What to do If giving Is down

September 20th, 2021

One day a pastor called me and was a bit distressed. Giving to church operations was down from the previous year. He asked if he could send me a letter to review that he was considering sending to the congregation about the shortfall.

When I am asked about issues like this my first questions are research ones. Exactly how much are you down from the same time period last year and the year before? How much are you off your budget projections? Are there any obvious reasons (beyond COVID) for the shortfall, like heavy snow Sundays or did you even have the same number of Sundays last quarter? What is going on with worship attendance? Are there any conflicts in the church that may be causing some reaction? All these questions and more need to be answered prior to any letter being sent.

The biggest question to answer, however, is what is going on with your top ten or twenty donors. They are probably responsible for a big percentage of the budget. I remember one pastor who called me and then e-mailed me a lengthy letter he was sending to all of his members to encourage them to increase their giving because the church was unexpectedly behind by $50,000 early in the year. He was alarmed because if he prorated that out it meant a $200,000 shortfall on the year. He wanted to jump right on it. I encouraged him to review the donor list, which he had never done and was reluctant to do. When he did, he saw that one donor who always gave a January check of around $35,000 had paid nothing. One phone call reassured him that the check was soon to be sent and the donor was sorry he was a couple of months late on his usual contribution date. Suddenly, things did not seem so dire. The pastor realized it was not his entire membership that was decreasing their giving. Most of the shortfall lay in one individual who was a bit late on his normal schedule. A strongly worded letter encouraging persons to help their “distressed” church would have been a bad idea and possibly even backfired on the preacher.

When my pastor friend called, I asked him if he knew what his top donors were doing, and he confessed that he did not and would check this out thoroughly before drafting any letter. Could the treasurer do this and just report findings to the pastor? Yes, but it is not nearly as effective. It is assumed that the pastor knows his or her congregation better than anyone else. Are contributions down from someone because of a death or divorce or job loss or other crisis that a treasurer would not know about? Treasurers are treasurers because they do numbers well. Pastors are pastors because they know numbers reveal things that are personal and soulful. The church needs the pastor’s heart to help interpret numbers appropriately. Times of Trial Donors are cutting back on giving to churches and nonprofits in a serious way. A recent Barna research study shows some trends that do not bode well for church or nonprofit giving. Barna reports that nearly half of all adults (48 percent) say they reduced their nonprofit organization giving in the last quarter of 2009. Twenty-nine percent reported that they had reduced giving to their church. When the recessionary crisis first hit in the last quarter of 2008, about 10 percent of Americans said they had to cut back their church giving by at least 20 percent. At the time of the study, the report says nearly 25 percent of churchgoers have cut back their individual contributions by at least 20 percent. All in all, Barna reports that giving to churches in 2009 dropped by about 7 percent and 2010 didn’t look any better. One very interesting side note was that the number of tithers has not gone down. About 7 percent of all adults report giving at least 10 percent of their income to a church or nonprofit. This figure has not decreased in the economic crisis. Evangelicals far outdistanced all other religious groups in the number of self-identified tithers. This helps explain what I have seen in many of the churches we work with. In those churches where persons have a real passion for sharing the gospel and Sunday morning is a genuine celebration of new life, hope, and resurrection, the congregation continues to thrive with new people and new money regardless of what is happening in the community economically. They just seem to want to give! Now some will read the above (apply it to 2021 and say, “Well, I sure feel better knowing that my church is not the only one suffering a downturn. As long as my suffering is shared by others, it just does not hurt as much.” Others of you, I hope, will say, “In light of this, what must I do to garner support for my church and achieve maximum generosity?”



Available from MinistryMatters

Her are some suggestions for when you are in times of trial.

1. Don’t panic. God is still sovereign. If you are living in the midst of God’s will and doing God’s work, you will be blessed. Have faith in God to be your partner.

2. Tell your stories. Redouble your efforts to tell life-changing stories. People still have money and they will give, but they are much more discriminatory. They want to know that good things are happening with their donations.

3. Serve. Create ministries and programs to assist persons in financial crises. Start job counseling services, teach résumé classes, and offer free babysitting while parents job hunt. Host a job fair and communicate the pastor’s willingness to counsel. Never send the message that you are a church that only wants to be on the receiving end. Be a giver.

4. Preach, preach, and preach on the role of money in our lives. Some persons are just now coming to the realization that money will not save them. They are more open to sermons on money today than ever before.

5. Talk to donors. Yes, your people are donors and not just members. More than likely your budget is heavily supported by ten to twenty families. Go see each one. Thank them for their giving and ask them what their plans are for the year. Businesses all over America are contacting their best customers directly and asking them about future plans. You should do the same. Don’t guess!

6. Start a study series using books that deal with money and giving in our lives. Two I like are Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley and Enough by Adam Hamilton. Help persons dialogue about money and faith. We have kept money in the same closet as sex in the church, and it has hurt our people spiritually for too long.

7. Hold financial management classes. Consider using Saving Grace as tools to assist your people in managing their money, start right now and keep going all year long with one after the other. Your people need these practical tools to get control of their financial lives.

You have two choices in these difficult times. You can take solace that others are having a hard time meeting their budgets as well or you can change the way you deal with money in your congregation and actually wind up doing more for the Kingdom than ever before.

 This article is excerpted from The Church Money Manual, by J. Clif Christopher, Abingdon Press, 2019.

comments powered by Disqus