I think it’s safe to assume that no one believes a “give us money to keep the lights on” campaign is sufficient for encouraging the saints to a revolutionary new level of giving. I’m grateful for the framework that “Grace and Gratitude,” our denomination’s new mantra, gives to the life of faith, encompassing our financial lives in the totality of our response to the grace of the Almighty.
And yet, I’m convinced the one element needed to boost our budgets to enormous proportions is the one element that is hardest to cultivate: trust. Both vertically and horizontally. Learning how to develop trust is the number one skill that pastors are not taught in seminary, and yet it seems to be the most important gift in leading the saints into a relationship with the living God.
Trust is in short supply these days. According to Gallup, trust in the church has been declining most every year since the survey began in 1973, and with the rise of the None and Dones, there’s little reason to believe that trend will reverse soon. (If it makes you feel better, we’re the fourth-highest ranked institution on this list. Congress is dead last.) The cause is unknown, but since trust has been shown to go down as inequality in a society goes up, many are guessing that the scales of economic justice have a great deal to do with it.
The consequences of inequality include increasing difficulty for the church fulfilling its primary mandate. Tim Shapiro wrote for Congregations Magazine back in 2012 (RIP, Alban!) that the number one reason congregations exist is “to mature human existence by creating the opportunity for adherents to develop dispositions of trust.” By way of personal experience, I’ve come to believe that we are unable to trust in the vertical until we’ve figured out how to trust the horizontal; or, put another way, trusting in the mercy of an intangible, invisible, God-only-wise is far more difficult than believing in the trustworthiness of a human being. This is a crude metaphor, to be sure, but one that points to the real understanding among the spiritually immature that God sits in heaven aloof and uninterested in earthly affairs.
And so the church stands in the middle, perhaps mediating, at worst describing, and at best living out the disposition of trust in God, bringing God back down to earth. A robust sense of the Trinity, therefore, becomes an absolutely essential part of our stewardship theology: If God is not creating us, if the Savior is not walking with us and if the Spirit cannot be seen within the work of the church and in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ, no one should expect a single dollar to fall in the offering plate. But how do we live out that belief as elders of the church?
This year, my church is going back to the basics of trust. If the science of oxytocin, mirror neurons and community organizing are all to be believed, nothing builds trust like a one-on-one relationship. We’re breaking up our membership into manageable groups in order to have a relational meeting with each and every person between now and the beginning of stewardship season. No one will ask for money, but each representative of our stewardship outreach team will be tasked with providing a list of the churches activities and, most importantly, hearing the stories of our saints. They’ll ask, “Why’d you join CCPC?” “What excites you about what’s happening through our church’s ministries?” and “Where do you see God taking us next?”
Some of this is classic asset-based development, but much of it is a response to a recent survey we sent out to the congregation. When asked to mark down what resources they wished our church provided, number one was “ways to grow spiritually” and a very close second was “ways to connect with other members of our church.” To me, the two are more than coincidentally connected: People in our program-sized church have a longing to known each other in real, human ways, and there’s no reason why our stewardship team can’t be the impetus for this more humane communication.
Have you figured out effective ways to develop trust, both horizontally and vertically? Comment below and enrich this season for all of us.
ERIC PELTZ is a husband, father of 3 under 4.5, lover of organizational behavior, curious about governance, branding, Frisbee and an intergenerational gospel. He serves Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. as associate pastor, and tweets at @ericpeltz when he’s procrastinating the dishes and not listening to podcasts.