Cafeteria Christian is a podcast that was started in 2018 around the question: What would it look like to reclaim what many in U.S. culture think of as pejorative (“Christian”) and use it for freedom of faith, instead of bondage to it? How can we gather people around the idea that we can be a different kind of Christian? So we began to record a weekly podcast, centered around the ideas of openness and curiosity, and we have built a community of over 5,000 weekly listeners and people engaged in the digital space with us.
As we grew, we began to wonder if there was a way to encourage giving for a service that was free (as podcasts are, of course).
That initial question eventually led to the inevitable: Why, when there are so many worthy organizations and causes to give to, would someone choose to financially support us? I’m not sure I have the answer, but this is what I have learned over the last five years:
- Our community does not give because we need money.
- They don’t give because they want to help us buy equipment or even pay us for the work we do.
- They support us financially because what we do on the podcast and through the digital community we’ve created has been meaningful for them.
- Cafeteria Christian has helped them learn, grow, and be a part of something bigger.
- They feel as though they are a part of the story we are telling—and they are.
So we decided to join Patreon.
We encouraged our community to support the work we do by becoming patrons. They aren’t giving to keep the lights on, or to pay us. Patrons are giving regularly to creators because they have found meaning and community and are invested in the story continuing to be told. There is no attachment to attendance, or even participation for patrons. Creators ask, WE asked: “If this community, the things you learn, and the connections being made here matter to you and have made a difference in your life, then please consider being a patron.” Our patrons don’t give because they have to, or because it’s expected. They give because they want to, and because they want to keep the story going.
This was obviously a question we asked about our podcast and the digital community that built up around it, but it COULD be asked about any number of things, including the church. I wonder if we might not wonder together about these alternative avenues of giving in light of the changing culture in and outside of the church.
I recently asked a group of people to tell me the story of their church, and not one told me about their budget. Not one. Instead, they told me about the relationships, the way their worship services made them feel, how they feel included and loved, that they are proud to be a part of a community that takes such good care of their neighbors. Obviously, doing those things within a church takes financial resources, but that wasn’t the story they chose to tell me about who they are.
Storytelling matters. I might not be popular for saying this, but I don’t want to give to a budget. I don’t want to give money to help meet some goal, or to move some line on a mock thermometer up to an intended goal. I don’t even want to give money to pay the bills, or create ministry opportunities, even though I know those things are good and needed and we have to pay for them somehow.
But I DO want to give to a story of how what we do in a place, in person or digital, makes a difference to those who show up.
Stewardship isn’t just asking for money. It’s telling a story. It’s telling the story of who we are so often and so well that people don’t need a special month set aside to be asked to give to it. Stewardship is often contained to a budget or a season, but when you get in the rhythm of telling the story of who you are and what you are about all the time, and constantly and consistently invite people to be a part of it, then you are creating ways to give and serve within that story all year long.
What is the story of your church?
- Do you know it?
- Can you tell it?
- How can you invite people into fully participating in keeping the story going, all year long?