Vital congregations entry #8: Why give to your church?

February 01, 2013

You might think the answer to the above question is obvious: “It costs the church a lot of money to pay the staff, heat the building, purchase Sunday-school curriculum, keep the lights on, sing new choir music, plow the snow, offer vacation Bible school, and mow the lawn.”

For many, this answer raises another question: “Exactly why should I contribute to the church if all it does is keep itself going?”

Generations born before 1945 faithfully supported religious institutions out of a sense of civic duty and institutional loyalty.This motivation has long been eroding among the generations known as Boomers, Busters, and Millennials. They expect their charitable giving to make the world a better place to live, not just to perpetuate a self-serving organization. The key is to demonstrate and communicate how all the expenses of the church, even utilities and maintenance, are genuinely bearing fruits of ministry.

Many choices for giving

Nowadays, with more than 1.8 million nonprofits and churches to choose from in the United States, philanthropy is both competitive and sophisticated. Devoted Christians and unchurched alike are presented daily with a myriad of meaningful opportunities to support financially the work of God in their community and around the world. Today the church is not only challenged to teach and cultivate generosity, but to also win the respect and preference for how people choose to invest their charitable giving.

It’s been a year since the churches of the Minnesota Annual Conference began recording and reporting weekly statistical data for our nationwide United Methodist Vital Congregations program. United Methodist churches across the country have set goals and are intentionally tracking seven important metrics:

  1. worship attendance
  2. people received into membership by profession of faith
  3. number of small groups
  4. number of people participating in small groups
  5. number of people engaged in service and outreach efforts
  6. amount of money given for mission beyond the local church
  7. total contributions for local church ministry

Thanks to all the congregations that are faithfully responding to the weekly link for data entry. For the few congregations that have technical difficulties with the system or still need help getting started by submitting their goals, please contact the office of congregational development for assistance. Through this column I’ve been exploring priorities and practices for each of these seven vital signs of congregational health and vitality. This month we focus on the seventh metric, “Why contribute to local church ministry?”

George Barna, a church researcher and statistician, commented in a report on financial stewardship that “once a church establishes itself as being trustworthy in people’s minds, it will raise a minimal amount of money from attenders. However, to significantly increase people’s willingness to give generously, a church must speak to the issues that get people excited. The leader, first and foremost, must present a compelling vision for ministry—not simply keeping the doors open and the programs running, but a clear and energizing goal that describes how lives will be transformed by the church if people contribute their time, money, and skills. Related to that vision, the church must then impress potential donors with its ability to minister in ways that are efficient, effective, satisfying urgent needs, providing personal benefits, and incorporating donors into the heart of the effort to bring about serious life change. Most donors give a modest sum of money (1 to 2 percent of income) out of habit, guilt, or hope, but are not moved to sacrifice in a bigger way because they do not sense that the church is revolutionizing the community.”

Time and again I visit congregations that are doing some amazing things in ministry—but are their own best kept secret. Are you sharing with joy and praise how God is truly at work in and through your church? The payoff will come in far more ways than just the offering plate!

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058