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-intuitive stewardship strategies he’s run into (stumbled into, really) over the years.
Changing Language Changes Behavior
For the first decade of my ordained ministry, I always hated stewardship season. I never felt like I was being entirely transparent with my congregation. I always seemed to be starting out the season preaching about stewardship as a spiritual practice, when what we really wanted them to do was to give us money to support the work of the church. But by the end of the season, I was increasingly talking about how much more money we needed to meet our budget (while still cloaking the need in spiritual terms).
Using words like “pledging” and “tithing” seemed less and less helpful as more and more newcomers to the church had smaller and smaller religious vocabularies. They sounded more remote and archaic, like the way the rite of Holy Matrimony used to require the bride and groom to “plight their troth”). I was always telling people that a “pledge” was really only a “best estimate” of what they desired – and more importantly, what they could afford – to give.
It all came to a head for me one year when I got a distressing call early in our pledge drive from the wife of a young couple with two small children. They were starting their fourth year in the congregation, experiencing the third pledge drive, the second in which they were making a pledge. I heard a hint of tearfulness in her voice as she said, “Father Ken, I’m calling to say we are so, so sorry that we will not be able to pledge as much this year as last. My husband lost his job this year and we had to take out a second mortgage to fulfill the pledge we already made.”[Read more…]