“You get them to church, pastor, and the money will come in.”
That’s been the claim of some council members wherever I’ve served as pastor. I doubt this principle was ever true, and I am especially convinced that it is not true in the nineties! The time has come in our church when we, as clergy and leaders, can no longer divorce ourselves from raising money for mission.
To a present culture of materialism, selfishness, and consumerism, we are called to model in our own lives and teach others Christian financial stewardship. Certainly Christian disciples have a greater need than ever before to share more than the church’s need to have the cash. But even a once-a-year, every-member response with pledging carried out very carefully is no longer good enough. We cannot depend on church attendance (and thus income from the offering plate and pledges) to adequately support our local congregations or the work of the kingdom world wide.
One of the many new ministry paradigms we must learn in order to do ministry and mission in the nineties is fundraising. Paul raised money on his missionary journey for the saints in Jerusalem. We must overcome the old stigma that clergy and lay leaders are somehow “above” doing fund raising.
Each of us clergy and lay leaders can be trained in our discipling to not only make good stewards of our people, but also to talk the language of fund raising and do so with the conviction that it is an important part of our Christian ministry.
Some possible fund raising techniques that we could implement are:
1. Automatic deductions for those who don’t attend worship very often. In an increasingly secular society, it probably will be necessary to arrange for people to support the cause we represent without actually attending the worship service. The reality is that all our flock are not in church each week. And many outside the congregational membership have the capacity and motivation to support our ministries.
2. Grant writing to foundations for funding of ministry projects, especially by coalitions of local congregations. Often such popular causes as feeding the poor, housing the homeless, and providing day care can be accomplished in a coalition and funded by organizations larger than our local church.
3. Unembarrassed promoting of giving in order to get the tax benefits for doing so. We’ve been a little timid about announcing to members of our community and congregation the tax benefits of contributing to our mission and ministry. It’s time that we knew enough about the intricacies of the tax laws that we can communicate their benefits to members and prospective contributors.
4. Holding before the membership the concept of estate planning, wills, trusts, guaranteed life annuities, and all those methods of giving that come under the theme of planned giving. These need to be promoted and explained in the homes of our congregational members. The present older generation may be the last to have sizeable estates and financial resources, and the willingness to give them to the church. There seems to be a strong conviction among these folks that leaving all their wealth to their children may not be a wise thing to do.
5. Being the door through which development persons from legitimate Lutheran agencies and institutions gain entree to our congregational members. This includes the seminaries of the church, social service agencies, colleges, and campus ministries. We are quite capable of identifying and helping the fund raising specialist gain access to our members. We may be surprised to find out that the money given to institutions of the church outside our congregation is almost always money separate from that which the congregation would receive.
6. Developing financial resources from wealthy people in the community who are not members of a congregation. While these folks may not belong to a particular congregation, they often have a cause or more in which they believe and are willing to support. They also appreciate the tax benefits from giving. We, who serve as leaders in the church, have the opportunity to help them and be a source to the church in raising money for mission.
In our practice of spiritual direction, pastoral care, and discipling to the more financially able of our membership we must learn how to persuade those who are capable to give money beyond the local congregation. The wealthy need our care, concern, and ministry as do the poor. They have a desperate need to share large portions of their money in order to keep their life’s priorities in balance. We can help them do that. It’s a ministry we can delight in!
Need to Overcome Stigma
Every clergy person and parish leader ought to see him- or herself as a fundraiser for the mission of our ELCA. Let’s overcome the stigma that sees money as “filthy lucre” and something from which we should distance ourselves. Let’s visit those who have the financial capacity to do more, and talk very pastorally to them about their financial stewardship and what they can do beyond their local pledge and giving. There is a skill in cultivating this kind of person by developing year round a genuine friendship with spiritual depth, thus enabling that person to better carry out their ministry of money.
Each pastor and lay leader can rightfully see her- or himself as a fund raiser for the kingdom work. Just think of the impact we could have if we all took this seriously and went out into our congregations, cultivating and nurturing those who could do so to contribute to the ELCA’s global mission enterprise, the seminaries of this church, and to set up a planned gift through the ELCA Foundation – in addition to contributing to their local congregation.
The scripture seems to contradict our tendency to remain aloof from money as a subject proclaimed in the gospel and in our ministry to individuals. We ought to re-examine the old notion that the subject is to be dealt with only by the laity and the institutional “fast talker.” The day when we could afford this attitude because there were strong ethnic and denominational loyalties to our churches is over!
If we take this seriously it would mean that in addition to teaching the extremely important concept of being stewards of our finances and of all creation, we would also need to equip our seminary graduates to understand the theology and practice of fund raising on behalf of the mission of the whole church. It would also mean that those who teach continuing education need to make a real effort to retool our present clergy, helping them to not only become teachers and models of financial stewardship, but also fundraisers in their communities and congregations. According to the recently adopted first call theological education requirements, it would also mean giving strong emphasis to the concept of fund raising, along with the broader subject of stewardship in general.
Certainly the bishops of our church, in their teaching ministries, will want to consider seriously learning effective fund raising and planned giving techniques. In living out the concept themselves they will inspire their pastors to carry out that ministry as well.
New member classes ought to go beyond handing out pledge cards and explaining the congregational budget, to holding serious conversations about each Christian’s need to give away large amounts of their income and the additional ways they can do that beyond their local congregational giving.
I doubt that there was ever a time when the comment, “You get them to church, pastor, and the money will come in,” was true. Certainly in this day, and in those ahead, it is less and less a dependable way to fund the sacred mission of our local congregations, our synods, and the vital mission of our church in this country and globally.
The Rev. Jerry Schmalenberger, an ELCA pastor, is former president and professor of parish ministry at Pacific Lutheran theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. He wrote this article for the Spring 1994 issue of Faith In Action.
© Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Spring 1994 issue of Faith in Action. Articles in Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
© Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.
Photo by Fallonyates, used by Creative Commons license.