10 Tips for Talking About Money in Your Congregation
By Ken Sloane
I spent the first twenty years of my ministry as a church pastor. I enjoyed those years and felt successful in that all three churches grew in membership and attendance. For full disclosure, my third and longest pastorate was a church plant, so the growth in numbers (when starting at zero) was pretty much a given. What I think about now is while I know those congregations grew in membership and attendance, how much did I help those folks in my pastoral care grow in generosity and the joy that provides?
Like many, I’m sure, I was uneasy talking about money. We increased budgets, raised funds for capital projects, and even raised funds for a new church building; yet I’m not sure I led anyone to the joy of growing in their generosity.
In my more recent years of ministry, I’ve had the privilege of being with and learning from many who were extremely good at having money conversations in the context of church life. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
1. NEVER TALK ABOUT PEOPLE'S MONEY APART FROM THEIR DISCIPLESHIP.
These first two are direct quotes from Lovett Weems and Ann Michel in their wonderful book Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance (p. 12). They have articulated this principle and the next as effectively and concisely as anyone could. What we do with money is an integral part of our discipleship journey. We must approach financial discussions as an opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation, maturing in our discipleship, and helping individuals align their financial choices with their faith.
2. NEVER TALK ABOUT THE CHURCH'S MONEY APART FROM ITS MISSION.
Once again, Michel and Weems have nailed it. If congregational leaders could covenant that these two principles would guide all the church’s money conversations, I believe we would be amazed by how generosity would grow! The church's financial health should always be connected to fulfilling its mission. Communicate how contributions directly impact the church's work, making the connection between dollars and ministry evident.
The church's financial health should always be connected to fulfilling its mission.
3. GIVE PRAISE AND THANKS!
Regularly express gratitude for the generosity of your congregation. Recognize and celebrate the impact of all contributions, both big and small. Gratitude fosters a culture of giving. Before you ask people to move to a new level of discipleship and generosity, be sure to praise where they have been as a church and where they have come from. Thank them for their giving, even if it is not what you hoped it would be. It is still deserving of thanks, and those making contributions have earned your praise.
4. REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
This tip is mainly directed at pastoral leaders, many of whom feel uncomfortable when their compensation package is a relatively large portion of the ministry budget of the church. When discussing money, stay focused on the greater purpose: Christ’s mission in your community and the world. Your role is to facilitate these conversations and to not let you (or your family) become the focus. Make it about Christ’s mission, not your leadership.
5. TALK ABOUT MONEY WHEN YOU'RE NOT ASKING PEOPLE TO GIVE.
We’ve all heard the cliché – often attributed to people outside the church – “the church is only interested in money.” This has made many church leaders fearful of money conversations. What I’ve actually heard more often is, “The only time the church talks about money is when they want me to give it.” This reflects to me a yearning on the part of people to get help and guidance about how to live with their money in a way that brings more joy and less anxiety and that reflects the place of God in their lives. Money discussions should be ongoing and not limited to when a contribution is requested. The same with study groups that are based on stewardship and generosity. Educate and inform your congregation about financial stewardship regularly.
6. LET JESUS SPEAK.
Draw inspiration from the teachings of Jesus. He talked about money and possessions, generosity and being good stewards, and how the accumulation of wealth can become a stumbling block on our faith journeys. He was filled with powerful compassion that we may never understand. So, let Jesus be the voice that challenges your people to seek less, give more, and discover the joy that comes from leading a generous life that represents him well.
7. MAKE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOUR DONORS.
Does it seem strange to say that one of the early steps in becoming more comfortable talking about money is to work on listening? I’ve learned this from working with folks across the nonprofit sector in fund development work. They have two or three visits with potential donors to hear what their passions are before they will consider asking for a gift. Understand the financial concerns and aspirations of your congregation. Understand what kind of ministries excite them. Actively listen to their questions, concerns, and feedback. This builds trust and ensures that their voices are heard.
8. CAST VISIONS OF HOPE, NOT GLOOM.
So many of our churches find themselves prisoners to a scarcity mentality. Even worse, many operate under the assumption that scarcity and fear will motivate their congregation to give more – to dig deeper. I’m convinced that people are much more inclined to give and invest in a church that has a vision for its future that is exciting and hopeful. Paint a positive picture of what can be achieved through financial contributions. Focus on the transformative impact of generosity and how it can make a real difference in the lives of others.
9. EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF GENEROSITY YOURSELF.
I tend to push back when I hear people say, “Pastors can’t preach about tithing if they are not tithing themselves.” I’ve never heard anyone say I couldn’t preach about forgiveness until I had completely mastered that one. I do think it is helpful in leading congregations to growth in generosity if we pastoral leaders are growing in our generosity as well. I do believe leading by example is important. Show your own commitment to stewardship and generosity. Share personal stories of how giving has enriched your life and faith. And if you haven’t had the experience of the joy that comes from doing something extravagant in generosity – even just once – I highly recommend it. Take the money you had been putting aside for a new “toy” (we all have those regardless of age) and spend it to help someone in need. The return measured in joy will completely surprise you!
10. FIND A COACH.
Seek guidance and mentorship in navigating the complexities of financial conversations. A seasoned coach or mentor can provide valuable insights and support your growth as a stewardship leader. I have become more and more convinced of the importance of having someone in this kind of relationship with you. For pastors, this could be a beneficial use for continuing education funds. There also might be someone close to you who would be willing to help you – someone who raises money or who makes proposals for investments by others. Such a person might have great insights and may know who would be willing to coach you in this area.
By following these ten tips, we can create an environment where conversations about money are integral to our discipleship journey and the mission of our church. Remember, it's not just about financial transactions; it's about transforming lives and fostering a culture of generosity in our faith communities.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.