Your congregation may have curtailed in-person services and activities because of the coronavirus, but there’s no stopping your congregation’s payroll, mortgage and other financial obligations.
And because too many congregants give only when they actually show up for worship, canceling services can present real financial challenges. Wise church leaders will want to be proactive and do all they can to help their congregants stay connected to church, get through this emergency and invited to maintain financial support. Here are some ideas:
If your congregation has not yet gotten into online and digital giving, the COVID-19 crisis may offer excellent incentive to do so. And if you are already offering this opportunity, consider expanding the options.
Online and digital giving are the “offering plates” for the 21st century. Cash and checks are used less and less by the population at large, and especially by younger adults. For people who exclusively manage purchases and finances through credit cards, debit cards, apps and online banking, these digital-giving tools provide a comfortable and secure way to give.
The most basic tool is an online giving portal on your website, where congregants can create an account, log in, and manage their donations by amount, frequency and method of payment. From there, the options are many: text giving, giving by smartphone app, a card-swipe station and more.
Ministries across the country have found that online giving not only increases overall donations but it helps with bookkeeping functions. In addition to online giving, some companies offer management tools that can help with church-membership rolls and other tasks.
Getting started can be a daunting and overwhelming task. There are plenty of companies eager to work with your church.
Which company should you use? Word of mouth is a great way to winnow the field to a manageable few. Start with churches that you know and trust that are using online giving. Ask their leaders about their experiences — the pros and cons — with their provider. Ask about services, options, convenience, customer service, ease of use and fees.
Also, check to see if your denomination or judicatory has any recommendations, or even a special partnership. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, has “preferred vendor” relationships with two companies: Vanco (ELCA ministries click here) and and Tithe.ly (ELCA ministries click here). Both Vanco and Tithe.ly offer excellent services and reasonable prices on a wide range of options, including a website platform, giving by text, an app, and more.
If your church is new to digital giving, start small with a basic service, such as a website giving portal, and build.
If your church is already using online and digital giving, consider expanding your options: What services does your giving-management company offer that could provide your congregants with even more opportunities to give? The rule of thumb is this: The easier you make it for people to give, the more likely they will be to give.
Digital giving options are a MUST for the 21st century church. Of course, many of our older members are not digitally inclined. Fortunately, the United States Postal Service is STILL in business and will deliver envelopes wherever you address them. A well-written letter asking congregants to make a regular — or a special — gift will go a long way.
Here are some tips:
- Keep the letter upbeat! Save the financial doom and gloom for your clergy group or therapist. In the letter talk about the good ministry that’s still happening in the church and how the staff and lay leaders are continuing God’s mission in difficult circumstances. Highlight whatever online worship possibilities there are for your church or neighboring congregations. Invite them to call the office or leaders if there are problems.
- Remind folks that COVID-19 will pass! Probably in a matter of weeks, possibly a month or two. Coronavirus will become, eventually, just another chapter in the l-o-n-g lifespan of the congregation. Remind them that your congregation has weathered other storms, such as the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the Recession of 2008 and more.
- Make it easy for them to give. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so they can send in their checks. Also, tell them how to give digitally through your church website (see above).
It’s true that the most likely people to give in a time of crisis are the ones who have BOTH the financial means to give AND the desire and commitment to help the church. Who are these people? You ought to know: They are the ones who already give generously to your church.
During this time of crisis, talk to the top 10 or 20 givers in your congregation and ask them for a special contribution to help get the church through the crises. As the leader of the church, the pastor or deacon should ideally be the one who makes the request, but a respected and trusted lay leader of the church may substitute. (Or, they could make the request together!) Here are some tips:
- Thank them for their past support.
- Invite them to tell you how they came to your congregation and why they stayed?
- Ask them what parts of church life and ministry they are most passionate about, and why?
- Remind them that COVID-19 will pass, and the church will get through it, just as it has weathered previous crises.
- Tell them of the things the congregation is doing to continue serving God’s people.
- Ask them for a gift to help fund church operations.
- Thank them for their time.
Communication is one of the most important ways to encourage donations, and not just by way of those gentle reminders to keep the donations flowing. In fact, appealing for donations should not be the only message you send.
Why is communication so important? For many congregants, Sunday worship is their only, or their primary, connection to church. The old saying applies, “Out of sight, out of mind.” You want to help your congregants to keep the church in mind, even if it’s out of their sight.
Communication’s main task is keeping in touch with people so they know that your church is still on the job, that ministry is still happening, and that God’s people are still being served. Communication can foster discipleship, convey priorities, cast a vision for ministry, and instill confidence and excitement about your church’s ministry.
All of this simply lays the groundwork for faithful generosity.
While the virus is keeping church doors closed, now is the time to use the communication tools that modern technology has given us: web pages, email, Facebook posts, social media, phone calls and other media.
- Pastoral messages on how to be prayerful and faithful during the crisis.
- Online worship, whether streaming life, recorded and archived — or both!
- Prayers and devotions to keep your congregants involved in faith practices.
- Regular posts and updates on your congregation’s Facebook page to let folks know what’s happening at church.
- Bible studies and small-group meetings via online meeting platforms, such as Zoom or Skype.
Ongoing pastoral presence
It may not be wise for church ministers to make face-to-face visits with congregants, especially if they are in a communal living facility or hospital. (Even if you’re not showing signs of the virus, it’s possible to be carrying it. Why take the risk?)
But there’s always the telephone, email, cards sent through the postal service, and social media. mail.
These modern tools of ministry can assist you in caring for God’s people, which can help them get through this COVID-19 crisis. It will also strengthen the ties between church and congregant.
Online giving, communication and ongoing pastoral presence are all essential elements for keeping the community together and the donations flowing as long as COVID-19 is with us.