This COVID-19 emergency … when will it end? Will we make it? Those questions are on just about everybody’s mind as we look to social distancing and isolating measures for at least another month! Yikes!
In my last blog post I outlined steps a congregation to can take to help keep God’s people engaged and supportive of your congregation’s ministry. I hope they have been helpful. Here are some more tips to keep the congregation afloat until things get back to normal.
Apply for CARES Act relief: A section of the U.S. Government’s Coronavirus Relief Package would grant loans to small businesses (including churches) to help keep workers employed during this emergency. Here’s the kicker: The loans do not have to be repaid as long as your church meets some pretty easy benchmarks. Check out an excellent package of materials and links from the United Methodist Church.
Ask for “frontloaded” offerings: Every December as long as you can remember, Mr. and Mrs. Jones proudly and faithfully make a substantial year-end gift. That’s great! But could the Joneses give their donation this spring instead, when your congregation really needs it? It’s worth asking.
Though this crisis has lots of pain to go around, not everyone is laid off and struggling. Invite parishioners to make their offerings early.
- For significant donors: Make a personal ask. Talk to them about their passions for ministry and why they’ve supported the church over the years. Ask if they can express that passion by advancing their donation.
- For everyone: Make the invitation generally, through letters, emails, newsletters and other communications.
Include “offering” in virtual worship: A lot of churches are – wisely – turning to virtual and livestreamed worship while coronavirus-related restrictions on travel and gathering are in place. Remarkably, the “offering” part of the service is often omitted in the digital version. This is a mistake.
At an appropriate point in the digital service, include an “offering moment” where you tell a story, explain about a ministry or focus on the mission of the church and then invite folks for their support. Here are some tips:
- Talk about the ministries that are still happening in your congregation despite the COVID-19 crisis. Tell stories, show a video of folks whose lives have been changed, show photos of ministry-in-action.
- Ask with confidence. Some ministers sandbag their own efforts by asking timidly or apologetically. Without being demanding or arrogant, ask politely, respectfully, invitationally, expectantly and confidently.
- Remind people how they can give. Use a cutaway screen with the church’s address to send checks, website for online giving, or telephone number where they can text or phone in a gift. (And give them time to respond … perhaps by playing special music.)
- Offer grace. Acknowledge that some people who have lost jobs or are on furlough simply cannot afford to give more. Let them know that’s all right.
- Don’t play the “panic card” — that the church is in dire trouble and going to close (unless of course, it really is, but by then it’s too late). The panic card may get people to donate once, a little bit, but in the long run it damages confidence in the ministry, enthusiasm for church and financial offerings.
- Similarly, never appeal to guilt or duty (c’mon everybody, we all have to do our fair share). That’s poor motivation that never works.
No one action or practice will ensure the financial stability of your congregation, but strategically putting enough elements in place will provide a strong framework for sustainable ministry.
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