Yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater can touch off a panicked stampede. The same thing often happens when you say “money” or “stewardship” in church: Terrified parishioners flee as if their lives depended on it.
Of course this is an exaggeration, but in too many congregations there’s deep resistance to conversation anything hinting of stewardship or money.
Why? Usually it’s because the congregation has avoided finances for so long that the very words “stewardship” and “money” have become toxic. That’s why nobody talks sensibly about generosity and giving. That’s why the congregation shoots down every sensible suggestion of a stewardship drive or capital campaign.
The goal is to create a culture where honest, grown-up, realistic conversations can take place. And the first step is to de-toxify “money” and “stewardship.” Here are two cardinal rules:
- Talk, preach and educate about stewardship as often as you can without mentioning money. God has entrusted us with many wonderful riches besides money: health, time, relationships, creation, vocation, intelligence, creativity, and so on. Help folks understand that as stewards, we are to care for these riches and use them for God’s purposes.
- Talk, preach and educate about money as often as you can without asking for it. Jesus talked about wealth and riches all the time, but he never asked anybody even for a mite.
Following these rules, look for small steps that can be repeated consistently over time.
- Newsletter articles every month. Alternate — one month an article on stewardship of a non-financial treasure, and the next month an article aobut money that doesn’t ask for donations. (Click here for a trove of free articles you can “cut-and-paste” into your newsletter!)
- Blurbs in every Sunday worship bulletin. Whether it’s a brief passage of scripture, a maxim or quotation from a writer, bulletin blurbs can help change the money culture.
- “Generosity pauses” during the offering. Every week after collecting the offering, talk about a ministry or person or expense that is made possible by the congregation’s generosity.
- Monthly stewardship themes. Mark out for all 12 months a stewardship emphasis that can be lifted up in preaching and education. If you spend 11 months of the year talking about stewardship of something other than money, your congregants will be more open to stewardship of money in the 12th month.
- Financial education. Many people don’t know how to handle money. Host workshops where people can learn about household budgeting, saving for retirement, paying down credit cards and other topics.
- Bible studies. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has a lot to say about wealth and its use (and misuse) among God’s people. Plan on making these a priority in your Christian education.
None of these steps alone will de-toxify the topics of stewardship and money, and nothing will work quickly. But done together as a strategy to implement the two cardinal rules, they will evolve your congregation’s money culture and make it safe to talk about money and stewardship without folks stampeding to the nearest church exit.
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