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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Encouraging the Tithe

Last week, we had quite a lively discussion during our Wednesday Festival, which was on "Ten things we can do if we really want to change the church." Out of that conversation came a question that the matriarchs decided to tackle this week. It was the 24th comment in that particular discussion, if you want to check it out, and it is to the point:

How does one motivate a congregation to tithe? Preaching has no effect at all. What does?

Muthah+ responds:

Stewardship has never been my strong suit.  I have served in relatively smaller congregations most of my career.  But it was never my strong suit because 'we really didn't need it'---she says with some trepidation.
Tithing has to do with commitment and a fairly sophisticated understanding of what giving means to our spirituality.  I never preached the 'tithe'. I always looked at tipping at 15% or 20% was expected but for some reason we had a hard time with the 10% tithe.   I would talk about giving as a discipline.  My last stewardship chair "got it."  She told me that in their family they started with the tithe and then tried to figure out how they could give more.  But she was never able to get that across to many members because they were still thinking of the tithe as "dues." 
People give as they are invested in the parish.  It is as simple as that.  That is stewardship.  And so I would try to get new comers involved in the parish as soon as I could.  I would try to find ways that all members could find something to get involved with, if it was just folding bulletins or mowing the grass.  Now as adjunct staff in a larger congregation, I still try to do this finding that the personal touch of involving newcomers in some part of the parish program allows them to get involved quickly in the life of the parish.
But as a person becomes more sophisticated in their journey with Christ they begin to realize that giving is part of the discipline of "clean living". ( I use that term in place of "righteousness' because that has become so accreted with negativity.)  But as I have come closer to God, I have found that 'simplicity' has more to do with my giving patterns than does the tithe.  "How can I give in a way to free myself of ME and STUFF and so I can be more open to the Christ within me?" 

And kathrynzj writes:
Well, if we knew the answer to this we'd be sharing our book and seminar royalties!

Here are some of the things I've seen go well:
1) Talk about stewardship as a whole (time and talent) and actually mean it,
2) Talk about stewardship not just at one time of the year. I know we all agree with this, but how many of us actually make it a discipline to preach on it once a month.
3) Share your own story - NOT in November, but in a less pressured time. I know I've shared how my family was working towards a tithe (we weren't there yet) and folks responded to it.
4) Practice asking people for money (in the mirror, to other clergy, or a family member - whatever) then go into the living rooms and ask. Generally speaking, the $ is out there folks are just choosing to give it somewhere else. It is FAR more exciting to buy a cow or a flock of geese (nothing against Heifer) than it is to stuff a check into a 'General Fund' envelope every week/month

Not a fix all, but some suggestions. Great question!

And Ruth adds:
It’s worth looking at a scheme called ‘The Responsibility is Ours – TRIO’  - if you Search-engine it you’ll see quite a few examples from the UK.
Hope that helps.

I agree with Kathryn, this is a great question, and I'm interested to hear what more of you have to say. I personally feel very strongly about the tithe and have practiced it since I was child (I was taught about tithing in church, Sunday School, and girls' mission groups). I have preached it and taught it every way I know how. But I don't think I've been very persuasive, because I don't have much evidence that many people in my congregation think it's even a valid goal to work towards. Honestly, I'm having the most success with my own children - I think it's so much easier to start tithing when you're only getting $5 a week. This leads me to think that starting with our kids and youth might yield more fertile ground - not that I'm willing to let the adults off the hook!

Please join this conversation, especially if you have some experience to share about something that is working in your own congregation! Of course, discussing the struggles of teaching and preaching the tithe is welcome, too! Join us in the comments! And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please email it to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. It's tricky because we aren't supposed to know how much people earn, but I have done an "If Everybody Tithed ..." campaign in which we talked about what we could do with more money. I stayed FAR away from "fix the roof, update the HVAC and pay the pastor more" kinds of budgeting and focused on the changes we could make in our congregation, community and world. I was surprised how much that helped, but in reflection, I suspect we are a consumer culture. We want to know what our money will buy.

    At the same time (and no offense to Kathryn!), I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that the money is out there. In some of the families in our congregation, it simply is not, and yet many of them are wonderful stewards in other ways. I have unemployed people giving very generously of their time, for example, but who at from our food pantry this month so they could pay for heating fuel. I have elderly people who have tithed and participated actively in the past but who are now cutting their pills in half. For them, I truly believe that what we should do is thank them for all their contributions and encourage them to see the church as a place where we help one another. After all, the point of tithing is not so we can send a big check off to the mission board so someone else can do the work.

  2. One of the things I'm seeing in our denominational stewardship literature is the concept that people give when they know what thier money is going for. As kathyrnzj noted it IS more exciting to buy geese for Heifer, or give to the latest diaster releif than to give to the general fund. We need to make sure the stories of ministry are being told in our congregations - what are the women's groups doing, what is the youth and SS up to, what Bible studies, what service group and how lives are being changed. Whenever possible, we need to tell the story of how those dollars that keep the lights on and pay the staff and pastor contribute to the church's mission of growing disciples, reaching people for Jesus and serving the world. For better or worse, knowing how their money is being spent is important in our culture. On the spiritual side of things, I recommend Mark Allen Powell's Giving to God - it's a great book on the spritual discipline of giving. Lots of good insight to why we need to give in order to grow spiritually.

