Elephant in the Sanctuary: Talking Money in Church

April 29, 2019 Melissa Rancour

My family attends church in an older building which is in dire need of some major updates. We even joke about the fear of using the upstairs restroom because the lights flicker and the floor is crooked and cracked. The church decided to do a big campaign to raise funds for the needed repairs and updates.

I’ve worked with nonprofits and social good organizations for almost two decades. So, when it came to this campaign, I expected a level of marketing-speak and wording that I never heard from the pulpit nor read in any church communications.

As time went on, I realized that my church and thousands of other churches don’t fundraise or talk about money the same way most social good organizations do. Why? To hunt down the answer, I talked with my pastor and countless other pastors, church staff, and attendees. Then, I did some reflection on the various money and tithing related sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime. And I asked friends of various beliefs/faiths about their experiences as well. The result of my research kept pointing me to one key fact.

No one teaches pastors how to talk about money in church.

Fundraising within the church isn’t typically a topic or class offered in the seminary nor is it a requirement for various nonprofit degrees offered around the world.

So how do pastors and churches learn to talk about the elephant in the room—money?

Well, pastors and churches may imitate what they have seen or heard. They may even use ideas from social good organizations they work with. Some of these tactics work for churches and some aren’t as successful. Maybe you feel like I’m preaching to the choir here. And you might have some questions, like “So, what’s the answer? What should we be doing? Should we be adhering to nonprofit fundraising principles?” The answer is a resounding sort of — but not really.

The answer lies in a process that doesn’t start with showing needs or explaining your mission. It starts with engaging—engaging each generation individually and as a group.

Step 1: Create engagement

So, what does, or should, engagement look like in a church? No, I’m not going to tell you what songs to play or which messages to preach to fill the pews. This is a question that your church, as well as each individual in the church, needs to answer. What do you want engagement to look like? What is the goal here anyway? Is it fundraising, is it growing your beliefs, is it making a community, or is it something else?

Step 2: Explain financial needs and spending

Think about it. Why do you need people to financially support your church? Yes, we know your faith may direct your congregants to give. We also know that you have bills, but does your congregation also know and understand? Where does the current fund money go? How much goes to the community or to overhead expenses? No—I’m not saying you should spend hours reviewing each line item in the budget or reviewing the cost categories (money “buckets”), but people need to understand the basic buckets.

Step 3: Show appreciation and impact

If you sent a donation to a social good organization, you’d expect to get a thank you letter. You might expect a statement which shows where the money was spent and offers an explanation of the impact of your gift. Take any class or read any book on donor stewardship and retention, and there will be at least one section that outlines the importance of saying thank you and showing impact.

When was the last time you received a donor acknowledgement letter from your church (and no, I’m not counting your annual giving statement)?

Don’t worry, I’m not saying churches should send out donor acknowledgement letters for each gift they receive. But you do need to make time to say thank you to your supporters and to let them know the impact their giving is making.

 

We’ll be looking into each of these areas more in my blogs in the coming weeks. But if I’ve inspired you to want to learn more, we dive deeply into each of these and a variety of other issues in Blackbaud University’s workshop Organizational Best Practices: Faith—Giving and Engagement. Sign up today to join the conversation and learn what your church can do to increase giving and engagement.

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