“What language shall I borrow to thank you, dearest Friend…” So begins a verse of the ancient hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. Much of stewardship theology and practice has do with related questions: what words, what language, what descriptions shall we use?
In today’s article, pastor Daniel Vigilante describes a language and method of stewardship “shares” that fits his congregation quite well. I’m also intrigued — as Dan suggests at the end of his piece — how the language of shares might connect to our growing “sharing economy.” How is financial support of a local co-op similar or different than that of congregations? What language shall we borrow? Same question, exciting new context and application.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Like most great ideas in life and ministry, we borrow from others what has worked for them and adapt those ideas to create something that works for us. We did that at the church I serve — and the results have transformed our annual stewardship campaign.
It all started when I went to hear a friend lead worship at another church. It was the fall and the congregation was in the midst of its stewardship drive. They had introduced a concept asking people to invest in shares in the church. A share was valued at giving $20 per week — or roughly $87 per month — or $1040 per year. They “sold” X number of shares in order to fund the annual budget. If the budget were $100,000 per year, they’d need to sell approximately 96 shares.
In some ways I thought this was enormously helpful as it broke down the total need into portions (shares) that seemed manageable. It facilitated thinking around peoples’ share in the church, not just their pledge to it (a subtle but significant distinction). I loved that they were asking folks to invest in the congregation’s life and future. “This is a great idea,” I thought! Soon after, we began talking about shares at our own finance committee meetings.
Thankfully, our team felt like we needed to try something new and was willing to experiment with the shares concept. We liked the simplicity of $20/87/1040 and thought offering a benchmark value might be useful for people planning their contributions to the church. While we knew even a single share would be a stretch for some, others could easily commit to two or five or even ten shares or more.
There were also several things we wanted to adapt for our own context. It was important for us to avoid words like “selling shares.” We’re not selling anything — we’re asking people to commit to, and invest their resources in, the life and ministry of our church (again, a subtle but significant distinction). In addition, we intentionally framed our campaign around a goal which wasn’t tied to our annual budget. Theologically speaking, it’s important for our folks to generously give as a response to God’s grace and love, and not because our church needs a certain total to meet next year’s budget.
We called our campaign, Sharing Together — which was a play on previous campaigns (Forward Together, Growing Together) and a way to incorporate the word “share.” We developed a campaign logo and produced materials to explain how this new concept would work.
The church I serve is small. During my first two years there our annual pledged income was around $85,000. During year three when we concluded our Sharing Together campaign, we had commitments for 122 shares or $126,880. We could hardly believe it! This year we saw our commitments bump to 149 shares, or almost $155,000.
Part of that increase (82%!) is certainly due to the fact that our congregation is growing. That said we’re still a small church, with just about 80 members. Our largest gift is 10 shares. We attribute most of our success to changing the language around stewardship.
In the age of the sharing economy we frame giving in such a way that emphasizes co-ownership and cooperation. Setting a value on what one’s commitment might look like is helpful for both newer folks and longtime members. And asking people to commit to a share (or more) in the life and ministry of our church communicates the role each of us plays in supporting God’s work in and through our congregation.
What’s exciting for me is that we don’t ask people to give out of our need — as if the campaign is a desperate plea to support the annual budget. Instead, we invite people to share in our life and ministry together and to invest in the church’s future.
Rev. Daniel Vigilante serves as Pastor of Grace-Trinity Community Church in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. He loves the work of congregational revitalization, as well as playing the piano, spending time with family and friends, and seeing the world.
Stewardship Speaker Series: Join us on campus this summer — July 21 and/or August 18 — for breakfast as we hear from groundbreaking stewardship leaders practicing distinctive, top-notch stewardship. Come to one event, or both! All events are free and open to the public. For more information, and to register, visit www.luthersem.edu/stewlead.
Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information visit:www.luthersem.edu/ECRF.