Coming Up Short in December
How often has a similar speech been made in your church?
"We should make a special appeal to the congregation. Ever since the summer slump, we have been behind; and now December has come. Apportionments are three months behind."
How did it feel to the person who gave it?
How did it feel to the people who heard it?
Did the speech achieve the desired results?
Many churches come to the end of the year with the realization that a special effort is necessary to ensure that all the bills will be paid.
Many churches come to the end of the year with the realization that a special effort is necessary to ensure that all the bills will be paid. Churches react in different ways to such a situation. Some reactions are healthy; some are not. Let's examine some commonly used appeals. You decide whether they will help or detract from your church's mission.
This popular system has worked well in many smaller membership churches. Usually, church treasurers are the best at this method because they write the checks. If funds are insufficient, a conscientious treasurer feels inadequate. If you wish to use this method, make it personal. Wring your hands and shed a few tears in front of people who know you and care about you. Such a demonstration may get folks to dig a little deeper to help you.
Give the people who come to church a good tongue-lashing about their poor giving habits. Point out that there are a lot of deadbeats and lukewarm Christians in the church; otherwise, the money would be sufficient. Quote the per capita giving statistics of the Wesleyans and the Adventists. Make people feel really guilty.
The harangue works much better orally than in writing. Some folks may get mad, but they probably were going to leave the church anyway. Although some folks will not give more, the method will often bring in enough funds to meet the present crisis.
This method is usually displayed in letters sent around December 10. The writer quotes from the membership vows and reminds folks that when they united with the church they promised to be loyal and to uphold the church through "prayer, presence, GIFTS, and service." Sometimes this appeal is accompanied by an explanation of how much it costs "just to keep each name on the books." The method rarely brings in much money, but it makes the finance committee feel good about having done something!
Tell your church people that the doors may be closed if more funds don't come in by December 31. You can warn them that the district superintendent may put a padlock on the church door. (Hardly anyone will believe you, but this method still carries emotional value.) More believable is the word that the pastor (whom the congregation loves so much) will be punished by the conference if all the apportionments are not paid. This method will work only about once a generation, since people can't remember any such punishment ever happening before. (In other words, you are not likely to be believed.) However, if you have tried all the other methods, you probably will not lose anything — especially if the people like the pastor.
By this time, you must be thinking:
Is there a better way of making an appeal?
Yes, there is!
All the options just listed give people about as much joy as bailing out a sinking ship. Such appeals do not help people to see giving as a spiritual discipline. When people fail to see the church as a ministering body, they are simply keeping the organization afloat. Giving does not feel good when it is used simply for survival.
Consider how such appeals would sound to a first-time visitor. It is likely that anyone wandering into the congregation would decide, "This church is in trouble. I surely don't want to be a part of it."
Financial problems do not wait until December to surface. They have probably been festering for a long time. The end of the year is judgment day. Although it is too late to take corrective action for the past year, you can plan a strategy for the coming year.
As a first step, examine the giving pattern of your church over the past three to five years. From the church records, list the amount received each month. Average the total receipts each January and so on through the year. You will see that certain months are consistently high, while others are low.
The "Praise" Speech
In many churches, the December offerings are three to four times larger than offerings in any other month of the year. If that is your pattern, why not give your "Praise" speech?
"This church has a history of giving very generously in December. Last year, our December giving amounted to $____. We anticipate that you will be equally generous this year. In fact, if you give only $____ more than last year, we will have all our bills paid; and we can go into the new year with our heads held high.
"Your generosity makes it possible for us to have a pastor who calls on the sick and shut-ins. Through our giving, we are helping teach children, youth, and adults about the faith. We are feeding the hungry and providing medical care to the sick. We are in ministry through our giving."
The "Tell It Like It Is" Speech
Some churches may be experiencing a shortfall for the first time. It may be the result of economic conditions in the area or the death of several substantial givers. In situations such as these, you might consider a "Tell-It-Like-It-Is" speech.
"This has been a hard year for many people in our church. I am encouraged by the dedication and generosity of many of you. You remind me of the church in Macedonia that Paul describes: They were extremely generous in their giving, even though, they are very poor. (2 Corinthians 8:2, Good News Bible). In spite of the generosity of so many, we are running short this year.
"We believe in giving in proportion to what we have. As Paul says, 'I am not trying to relieve others by putting a burden on you; but since you have plenty at the time, it is only fair that you should help those who are in need' (2 Corinthians 8:13-14, TEV). If you are one who has plenty at this time, we ask you to look upon the mission of this church as a primary place to 'invest' funds at this year's end.
"Giving is an investment in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For some of you, 'investing an investment' may be your best way of giving. Donating appreciated stock or real estate is often a sensible method of giving. We are ready to help you if one of these methods works better for you.
"Through all our giving, we are sharing the love of Christ here and all around the world."
Develop a New Strategy
In all that you do concerning the financial life of the church, emphasize giving rather that paying. Help people experience the joy of giving through the church instead of paying the bills of the church.
Now is the time to plan a strategy so that you will not need to make these appeals next year. Not all these ideas will be appropriate for your church. Choose the ones that will be helpful this year:
- Plan a realistic, attainable budget. You want to challenge the people, but this is not the place to project the "impossible dream."
- A church that chronically has a big year-end deficit should develop a different kind of budget. A core budget lists all costs that must be paid. Other costs should be listed in order of priority. "If we receive $500 more, we will __________. The next $1200 will mean that we can __________. Every item that is met beyond the core budget becomes a victory for the congregation. And congregations need victories!
- Don't focus on numbers; tell the story of what the money is doing in the world. Talk about the people who are receiving the gospel. Describe the prayer ministry of your church and the Christian education programs for children and youth. Talk about the ways you help feed the hungry and clothe those who do not have adequate clothing. Tell the stories in little bits, week by week.
Set dates for the committee on finance to meet at least once each quarter. At those meetings, evaluate the present year's giving in relation to the giving in previous years. If you need to take corrective action, do so. Don't assume that the money will come from "somewhere" before the year's end.
If action is needed, avoid making an appeal to "help the budget." Instead, decide if one or two items in the budget have special appeal to some people. Building repair or ministry with children or youth are good choices. Highlight those budget items and develop a campaign to raise funds as "over-and-above" giving.
- Have a year-end giving emphasis that explains how people may give from new sources and — at the same time — receive help in their personal financial management.