By Rev. Dr. Clayton L. Smith
Your local church can bounce back during this ongoing pandemic crisis! I will briefly suggest several ways to help you move your church community forward through crisis with sustained generosity. Lake Institute of Faith & Giving recently surveyed church leaders about Faith and Giving in the Time of COVID-19. Nearly half of the respondents stated that “stewardship would be their most significant challenge for recovery.” They also noted were the ongoing priorities of teaching stewardship and nurturing generosity.
Certainly, church leaders are now more aware of many new demands and limitations on the local church caused by the health concerns of this pandemic. Yet, it is difficult to predict the short and long term financial stewardship implications. But it is clear that stewardship and generosity ministry must adapt and change.
Pastoral Care Focus
What are the early financial indicators, needs, and demands for your local church? What are the vital signs of online worship attendance? Most local church pastors I know are reporting a great increase of focus on pastoral care. Online worship is calling for greater focus and development by pastors, staff, and volunteers. Worship and pastoral care call for immediate attention. However, it is essential that resetting stewardship ministry becomes foundational for your church’s response. And of course, increased communication with members and your community is vital. Many pastors suggest that their communication has doubled to insure member connection and care in this time of isolation. Some churches have reopened for worship with social distancing, masks, and other restrictions. Church leaders are now asking how can we better know and serve our members’ needs.
Begin by developing a survey to discover the top needs of the people in your congregation. Some may be struggling with unemployment. Others may identify as financially insecure and desperate for ways to better manage their debt and budget needs. Depending on what you hear, you may consider offering classes, workshops, and/or other learning opportunities. You might consider establishing a financial coaching ministry. Be sure to redesign your annual stewardship campaign based on the felt needs of your people! Make it clear that this campaign is not about what the church wants from your members, but what the church wants for your members.
Online worship has already changed us. Our approach to pastoral care is changing to meet the crisis needs. Now is the time to also develop new approaches to financial education. Offer practical budgeting tools on your website to help your members become better money managers. Proactive financial stewardship preaching/teaching are now more essential for financial resilience! For example, you might preach a stewardship sermon series on a topic like, “Reset: Biblical Wisdom for Challenging Economic Times.” In my experience, people want to learn more about the wise use of money. Organize new and revitalized small group/class ministries to teach money management, reignite hope, healing, and long-term generosity.
To reset your stewardship ministry develop your strategic financial stewardship recovery plan. First, reset your financial needs in light of the pandemic. Audit your recent giving. Also audit your total giving in the last 3-5 years. It is very important to know all areas of giving in the past. Then you can reset your budget one year at a time. Agree on your measurable and immediate goals. It is wise to monitor and be able to reset your budget every three to six months, if necessary. Timely flexibility is vital. Stay positive. It may take 3 years to recover.
Keep your plan clear, concise, and compelling. It need not be longer than one page. Center your stewardship efforts on communicating the church’s purpose, vision, and mission. Plan on regular stewardship communication with your members, visitors, and donors throughout the year. I share more about this in my book, Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity, where I detail my church’s financial recovery and growth following the great recession.
Remember that relationships matter most. Generosity happens when there is trust and clear vision for the ministry of the church. Disaster and disease isolate. Financial recession and unemployment compound our crisis. Racial injustice and political conflict divide. The healing ministry role of the local church has never been greater in our communities!
I believe that most of our faith communities can and will recover from pandemic disaster. Some churches will even grow stronger. The church can be a healing place as we offer hope-filled trauma care ministry. The crisis calls for a resilient stewardship ministry.
What will your faith community look like in the months and years ahead? I believe this crisis creates a defining moment of opportunity now for you and your church leaders.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31a
About the Author
Rev. Dr. Clayton L. Smith has published three books, numerous articles, and blogs. His recent book, Growing Through Disaster – Tools for Financial and Trauma Recovery in Your Faith Community is a timely resource. In his retirement he serves as a conference speaker, webinar facilitator, and workshop leader. Clayton enjoys travel, gardening, reading, writing, and family time. Lori and Clayton have four children, two grandchildren, horses, dogs, and cats. He is now best known as a storyteller, group facilitator, coach, and consultant. He is a retired and inspired ordained elder. He graduated from Central Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology, and McCormick Theological Seminary.
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij.