Get Your Money's Worth: Stories Drive Apportionments

August 1st, 2015

Nearly every pastor has experienced visceral despair when facing bad financial news at church. The sinking feeling returns when another easy-peasy-quick-and-sneezy stewardship scheme pops up in your e-mail. It seems like financial obstacles drain our energy and distract us from service. Did we really write all those term papers about theology only to end up talking about money?

Then there is discouraging news from the Great Recession, unequal recovery, and the return of a flat economy. It’s challenging enough to fund immediate needs, such as the office copier that wheezed out its last bulletin. How does one convince the frowning people on the finance committee to send money to the conference?

Whether you are in the midst of boom or doom, two rules of thumb apply to teaching financial stewardship.

1. Numbers with a narrative

More than plain budget numbers are needed. If we only indicate that the August budget is $$ MEGA DOLLARS, potential givers will supply their own random and personal narratives. For
example, “Do you know how long I would have to work to earn this amount? This
is more than the cost of my first car or the annual salary in my first job!” Giving happens when the leader of the congregation provides the narrative. For example: “First United Methodist Church spends $ for ten children to learn that Jesus loves them despite the teasing they will hear during the week. Here is what it costs for the children to have a healthy snack in a non-neon color.” We generally give a narrative explanation when the money is needed for capital campaigns. For example, a new roof will provide twenty-five more years of baptisms, weddings, confirmations, vacation Bible schools, blankets made, and health kits assembled.

A narrative is needed for general operating expenses as well. And you need to provide the narrative for how much money is received. Most people will do the math. If 50 percent of the budget should be given by July 1, when this doesn’t happen, it can trigger pain and blame! However, if you compare this July 1 with the last three years in July, you might be on schedule for your congregation’s annual pattern. Comparing monthly giving to previous years gives perspective. According to Charity Navigator, 24 to 50 percent of donations are received between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, for half the nonprofits in the United States.

2. Money with a mission

We are trained consumers, so we think, “What am I buying?” In church, the bills we place, the cards we swipe, and the checks we write are “buying” some result in mission. If it isn’t for the roofing fund or UMCOR, our “purchases” can seem vague. Cute and adorable new handicapped parking signs will be an easier case to make than health insurance premiums and staff salaries.

Constant effort is needed to communicate the mission for the money. Anecdotes are especially useful here. For example: “Because the lights were on, we had four third-graders receive the Deep Blue Kids Bible in which they are able to read about Jesus at their own reading level.” A celebratory tone is generally best.

Desperation will only work once: “We need $$ UBER DOLLARS, or we will close in four days!” At the second desperate plea, people will wonder “Why am I supporting an organization that can’t right-size its budget and manage its money?”

When a congregation withholds apportionment payments (Book of Discipline ¶ 340.2 [c] 2 [e]), it’s usually a symptom of deeper issues. Perhaps the church or conference budget is unsustainable, or there are wounds in the past, or church members are angry about a denominational conflict, or there are indignant excuses (the superintendent wore orange or there were too many “frivolous” Christmas wreaths in the church office).

Apportionments support the mission of the congregations in the conference, but this message requires communication of the stories. It might be difficult to tell these stories if you as a leader are withdrawn from the wider mission efforts of your denomination in the world. Too often communication about tangible and measurable results derived through the connectional mission efforts of The United Methodist Church is obscured until the final stewardship push in December.
If you need a “sales pitch” on the benefits of financial support for apportionments in your conference, there are excellent, free resources at This website has pictures, videos, and heart-warming stories of real mission results.

Our theological foundation is Christ’s promise to be with us (Matt 28:20). We can do more together than we can on our own (Eccl 4:9-12; Matt 18:20).

For more information about wealth inequality, visit and
For more information about trends in religious philanthropy, visit,, and

For more information about fund-raising skills, visit,, and

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