  3. Our canons instruct us that we MUST (ugh) do an annual Stewardship Campaign, so this is an area where I've expended a lot of angst. Normally, I spend the month of November focusing on Stewardship of all sorts and try to tell lots of stories about the things that good stewardship has allowed us to accomplish. (I do like the idea that we need to keep it in front of the congregation all the time though). I agree that Stewardship really is a spiritual discipline, and our willingness to give as we are able is a pretty good diagnostic as to our spiritual health. I've just gone through a huge downsizing, de-cluttering, and simplification of my life with the purpose of freeing up more time, talent and money so that I could reach my goal of a full tithe. Last year, I had just completed the process and during my sermon I got very bold. I spoke about how uncomfortable I was with the "ask" and my own experience of simplification, and how it had made real something I'd always suspected, that I'd become so dependent upon my "stuff" to make me feel secure that it had slowly taken over my life and I'd become a servant to it rather than of the Lord. I then said: "I really don't care about your money and your time, and how you choose to use it, but as your priest, I do care, and I care deeply about your spiritual lives; so I'm asking you to take some time this month as we focus on stewardship and consider the stewardship issues in your own life." Although our level of giving didn't really increase, we had more people sign up for Pre-authorized giving, we didn't have the huge fall off in the summer and we actually ended the year with a balanced spite of some real challenges.
    This year might be a different story. We've lost all but one of our elders over the past 3 years so we are now asking the rest of the congregation to take over their responsibilities (both financial and otherwise) and given the age of the majority of our congregation (30-60), for them to do so means that they will need to make some difficult decisions that fly in the face of cultural norms. ie: Do I spend the summer at the lake with my family, or drive back into town to attend church? Do I go away for the winter, or stick around in the cold and dark? When my grandchildren come to visit do I bring them to church, or let them sleep in and make waffles? What do I do about hockey, soccer, ball, dance, tournaments and recitals that take up all my energy so that I'm too tired to get up Sunday morning and come to church? But that's a topic for another day. Have a good one everyone!

  4. One of the most convicting things for me as a layperson was when the priest said, "I make this amount of money: $X. And I tithe."

    For one thing, I was horrified to learn how little he made...after that I got more involved in congregational governance!

    and for another, he was walking the walk.

  5. I am in my first placement, which is a part-time placement, and the congregation would like to move to full-time, but the budget was moving into deficit rather than growing. a few years ago I did a stewardship segment each week during Lent. then after Easter we had a response time, part of which was looking at three draft budgets, one with current giving [and my hours reducing] one with the percent needed to maintain, and one with 10% increase [which if kept up for 5 years would mean the elusive full time minister]. I used some resources from Luther Seminary
    the material I used covered a whole range of stewardship issues, and had handouts for each of the 6 weeks, which I modified to suit my Australian context. I also talked about my family's move toward tithing.

    here is the article I used for the handouts

    the financial response was quite good. I also asked about time, ministry areas people would be interested in etc, but very little response.

    I am realising I need to do something like this every year, which I am not used to.

    a comment I think from earlier in the week was to use 'we' rather than 'you'. I ahve found this helpful in many areas of ministry.

  6. I'm sorry I wasn't around yesterday b/c I actually like to teach about stewardship. I've been lucky to learn from two excellent teachers, and their work was transformative for me. That said, in my current congregation I can't say that my teaching has really persuaded very many that the tithe is the goal to work towards. But context plays a role in that; my parish is in a formerly industrial area, and has historically viewed itself at "poor" even when/if it isn't. Since the 70s it has had a decent endowment and for most of the time since then the prevailing attitude had been "we have money in the bank; why should we give more than a token amount?" and it is really difficult to change that culture.

    For the last two years we've been focusing on a theology of stewardship that centers on giving out of gratitude to God for all what we have, and on giving to do God's work in the world. We try not to reference meeting the budget in our stewardship campaign, but rather how we can better enhance God's kingdom. And we talk about proportional giving--working towards the tithe. For me when I was still a layperson and a single mother with not much discretionary income at all the notion that I should look at what I was currently giving and then decide to increase it each year to reach 10% was really important. I think proportional giving is a great equalizer for those of us who may be thinking that our smallish gift really doesn't matter--10% is the same no matter what base you're working from. And truth in advertising: it took me a LONG time, but I finally reached 10% last year.

    Most of what Kathryn said applies to what we've been trying to do here and at my last church. It's an uphill battle; my vestry this year declined to endorse a pledge to work towards the tithe, which was really hard and shows me we still have a long way to go. I appreciate the honesty of the person who led the refusal by saying that it was a goal she knew she would never reach so she couldn't endorse it--I don't agree with her reasoning but it was good to know where she was coming from; another person in leadership said to me that we shouldn't talk about stewardship so much because it made people feel guilty!

    One more thing: we received a large bequest this year and I did manage to convince the leadership that we should tithe this gift for outreach, and tithe the income we receive from it each year...a teeny tiny step in the right direction.

  7. Thanks, all of you, for your wonderful reflections and sharing of experience on this. Lots of good stuff to chew on!


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