Acting Outside the Box: Stewardship – Part 2

We are trying out a new occasional blog series in which people doing ministry can talk about outside the box wild ideas for ministry that they have tried and what they learned from them (whether or not the ideas work). We are calling this new series Acting Outside The Box, because just thinking about what’s outside the box is waaaay too passive. Ken Howard kicks off this series with some counter-intuitively productive stewardship strategies he’s run into (stumbled into, really) over the years.

The Power of Paradox
(part 2 in a series)

In last week’s post I talked about the awkwardness of stewardship season and how the use of religiously-loaded language sometimes backfires. I told the story of a formerly unchurched member family taking out a second mortgage to fulfill their pledge after the husband lost his job in the recession because they took the language of “pledge” so seriously.

Speaking of recessions, two of the largest increases in pledging (or should I say “Estimated Giving”) in two different churches I served took place during two rather large recessions.

What accounts for the difference? 

On both occasions, realizing that if we were in their shoes, we would have a lot of hesitation in making financial commitments in uncertain times, we decided that we would talk about the reasons for their potential hesitancy.  

We figured, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” as it were. And so we put all of our cards on the table. 

Over a series of “Stewardship Dinners” we asked people pick from a list of “reasons not to give” and discuss that reason at their tables. Then we asked them to share the highlights of their discussion with the larger group during dessert.

What resulted at each of the tables was a common (and surprising) progression.

The night we talked about the uncertainty of the economy, one table reported out that they initially agreed that it would be dangerous to make a financial commitment during a recession, because you (or a family member) might lose your job, and that the prudent thing to do would be to hold back — to put some away for the proverbial “rainy day.” But at almost every table, after further discussion something unexpected happened. One person, who had perhaps been quiet for a while, would say something to the effect of, “I happen to know that [insert name here] lost their job, and it took them three months to find a new one, and the only thing that kept them going was that the pastor and assistant pastor helped them out of the discretionary fund.” And then would add, “If a lot of us had cut our giving estimate for this year, there would have been no help for them. I want the church to be able to help me if my family gets into financial trouble. So I’m going to give while I am able.”

It’s a paradox that talking about reasons not to give could lead to increased generosity… but it’s true.

Oh. You want to know how much of an increase we experienced at the two congregations?  A 25% increase during the recession of the late 90s and a similar increase during the first year of the “Great Recession.”

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