Why "doom-saying" does not generate giving

September 19th, 2021
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The letters have started.

“As we approach the year’s end, we are not going to be able to pay our denominational support fund (change name to suit). We hope everyone remembers that they vowed to support the church when they joined and will examine their giving for the year.”

“As we move into Christmas, let us all be aware of the gift that came in the manger and consider what gift we should be making to the church. We don’t want to finish in the red again this year like last year.”

“We have done about all we can do to cut expenses at the church. Your staff has cut back on programming to the bare minimum. Now we need you to increase your giving to keep us solvent through Christmas.”

The above are examples of what is sent out by churches all over America. They are similar to letters that went out last year and the year before that. The basic message is “you owe me.” They are cries of desperation and pleas for cash as everyone sings “Joy to the World.” You wonder why persons think they can continue to do the same thing year after year and yet somehow get a different result this year.

Let’s stop the madness of crying and begging every Christmas and start doing real life-changing ministry all year long. Donors are telling us more and more that they are becoming more sophisticated and discriminating with the charities they will support, but the church still seems to ignore the warnings.

Advancing Philanthropy reported that the Cygnus Donor Survey has once again asked America’s donors what organizations they will most likely support, and they got the same answer this year they have gotten for the last twelve years. Seventy-three percent of the respondents said they favor giving to nonprofits that provide them with “measurable results on what has been or is being achieved with donors’ contributions.” At the same time they found that failure to receive measurable results on their gifts remains the number one reason they stop giving or give less than they could.

I worked with a church that spends $250,000 for every convert, a person joining on initial profession of faith. This church does not need to purchase a different stewardship program for next year; they need to start bringing people into a relationship with Christ. When they start doing that, persons will witness it and begin giving them more money to do more of it.

Perhaps our push this Advent season should not be to make certain we finish in the black with money but with converts. Perhaps our denominational leaders who make those calls to their pastors each December asking, “Will you pay out?” should instead call and ask what they are doing to win someone to Jesus in the last month of the year. The majority of persons who give money to the church really do want to see Jesus’ work being done, not the budget balanced.

What are your specific plans for reshaping evangelism next year? How will you share testimonies? How will your donors hear about lives being changed? How will success be measured?

Once again, America’s churches will have a smaller percentage of persons in them than the year before. Once again we will see that donors are choosing to give less of their income to the church than the previous year. Do we love Jesus enough to ensure that next year will not see a continuation of this trend?

Helpful alternatives to doom and gloom

I was in a worship service and the pastor turned the microphone over to the finance chairman, who gave what has become a routine 39 Helpful Alternatives to Doom and Gloom report on the condition of the church as it approached the Christmas season. “We are substantially behind our budget projections,” he said, “and I fear that without many of you making some extra gifts to the church we will not be able to meet our obligations.” He went on to spell out some of the numbers, but they all seemed blurred to me, and I began to shut him out. I had heard such a plea perhaps a hundred times over the years and each one sounds like the ship is sinking. I began to ask myself, “How stupid am I to keep getting on a ship that every year they tell me is about to sink? I need to find a better ship.”

I know that most of you reading this will find yourself in a position of deficit as you approach the last few weeks of the year. Take heart—most churches in America are in the same boat. December has generally been the highest giving month of the year for a vast majority of our churches. It will be again this year. We are not helping ourselves or improving the quality of worship to keep inserting these talks right as much of America is coming to us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We will have thousands come into our churches at this time of the year who have not been there since Christmas last year. We have a chance to carry the good news to them, and instead we substitute a financial report.

Here is what I suggest: If you absolutely must communicate the church’s financial condition to the membership, then do it in a private letter or e-mail and keep it away from those who may be coming to you to experience the joys of Thanksgiving or the birth of the Christ child. If persons can leave your church and truly feel that they found spiritual nourishment and enrichment, they will come back, and they might become contributors. If, however, they come and feel that they are fleeced right off the bat, they will not want to repeat that experience.

Put together a wish list for Christmas for the church and place it in the pews, in the narthex, on the website, or in the bulletin. Say something like, “For those wishing to truly give Christ a gift on his birthday, here are some things that his church, his body, could use this year and next,” and then give an extensive list. This can include some things that you may be including in your budget and not just extras. Make it diverse. For instance, you can list “Pay for VBS 40 Doom-Saying $_______, Buy a crib for the nursery $______, Send one child to church camp $_______, Buy a Church Van $_______.” Have a list of thirty or forty things and, as they get chosen, mark them off the list for the next week.


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People like to designate. They have extra money at the end of the year. You need items for your church. It is a win-win. But how does it help with your denominational obligations? If members will buy things that are in the budget with this money, you will have more regular offering available for the other things. And everyone will feel good about it and not beat-up. 

Mike Slaughter wrote a fabulous book called Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, which details how his congregation gives at Christmas. Each member is asked to give to a specific mission effort an amount equal to what they will spend during Christmas. It has been a phenomenal success. Mike did not want his family or his church family to forego the joy of exchanging gifts and love during Christmas. He just wanted all to remember whose birthday it really is. The result: they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for mission and have raised members’ spiritual relationship with Christ. That is what Christmas is for.

This article is excerpted from The Church Money Manual by J. Clif Christoper, Abingdon Press.

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