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Resistance to Pledging?

Are pledges down, but the money seems to be coming in at a rate somewhat above the previous year? If so, your church is not unusual. Many committees on finance are very anxious because won't people sign their pledge cards and turn them in. "How can we know how much money we will have to work with this year?" is the common refrain. There are several reasons for the resistance.

One reason is that many people in our congregations are uncertain about their incomes. Jobs seem to be here today and gone tomorrow. The new job may not be found the day after tomorrow. If one is found, it may not have equivalent salary and benefits.

Guarantees of lifelong employment are not around any more. It is true that many people who lose their job get back on their feet quickly. But they are never sure that job loss won't happen again. In venture-capital hotbeds such as Silicon Valley, California, it is not unusual for an entrepreneur to go bankrupt once or twice before launching a successful company. These people are not confident that they will have steady income throughout the coming year. Is it any wonder that some families in your church are reluctant to say that they will give a certain amount each week or each month during the coming year?

Second, more and more people in America are self-employed. Self-employed people rarely have regular incomes. Churches seem to want weekly or monthly pledges. Those kinds of pledges do not work very well when incomes and expenses are seasonal. Anyone in sales or consulting knows that there are heavy months and there are dry months. There are good years, and there are bad years. No one is sure that the coming year will be a good one. If self-employed people and others with uncertain incomes even bother to pledge, they will probably "low ball" it.

A third reason for a decline in pledging is the decline in "customer loyalty." An older generation equated loyalty to the church with loyalty to God. A new generation has come along that does not make that connection. In fact, in many churches, people are asked to give because they once promised to be "loyal to the church and uphold it by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service." Another common appeal is to ask people to give to meet the budget. Both pleas are based on institutional factors that do not play well with folks who are not sure about the institution.

Have you considered these factors when you have looked at the experience in your annual campaign?

OK, What Do We Do Then?

Begin by reviewing past history. How much money does the congregation usually receive each month of the year? Why would you believe that this coming year would have a different pattern? What other kinds of income does the church receive, such as rental income, endowment, grants, special offerings, memorial funds, and so on? When are those funds normally received?

What about expenses? How much do you think you will need to spend each month for each item below:

  • salaries
  • utilities
  • missions
  • maintenance
  • program

When will these expenses come during the year?

Now, with that data in hand, you are ready to do a budget. Actually, you are ready to do twelve monthly income and expense projections. Then you have a tool to manage the cash flow.

Next, invite people to give proportionally rather than in fixed dollar amounts. Many church leaders claim that they want their people to tithe or, at least, work toward the tithe. Then they ask people to make a pledge in a fixed dollar amount. When people are not sure of their income, they are likely to hear that they either have to pledge a fixed dollar amount or tithe. There is no way for them to put to the two together.

Herb Mather is retired from the Center for Stewardship Resourcing, Discipleship Ministries.

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