As stewardship educators, we hear this question often: “What is the fastest way to increase the parish offertory?” From the evidence of those on the front lines, the quickest way to uptick financial stewardship is to ask for a gift. It may seem straightforward, but the fact of the matter is that most parish leaders leave the act of giving purely to chance. That is to say, three related assumptions are made about the people in the pew: they already know what to give; they know what the ministry needs of the church are; and they intend to give. The fact is, the latter point can’t be taken for granted and yet it often is.
As we are all too aware, $5 in an offertory envelope in 1994 doesn’t go quite as far in 2014. Yet it is typical that as few as 30% of parishioners represent 70% of the total annual giving in our parishes. Surprisingly, another 20% give nothing to the church at all. Do they give nothing because they think nothing is expected? Do they believe that someone else should provide for the needs of the church? Do they avoid giving because they think their gift would be inadequate? The reasons for not giving are many and varied. But what if they didn’t give because they were never asked? How many of our church wardens, treasurers, greeters and church bazaar coordinators assumed their positions without being asked or at least nominated? The same goes for supporting the temporal needs of our churches.
It is interesting to note that about a third of the parishes in the Diocese of Toronto conduct an annual sacrificial giving campaign. They dedicate a block of time (usually in Lent or just after Thanksgiving) each year to educating their parishioners on the theology of giving and the needs of the parish and then they ask for a proportionate gift – usually through a pledge. Results vary, though for a first-time participating parish somewhere between 30-40% of givers will pledge, resulting in a 15% annual increase to revenues.
Parishes that ask parishioners to pledge have a clearer sense of their ministry case, they engage their members more actively in that ministry as volunteers and they have the financial resources to support their ministry. For some parishes, pledged giving has proven to be the energy necessary to sustain and grow church operations.
What about the other two-thirds of parishes, those that do not conduct an annual sacrificial giving campaign? While ministry might be flourishing it is a whole lot more uncertain. If the giving strategy in your church is to leave boxes of offertory envelopes on a table at the entrance way to the nave then you are missing out on two wonderful opportunities. First, enriching the ministry life of the parish and secondly, introducing your members to a fuller understanding of Christian discipleship. Others might suggest a third opportunity is overlooked, the chance of avoiding the annual late-summer angst felt by many a church warden, treasurer and priest when parish revenues inevitably begin the slip.
On a wall in the diocesan stewardship office hangs an old placard that reads “All Seats in the Church are Free… The maintenance of the Church depends on the free-will offerings of the people.” This brief statement should be considered by everyone as it strikes at the heart of the relationship between each one of us and the important work being carried out in the parish community.
If you want to make a real impact on your parish offertory you have to learn to ask. It’s that simple.