How to Answer Those Tricky Money Questions

Questions that members and leaders ask

Hand stopping dominos from knocking other dominos over.

One of the people on the first stewardship team I served on, Marilu, was particularly passionate about calling people who didn’t turn in pledge cards. Before you ask, “yes” she did this voluntarily and “no” you can’t have her contact information. I was continually impressed by the empathetic way Marilu would approach these conversations. She called with a sense of genuine curiosity as to whether or not the person had received and completed their pledge card. She kindly answered all of their questions—even the tough ones. She even devised a good response for people who said “I don’t want to turn in my pledge card—that’s between me and God.” She would tell them to send in their pledge card with all of their information on it but leave the amount blank. This allowed the person to still participate in Consecration Sunday services, alerted the church that they would still be giving next year, and gave the individual an opportunity to commit to their giving even if they didn’t disclose an amount.

Annual response program, or stewardship campaign, season is one of the most awkward times in the church year for many leaders. For many it’s an uncomfortable topic to talk and preach about, and the topic brings with it a whole host of sticky questions. This week, I want to share my responses to some of these tricky questions with you. I’ve divided these questions into ones a congregation member might ask and ones that you, as a leader, might ask. I’d love to hear how you’d respond to these in the Faith+Lead Learning Lab.

Questions Members May Ask

Q: Why do you keep preaching about money?

A: The simple answer: Because Jesus did. Jesus talked about money and material possessions more than almost any other topic, and this subject comes up quite a bit outside of the gospels as well. Jesus was particularly concerned with the relationship we have with our money, because Jesus knew this relationship has the ability to influence our relationship with God both for good and for ill.

It’s important to note that you may receive this question even when you don’t think you preached about money at all. If that’s the case, I’d invite a deeper conversation. Ask: “When did you hear me preach on money? What did you hear me say?” It’s likely something you have preached about has triggered an association with money even if you didn’t mention it at all. This is a good opportunity to help this person unpack some of the baggage they have around money, and likely the way money is discussed in the church, if they are willing to explore it with you. 

Q: Why do I have to turn in a pledge card? Isn’t it just between me and God?

A: Yes, the decision to give is between you and God, but letting the congregation know what you are giving is helpful for a few reasons. First, deciding on the amount you will give, writing it down, and turning it in gives you an extra layer of accountability. You’re more likely to follow through on your commitment if you follow this process. Second, if your congregation invites pledges and actually uses the amount on the pledge card to plan the budget for the next year, let them know about how you use the pledge information. If they still do not want to share their giving with the congregation, invite them to follow Marilu’s method that I mentioned earlier.

Q: How much should I give to the church?

A: This question is a good one and invites a longer conversation. I’d say: “There’s no one right answer to this question—the amount will be different for every person. The Bible paints many portraits of generous givers from a boy who shared his lunch to feed 5,000 people to people who tithed sharing 10% of their harvest to Zaccheaus who gave half of his possessions to the poor. I think it’s most helpful to think of giving to the church as a percentage of your income, rather than one specific dollar amount. This is a great question to bring to God in prayer as you discern what you’d like to give.”

Then, I’d ask them if they had a specific amount in mind that they wanted to talk about.

  • If they do, I’d have a conversation with them about this number. Likely they are wondering if it’s “enough” and may be fearful that it’s not. This is a good opportunity to talk about the range of givers in your specific church and share more about how you and others in the congregation approach your giving. If this person is struggling financially or has extenuating circumstances which prevent them from giving more, this is a good time to offer pastoral care.
  • If they don’t, this is a good opportunity to talk more about how you and others in this congregation approach your own giving. How did you decide to give what you give? What discernment process might they follow?

Questions Leaders May Ask

Q: How do I ask people for money that’s ultimately used to pay my salary?

A: This is a hard one for many leaders—particularly solo pastors in small parishes who know their salary makes up most of the budget. Remember, it’s not about you. If you were not in this call, someone else would be and they would also be compensated for this role. It’s also important to keep in mind that your compensation will not change based on the amount of money you bring in through fundraising. You are not working on commission. While the money you receive from the church is going to support your family and pay your bills, that’s not the purpose of the money the congregation is giving. The congregation is giving to support the mission and ministry of the congregation, and you are a key part of that mission and ministry. Instead of imagining the congregation paying for specific items in your personal budget, imagine their gifts paying for the ministry work you provide (pastoral care, worship planning, sermon prep, hospitality to the neighborhood, advocacy in the community, etc.).

Q: How do you motivate people who aren’t giving at all?

This is the most challenging group to reach. In my experience, people who have the capacity to give financially don’t give to the church for three key reasons. 

  • First, they don’t know how churches are funded. While they may see the offering plate go by during the service, there are many people who still believe that churches are at least partly funded externally by a larger church entity (like the Vatican) or even the government. We have to help people connect the dots by being explicit about how much of the church’s budget is funded by member giving. This is a great thing to cover in a new member class. 
  • Second, they don’t believe the money they give to the church will make an impact. They aren’t sure how their giving will make a difference in their community, their congregation, and around the world. It’s imperative that we tell the story of where the congregation’s money is going and what impact is being made—other nonprofits certainly aren’t shy to tell their story. 
  • Third, they don’t see the connection between giving and their faith life. They may understand how they might grow in their faith through Bible reading and prayer, but they think their giving is separate from their life of faith. It’s “paying the dues” to the church, not a way they can grow in their relationship with God. Jesus is very clear about this connection, but most churches shy away from talking about it. Being explicit about this connection and having congregation members share their own stories about how their faith has grown through their giving is vitally important.

From a more tactical standpoint, one way I’ve seen churches approach this is to focus less on percentage giving and more on participation. If you are segmenting your “ask” to the congregation (in other words, if you’re communicating different messages to different congregational groups), you might send an email or letter to those who aren’t currently giving inviting them to make a gift. You might share an entry level gift example that’s a good fit for your demographic (like setting up a recurring donation of $5/month or a one-time $100 gift). Instead of just tracking the amount of money coming in through pledges, you might also track the percentage of the congregation who has made a gift. You may even share your participation goals with the congregation.

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