by Sean Mitchell
If you’ve wished for this, you are in good company. Most are looking for the exit ramp and hoping they find it quickly. But if they exit, and you with them, where does the exit lead? If a church community has relied on these windows of time where members are asked to make yearly commitments, what infrastructure can be the new way for inspiring financial commitments? Does such a replacement for annual campaigns exist? Maybe a better question is this: Have we been mishandling the spiritual opportunities these campaigns afford us?
When programs are repeated over and over again, year after year, they have a tendency to become bland and lacking energy. Thus, the annual pledge campaign has been defined. In most communities, it has become stale, forgetful and undesirable. And let’s not forget — it has everything to do with money, and many church communities are not comfortable talking openly about money, possessions, savings and spending habits. There is a perfect storm of reasons why these campaigns are drudgery. But, back to my question: Have we been mishandling the spiritual opportunities these campaigns afford us?
When I am asked if a church should disregard their annual pledge campaigns, I usually very quickly say “No!” or ask, “Why is that course of action necessary?” If pledges are flat or have been on a slight dip over the last few years, that is not a sound reason for punting the program (“ministry” is a better word) out of the community. If pledges have dropped by more than 30 percent over the last year or two, we would then address an entirely different set of questions. Assuming this is not the case — and it is not in most communities — here are five opportunities to help revitalize the annual pledge campaign.
1) Pour time and creativity into theme choices. Yes, themes are still relevant and themes still matter. Words matter. Choose them with precision. Instead of a Google search for “best church campaign themes,” why not gather a few creative people from your community for two hours of brainstorming? This is one of my favorite practices to observe and participate in.
Think of the theme like you would if you were considering the title of a book or business product. Our literary and for-profit economies are strategic about word choices because every word has the potential to capture or miss people’s attention. Think of your theme as needing to accomplish two objectives: It needs to be intriguing, and it needs to inform everything else you say and request during the campaign.
2) Revitalize the pledge card. Enlarge the card. Change the wording and message on the card. Think of the card as the space for people to write their commitment amount, but leave room for additional information. Two ideas for this:
- Write a campaign prayer on the back of the card. Remember, pledging — making a financial commitment — is a spiritual activity. Write out a prayer to help disciples with their personal discernment.
- List the ministries your budget supports somewhere on the card. You may not be able to list all of them, but by listing a few of the predominant ones, you are reminding pledgers what their commitment will support.
3) Campaigns provide the opportunity to remind that budgets are spiritual exercises. I am personally fatigued of hearing, “People don’t like giving to budgets.” Let’s stop perpetuating this notion that people don’t have an appreciation for our worship centers and administrative expenses that resource ministry. If people are still showing up and sitting under the lit lights, utilizing the plumbing and calling the church during the week with a question or two, they are not as put off by these expenses as we deem them to be. Let’s get creative and tell a better story of how “these lights” and “this space that is heated and cooled” is stewarded for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.
This is the second time I have referenced creativity as a means for revitalizing annual campaigns. I do so with intentionality because I believe we are made in the image of a God who created, creates and invites us to join in on creativity for the goal of helping others and our world to flourish. Annual campaigns can help people listening in the pews or folding chairs flourish, and therefore, our highest levels of creativity are to be given to the listeners through our campaign messaging.
4) Pastors can preach on financial stewardship/generosity/greed avoidance/simplicity/giving/sharing during the campaign season … or preach on something else. Preach the text, interpret the text, but don’t force the financial stewardship message into the pulpit if faithful discernment is informing you about other messages that need to be shared during this time. Yet, if messages on financial stewardship are not coming from the pulpit during the remainder of the year, this is a red flag. The fact that the Scriptures have so much to say about the stewarding of resources means it is a misstep for any pulpit to be saying nothing at all. During the preparation time for annual pledge campaigns, pastors have the opportunity to reflect on their past involvement with financial stewardship-themed sermons and reorient their pulpit ministry with this matter. I actually recommend a round table discussion for pastors to discuss and discern ways to share Jesus’ teachings on the stewarding of resources within the next year. The goal is to preach these teachings, but not to forcefully do it when we are asking members to complete their commitment cards.
5) Don’t be afraid. “Fear not” is a spiritual discipline and is as important as practicing creativity. In fact, “fear not” will be an ally to much of the campaign creativity. How many brazen ideas for doing things differently have been left behind because church leaders were afraid of offending the membership? Many! The charge: Don’t be afraid of change. Change or no change, all will never be completely content and free of grumbling.
Annual campaigns are not a detriment to healthy church fundraising and spiritual growth. It is rather the handling of these campaigns that often determine their fate and the fates of our budgets and community giving. Take it to heart that opportunities, such as this list, do exist and can help us all tell better stories, ask for giving more effectively and proclaim more creatively that we are living in a world of abundance, not scarcity, under the sovereignty of a generous, not grace-less, God.
SEAN MITCHELL directs the stewardship offices at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and also provides speaking and consulting services at generositydevelopment.com Join us for Sean’s webinar “The Making of Stewardship Leaders” on September 29..