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Finances and the Local Church

Pastors and lay leaders alike have raised a number of concerns about financial issues in the local congregation. The following are the concerns most frequently raised.

The annual finance campaign is becoming less and less effective. The financial campaign in many congregations has focused on underwriting the budget, on meeting a financial goal. For many years, congregations used the "Every Member" canvass with little or no modification year after year. Then came the "Circuit Rider" and "Pony Express" programs. These too focused almost solely on the monetary aspects of underwriting the congregation's budget. As the years have gone by, these programs have proven less and less effective — primarily because church members' attitudes about financing the congregation have shifted.

The old ways of reaching people about financial matters no longer work. People want to know which financial program to use to ensure increased income for the church. Finance committees often wait until very late in the planning and budgeting process to begin thinking about the annual finance campaign. Often the discussion about finances is divorced from the discussion about the ministries of the congregation.

Further, finance campaigns are often run by the wrong committee. Committees on finance spend most of the year working on money issues. When they project a budget and the design to underwrite it, the result is often a campaign focused on money and obligations, instead of a campaign focused on ministry and commitment.

The reasons people give are changing. Loyalty to the congregation or to the denomination is no longer a sufficient reason to give. Members will no longer give simply to support the institution for another year. The appeal to United Methodist loyalty and obligation, both for the local congregation and the denomination, is no longer appropriate.

Increasingly people do not give to fund a budget. They give to support what they believe is meaningful and worthwhile. People give part of themselves. They want to know that their money supports beneficial ministries. They give not from their pocketbooks, but from their faith.

Not all congregational leaders understand the fundamental shift that has occurred in people's motivation for giving. Additional programs or new gimmicks are usually not helpful.

People want to feel that their gifts support effective ministries. Giving is an expression of the relationship that a person has with Jesus Christ and how that relationship is expressed in and through the local church. People give out of their excitement in seeing the church in ministry. Congregational leaders must shift the focus away from underwriting the budget toward supporting the ministry of the congregation.

Understanding the Motivation to Give

A major challenge today for those who are responsible for funding the ministry of the congregation is to understand what motivates members to give. The place to begin is to understand the congregation's assumptions about church finances. Assumptions that a local congregation's leaders hold regarding finances will direct the efforts and shape the results.

If congregational leaders assume that people do not want to give or do not have the funds to give, then they are providing people with excuses not to give. If leaders assume that people want to give, they may find that the opportunities are endless!

In the future, the funding ministry of the local congregation will best be carried out through a "developmental stewardship" approach that:

  • Recognizes that individuals are unique.
  • Seeks to understand the needs of each person in his or her search for a deeper relationship with God.
  • Develops and interprets ministries consistent with persons' needs and interests.
  • Nurtures an ongoing relationship with the individual.
  • Converts interest into relevant and effective action through various ministries.

The key to funding ministry for the future is in sensing individuals' needs for a growing relationship with God. The new ways of doing financial stewardship in the congregation will focus on each person's spiritual growth and development and not solely on financial issues or money. The emphasis will shift from a focus on asking what the members can do for the congregation to asking what the congregation can do to help members become Christ-centered disciples. There will be less emphasis on the "annual campaign" and more emphasis on assisting members to grow in their faith and become active disciples. There will be a greater link between the individual's involvement in the ministries of the church and his or her giving.

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