SPARK: Who is Your Competition?
By Ken Sloane
I recently wrote an article titled, 5 Factors that Affected Your Church’s Income in 2022. It was based on data provided by GivingUSA, a well-respected organization that monitors charitable giving on a year-to-year basis. They monitor all U.S. charitable giving, but giving to religion is a key category that still gets the largest percentage of the total, at 27% in 2022. Just twenty years ago, the percentage that went to religion was twice that, 54%. In that same period, the number of 501(3)(c) organizations has grown by 400,000. It would be easy for some to perceive these other nonprofit organizations as competition or even the enemy. I would advise against that, as it promotes a mindset of scarcity – as if there is not enough money for churches and nonprofits to do their essential work. It would also divert attention from what I think is a more significant enemy.
Who is this enemy? Consumerism. Let me explain.
Some people think of consumerism as “the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.” That’s one definition. The other definition comes from a different angle, this one from the investor website, Investopedia:
Consumerism is the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal, and that a person's well-being and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions (“Consumerism Explained,” Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/consumerism.asp).
Billions and billions of dollars are spent on messaging to convince us that buying this product or this service will make our lives better, will make us more attractive, will make our lives have more meaning, and will make others jealous of how wonderful we are (and the list goes on and on). These messages bombard us every waking moment of every day. We buy the new shampoo, or beverage, or phone, or car, but rarely do we see the promised change in the quality of life.
I remember when I was a kid, people talked about cable TV in a way that implied we wouldn’t have to watch commercials anymore. Hmm, how did that work out? Never have we had as many messages coming at us, on our big screen TVs, on our phones, on our computers, on billboards, on the buses and trains we ride, in our music streams. All tell us how to make our lives better.
What does this have to do with stewardship? Jesus spoke extensively about possessions not being the key to a better life. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we already know the answer to the question of what makes life better, more meaningful, and more fulfilling. Are we keeping that to ourselves? Or are we speaking a different message about what people can do with their time, talent, and treasure that will truly deliver on providing meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in this life and in the life to come?
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.