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Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Stewardship in a Smaller Congregation

It is getting to be that time of year, isn't it?  This week's question invites us to think about and share resources for stewardship in smaller congregations.

I serve a small (and struggling financially) congregation.  The last two years (the two I've been here), we've done 'traditional' stewardship drives which have focused on money.  The response was about the same both years in terms of number of pledges/amounts pledged and I'm told about the same as previous years.  And I'm told, our financial situation is about what it has always been for our fairly young congregation.  (As in age as a congregation, not necessarily age of members.)  As our Stewardship Board talked more and more, we feel that this year, we don't plan to talk specifically about money or do a traditional drive.  Instead we want to spend some really intentional, hard-hitting, faith-building conversations around the Stewardship of our time.  Think more all-encompassing than filling out "Time and Talent Sheets."  If someone can tell our priorities by looking at our checkbook registers, how are our priorities shown by how the hours of our days our spent?  How many hours do we devote to serving God and other people?  (e.g. worship, volunteering at church or other organizations, etc) How do we use the hours of our day bringing glory to God?  (In our work lives, home lives, friendships, families, etc?)

I'm looking for resources to help us have these conversations or even just for me to help frame some sort of program/plan/intentional focus.  Any suggestions?


From Martha, blogging at Reflectionary

In a similar effort, one effective tool was having people "show" how they donate their time and their talent during worship. For instance, we did a Children's Time that started as usual, but while I was talking, two of our Wednesday Wizards (retirement age men who got together every week to do handyman tasks around the facility) came down the center aisle with a huge ladder and started talking about changing a lightbulb. I had one of them on a mic. This surprised the congregation and led to a planned message about the variety of ways help is needed.

We did something similar with the choir. I had a quartet sing a line each of a hymn, then put the four parts together.

If your church has a mission project that has potential for being illustrative, think about a skit or presentation in worship. I think seeing your friends/neighbors doing something in person speaks volumes over letters and sermons on Stewardship. 
Lastly, consider recognizing people who volunteer for non-elected positions. People in the pews may have no idea who is doing that repetitive task, or what kind of relatively simple jobs need doing, until they see who does them. One year I pinned a carnation on everyone who did the non-elected jobs, whether they were one time for that year (painting a stairwell) or ongoing (coordinating our night at the Soup Kitchen). 
Hope this helps,

From the Crimson Rambler, who blogs here

Resources for the “stewardship campaign”.  Oh boy.  Lots of memories around this issue, some of them happy and some of them not quite.

Perhaps some of the strategies that support a financial campaign can be translated… the Narrative Budget, for example—or the “generic” log of a midweek day for the clergy – or the work/practices/habits of other congregations, other traditions (“the work being done elsewhere,” as the farmer said when he took the ostrich egg into the henhouse!!)
Traditional Christian responses to the conundrum of time, like the Benedictine model (1/3 work, 1/3 rest, 1/3 prayer)?  It can be a revelation to talk to spokespeople from other faiths entirely – Judaism, Islam, Sikhism all have insights that wouldn’t do us any harm!  

I remember a Sikh visitor describing his family’s daily prayer routine which included 45 minutes of prayer at the beginning of the day –and when we gasped at that, he said, “Now think about this.  You are about to step out of your home into a world which hasn’t even heard a RUMOUR that God is love.  You have to be READY.  Come to think of it, 45 minutes isn’t enough.  Best take the full hour.”

The thing I’ve always longed to do during a financial campaign …and never had quite the nerve, I guess, or the technical know-how…would be to make a candid, unedited video of the discussions of the Stewardship Committee – and just show it to the congregation.  Because the most cogent, sensitive, nuanced, passionate, EDIFYING  argument for financial support of the church to my mind has always been voiced “antiphonally” in those deliberations.  And perhaps that model would work, too, for talk about time and how time is spent, given…?

And from Muthah+, blogging here

Small congregations seem to have their own ideas about stewardship.  I have often found that even pledging is not the way that they necessarily respond to the needs of the congregation.  Folks tend to give toward initiatives rather than 'up their pledge.'  Your committee has already discussed what has worked before.  Talk to them about what you wish to do--concrete things that would prime the pump.  And then challenge them.  A friend made it fun by setting a goal and then promising to die her hair purple if they made it.  They made their goal with plenty to spare.  (She is all ready for Advent!)

Do you have some resources or ideas to offer?  Please join in the conversation by posting your comments below.

