Jesus taught, “It’s better to give than to receive.” But he didn’t say that receiving is a bad thing.
Then again, it surely is a bad thing to receive in a bad way.
What would your church do if it received a check for a very large amount? Once the confetti quits falling and the party hats are put away, the opportunities and challenges begin.
Recently a small church was given $500,000 with no restrictions; the money could be used in any way deemed appropriate. The session tithed 10 percent of the gift to 10 mission and ministry projects in the community and beyond.
A great start, but then the problems began as the church did not have any policies or procedures about gifts and their handling. The church membership came up with ideas that would have spent the gift many times over. After a few months, the pastor and the session were ready to give the rest away and be done with it. Thankfully, they called a foundation official, and by working with her they developed plans and procedures which allowed the congregation to support mission in their community and beyond to the tune of $50,000 annually.
But wait, the story gets better! The first Sunday of the following year, another large gift appeared in the offering plate with a note attached that read, “Because of the church’s good stewardship with my last gift, I would like to give another gift.”
Not every church will be fortunate to receive a large gift, but, regardless of the size of the gift, if simple steps are not in place, it is almost a guarantee that the congregation will not even be considered as a recipient by someone. So how can you prepare the way for such generous gift-giving?
First and foremost, ASK. It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed; just a simple question in a bulletin or newsletter: “Have you thought about remembering your church in your will?” All of us receive weekly, if not daily, requests from our alma maters, mission groups and lifesaving organizations requesting our support. Yet, the church is reluctant to ask or mention stewardship or talk about giving more than once a year during our “favorite” day of the year, Stewardship Sunday.
Most planned giving programs fail or never mature for four reasons. For one thing, the congregation has not developed policies and procedures, or if they have, they don’t let the members know that they are in place. For another, the wishes of the donors are not followed. When the money is used for another purpose without the prior consent of the donor, trust erodes and the word spreads. For yet another reason, the process lacks transparency. The congregants need to know not just the policies and procedures, but also how the money in hand is being used – especially in the form of stories about how the funds are enriching the mission of the church. A secret society or closed group managing and dispersing the funds as if they were their own will lead to disaster. Still another: the lack of carry-through on the part of the session or planned giving committee. Many sessions and/or committees launch such efforts but then shift into neutral. The plan must be worked if it is going to bring success.
Just imagine how your congregation would function if it moved from a spirit of scarcity to a spirit of generosity! That small congregation mentioned above is now able to provide mission support almost equal to its annual operating budget to worthwhile causes.
Has your congregation begun the process? If not, this is a great time to begin; if so, share the stories and watch it grow.
Yes, it is most certainly more blessed to give than to receive. But receiving well can generate even more giving – and more and more and more.
RICHARD YOUNG, a Presbyterian teaching elder, is president of the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, based in Irving, Texas.