What Should You Ask For?
The old adage goes: "You should be careful what you ask for, you just might get it." In stewardship I believe there is a corollary, ask for what you want, there’s a good chance you’ll get it. Which raises the obvious question, what is it we should be asking for?
I will tell you that the first step is to ask for something, anything; just ask. Only about forty percent of Protestant churches have an intentional stewardship campaign. This means they’re asking for nothing. I wonder how many are surprised or disappointed when this is exactly what they get.
About fifteen years ago Dean Hoge published Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches. His research for the book divided churches into three different groups based on their culture of asking for money.
One group did not ask for a pledge from its members. The second group asked for a dollar commitment. The third asked what percentage of income a member would be giving in the following year.
Care to guess which one had the highest giving rate? Go ahead, take a shot; I’ll wait.
Those churches that had no annual stewardship campaign received, on average, a gift equaling 1.5 percent of a donor’s income. The churches that asked for a dollar commitment nearly doubled that figure at 2.9 percent. And the churches that asked for a percentage commitment received 4.6 percent.
According to Uncle Sam, the average household income for a family of four in Ohio is about $68,000. What would you rather receive from that family? To make it easier, this one will be multiple choice:
- $1,020 with no commitment card
- $1,972 asking for a dollar figure
- $3,128 asking for a percentage gift
For those of you would rather stay at $1,020, you just go right ahead and continue not having a stewardship campaign.
Now, does this mean that all you have to do this year is switch from no campaign mode to percentage mode and your income will triple next year? Probably not (but go ahead, give it a shot and prove me wrong; I dare you). I think what it means is that a church that is comfortable talking about money, lifts up tithing as an expectation, and is clear about the church’s needs does better than a church where members who are embarrassed about their giving have convinced others to keep the subject quiet.
Now those of you who read this as members of your finance committee are beginning to twitch at the idea of receiving a bunch of pledge cards with a percentage number and no actual dollar figures. Relax, it’s okay.
I suggest one of two ways to combat this.
The first is to have a line on the pledge card that reads, "I pledge _________ percent of my annual income, which I estimate to be $___________. " But this may leave some squeamish about telling the church what their annual income is after a simple calculation.
An alternative is to have a chart in your stewardship materials. One axis of the chart lists 1 percent, 1.5 percent, 2 percent, 2.5 percent, all the way up to 15 percent. On the other axis, indicate annual income in $5,000 or $10,000 increments. Your members find the corresponding cell in the chart and write in this amount as their pledge. When you do this, make sure the income side goes down low enough and up high enough to reach your entire congregation.
Will some members skip this step and write in the same thing they gave last year? Of course. Will this make some members angry? Come on, this is the church, anything we do makes someone angry. But it will also help to turn around that culture of giving.
And I’ll let you in on another secret: When the economy is bad and people are worried about their jobs is the perfect time to talk about percentage giving. Because if income does drop, your congregant can lower his giving to the church and still be faithful to his pledge. I think this can be a great "we’re in this together message" for your members.