Help for the campaign-phobic church

“As much as the congregation NEEDS to have a fall campaign,” the pastor told me, “the people are TOTALLY against it because of what happened last time.”

The scenario is familiar to many congregations. “Once upon a time,” a well-meaning Stewardship Committee launched a slick, ambitious fall emphasis only to see it crash and burn. In the ashes were outraged parishioners, hurt feelings and a stiff resolve that “never again” would they accept a fall campaign.

Why did it crash and burn? In a congregation that was unaccustomed to being asked for money, the giving plan was far outside of the comfort zone for most congregants. Pushed too hard, they rebelled.

A better route would have been to prepare the congregation by implementing a comprehensive, year-round stewardship plan that included education and preaching about money without asking for it. And then phasing in an annual campaign gradually over a few years — as the congregation seemed ready to accept it. Here’s what a four-year implementation plan might look like:

Year 1 – For the first year, run a stewardship emphasis with preaching and education, but don’t ask for money. Essentially, you have a stewardship campaign without the ask.

Year 2 – Offer a fall stewardship emphasis with education and preaching, and this year invite people to make a private commitment, just between them and God. You can hand out estimate of giving (avoid the word PLEDGE) cards, but tell them they are for the congregant’s own personal use — between them and the Almighty. Invite them to put the cards in a Bible or someplace special.

Year 3 – This year, tell people to place their estimate of giving cards in a sealed envelope with their name and address on it. On the Sunday of the last day of the emphasis (Reformation Day? All Saints? Christ the King?), ceremonially invite people to bring forward their cards, but promise on a stack of Bibles five feet tall that nobody from the congregation will actually open them. The following October, as you begin your next fall emphasis, mail them back, unopened, to the folks.

Year 4 – Same as Year 3, except this year the financial secretary receives the cards and records the totals. Keep individuals’ information confidential, of course, but report the total pledged, thank everybody and celebrate! (You can thank the individual donors with their year-end statement of giving.)

Of course, every church is different, and your church may not need four years. But the main idea is to be aware of your congregation’s “money culture” and push — but don’t cross — the edge of what folks can accept. By introducing new ideas slowly and consistently over time, you can change the “money culture” and prepare the congregation for a healthy, fruitful intentional ask camapign.

Then, when you run your campaign, choose or develop one with a good design, plan well, execute meticulously and energetically, and savor the results.

Good luck!

Photo: “push for help” by justinls is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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