acknowledge the working of the Spirit in discipleship, and help each Christian to hear God's specific calling on his or her own life and resources. The New Consecration Sunday program offers no participant materials or study guides, but rather guides the leadership team (and a "guest leader") in leading the people in spiritual discernment. This approach seems to favor the spiritually mature, but raising the bar can challenge casual believers to deepen in faith as they listen for God's call.
The differences in these approaches may seem subtle—all focusing on the giver's spiritual life and development rather than on what the resources given can accomplish—but with knowledge of your congregation and a vision for spiritual formation in your congregation, you can determine which approach would be most needed and most effective in your ministry context at this point in time. Considering these approaches may help leaders ask themselves not just "how can spiritual growth increase our financial stewardship?" but "how can our stewardship initiatives enhance our spiritual growth?"
Editor's note: This article is not intended as a complete review of these stewardship programs. For details on each program, view each product or download the comparison chart below.