Has your offering plate been emptier this year? If your church is typical, the offering in 2011 was smaller than in 2010. Adjusted for inflation, giving to religious organizations is estimated to have declined 4.7 percent from 2010.
It’s not simply due to a downturn in the national economy. The Giving USA 2012 Report by Bill Enright points to several larger issues. He suggests the five issues that have affected local church giving include:
- a decline in both church attendance and formal institutional membership
- generational shifts in religious practice, participation and styles of giving
- dominance of large congregations as the church of choice of attendees (the larger the congregation, the greater the number of “free riders”—people who attend but do not give)
- silence of religious leaders and congregations in talking and teaching about the faithful use of possessions apart from the annual obligatory stewardship or giving sermon
- failure to adapt best fund raising practices to congregational life, leaving congregations dependent on an outmoded, one-dimensional approach to giving
Local church leaders may be tempted to shrug their shoulders and hope that giving will increase someday as the local economy rebounds. I want to suggest that a different response may bear more fruit.
First of all, be proactive about increasing weekly worship attendance. There are a few deeply devoted disciples who give by automatic draft, or who will double their gift if they were absent last Sunday. However, a great number of church attenders only give to the church on the Sundays they attend worship. You may have noticed that your offering was often larger on large attendance Sundays this summer. On the Lewis Center web site, I've listed 50 ways church leadership can be proactive about increasing worship attendance.
Second, be proactive about helping your congregation to get control of their personal financial lives. Church attenders who are being crushed by credit card debt find it very difficult to increase their giving on Sunday. Churches that repeatedly offer short term small groups that use Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsay, or Crown Financial Ministries are discovering that marriages are strengthened, home environments are improved, and participants are inspired and empowered to financially support the church they love and attend.
Third, be proactive about electronic ways to give to your church. There is an increasing number of people who do not carry cash and do not have a checkbook. Instead, they do all their financial transactions electronically. If the only way to give to your church is to place cash or a check in the offering plate, you are making it very difficult for an increasing number of your attendees to make financial gifts.
Fourth, be proactive about inviting new attendees or new members to journey toward becoming deeply devoted disciples. Consider an intentional move toward becoming a high expectation church that clearly expresses the expectations through sermon, website, blogs, Twitter, and most importantly through a four to six week class that all newcomers are directed to attend.
Finally, be proactive about finding an annual way to invite your congregation to grow, step by step, across a broad range of discipleship areas that include financial giving. Committed to Christ: Six Steps to A Generous Life by Abingdon Press is a powerful invitation for every person in your congregation to enter into, or re-engage, in a journey toward becoming a deeply devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. It carries the potential to transform every household and the church itself. The “generous life” engendered by the program involves having the people of your church live and serve in the saving grace of the Lord, not as an obligation but as a joyous response. The program’s holistic, six-step invitation is closer to the broad range of the Lord’s high expectations for those who seek to follow faithfully: prayer, Bible reading, worship attendance, service, financial giving, and witness. These six primary comments are worthy of giving one’s life to.
A recent study in one faith tradition has shown some of the benefits of having lay leadership exhibit such signs of vital personal faith. A church with leadership exhibiting these signs is 48% more likely to be a high attendance church; 54% more likely to be a high growth church; 30% more likely to be a high engagement church; and 84% more likely to be a high “vital” church.
Churches with a high level of vitality are rare. In the typical congregation, it seems that only a small portion of the congregation is actively engaged and striving to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ; in contrast, the vast majority of the typical congregation seems to be more passive or lukewarm in their response. The same study cited above found that only 15% of its churches in the United States were high vitality; 49% were medium vitality; and 36% were found to have low vitality.
Committed to Christ: Six Steps to A Generous Life invites every household in the congregation to take at least one step in six different areas, beginning with a growing commitment to Jesus Christ. Through these six invitations, you can lay the foundation for the vitality of your church to surge forward as commitments are made and kept.