May you live in God's amazing grace,


  1. This could have been written by me, word for word! So, I can share where the church I serve is in the struggle. We have gotten by by the grace of God and very generous gifts of time, talents, and needed materials. This year, in preparing the budget, the Session is presenting two reports - one is a traditional budget, the other, a list of materials and gifts. Each committee will present in worship at least one of their mission goals, and ask the congregants to consider how they can help, financially, or otherwise. We hope that focusing on our goals and inviting creativity in reaching them will help us work past what has seemed a bleak fiscal reality. -Pastor Kate

  2. Have you read Not Your Parent's Offering Plate? Made me think. He suggests that pastors write thank you letters to givers. And tailor their messages to different generations. I tried that last year and got some amazing responses.
    I believe that talking about money is necessary. Talking about time is necessary, too. But when we conflate the two, as "stewardship" we don't help people sort out either one. Two different challenges.
    I think we're gonna go with "Enough" as our resource this year. (Adam Hamilton)

  3. The best thing we ever did was to let go of the budget. Oh we still have one, but the focus of stewardship is not the budget. Budgets are just a tool. Focus on the ministries and the passions of your church.

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  5. I'm a tentmaker for a very small congregation, and we do very little that looks like a traditional stewardship campaign. Instead, we are all aware of our fixed costs, and everything we want to do above and beyond that (for example, all mission) must be financed by that small number of families. The math is easy and obvious. We are very open about our financial situation, and I am scrupulous about running every little thing through the finances, so that we reimburse for all materials, etc. Often that person being reimbursed will endorse the check right back to the church, but we have a clear record of what our ministries truly cost. We don't every say, "We need $X,000 for the year." We say, "We need propane" or "The cost of this mission is $XXX" or "The food pantry is nearly empty." The blessing in all this is that no one can believe that someone else — that mythical "somebody" — will step up. When I first came, I was very skeptical, but our level of mission funding exceeds our operational budget (which, I admit, is much easier when a full-time clergy salary is not part of the operational budget). The money doesn't go into a budget; it funds a ministry, and that feels like a big difference.

    Before every offering and in every dedication prayer, I make sure we speak of time and talents as well as tithes, offerings and gifts of thanksgiving.

    1. Suzy, you've reminded me of a very small starting-out congregation in our area, where for the first couple of years the vestry (= parish council) simply took the stack of bills every month and said, "OK, who wants electric this month, who wants natural gas, who can deal with water, ... insurance ..." and all the rest.
      They SURE knew what everything cost.

  6. There are so many inspiring ideas here! Thanks everyone!

    Just to chime in for something that works for us. We make photo albums of the activities of the year and then pass them around as visual reminders of what we have accomplished together. Since people mostly take pictures at fun things, the pictures are usually very uplifting. The last page of the album is a letter from the church people inviting people to imagine all that could be possible in the year to come. Faith giving cards (as we call pledge cards here) are in an envelope in the back of the photo albums. As they are passed around, each person fills out their card and puts it in another envelope (sealed). It's kind of a very low pressure way to do that stewardship visitor thing, because each person just passes it on to the next person on the list, but they do see that others have filled out their cards. We have gotten a huge/positive response to this compared to other things we have done. Although we do ours with a direct money ask, I dont see any reason why it wouldnt work with the time/talent approach you are talking about here.

  7. We are stuck in the same boat as you... Young in the faith, very thin in the pockets. I have a half-salary. I suggested to the leadership that we look at writing a "bare bones" budget. In other words, if we cut to what keeps the lights on and the heat going, what would it look like? And then added in the "extras" which turned out to be very important. I also asked that two of the leadership (not me) count up and write the offering report for the bulletin. It takes it off my shoulders. I explained how I wanted to not look like we had so little money because of my counting/writing the deposit ticket/depositing it. And I was surprised at how seriously they take it.

    I used an "every person counts" example by handing out dominoes and asking people to bring them forward and create a "tower" of sorts. I pulled out a couple of dominoes to illustrate how much we need one another (emotionally, physically, financially). Of course the tower tumbled (that was the point) and the point was made. It is still referred to and they have asked me to do it again... this year I think we are going to use a visual as well with a large yearly calendar (the write on/wipe off kind) where they will color in a square where they will do children's ministry, or music, or whatever.

    1. It IS important to be meticulous about the counting and depositing. I know of one congregation that adopted strict security protocols about what happened to the offering plates after they were presented at the altar -- and they were astonished at how the "open" i.e. cash not in envelopes offering suddenly JUMPED...

  8. And going forward...please say "thank you" to the people who do give their time. As someone who has given a lot of time to my congregation as well as at the regional and national level, I can testify that it is amazing what a difference that makes. And how much the lack of a "thank you" affects decisions about how my time will not be spent in the future.


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