Anyone in your congregation can probably tell you that they are regularly bombarded with requests from numerous nonprofits to donate to their causes. Why should they give to the church? Congregational stewardship over the next decade will require a renewed focus on the mission of the church. Simply asking members for money to meet the budget or fill the deficit is not an effective stewardship strategy. For starters, it doesn’t show good financial management when church leaders keep asking for money each year from the standpoint of “we need to pay the bills.” I don’t want to invest in an organization that can’t even balance its budget! So, what makes your church special? What is your mission? How you answer those questions is crucial not only to the success of your next stewardship campaign but may determine your survival as a congregation.
What makes the church different from other nonprofits in the world? I could just as easily give my money to St. Jude’s Hospital or my local food pantry because I can see the difference they are making in peoples’ lives. In order for the church to be an effective organization, in order to be the body of Christ, you need to know your mission. You may be hesitant to use the word mission in your context; after all, it can be a pretty loaded term. I want to define mission as the way your context does God’s work in the world. If no one in your congregation knows or can guess your mission statement, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities and communication strategy. Many congregations end up with an implicit mission to uphold the budget or to maintain their aging building; at least that’s the mission someone might discern from looking at the budget or listening at a council meeting.
One way to determine what sets you apart in your mission is to tell your story. There’s a reason your congregation began, and a reason why they’re still here. What is it that draws people in and keeps them coming back? As you listen to individual stories, you will probably also notice a collective narrative among the community, something that draws members to the church and to each other. Especially in smaller or older congregations, telling the story is a great way to help people articulate the mission of their church.
When you’re telling the story, listen to how God is at work in your context. How do people talk about experiencing God in their lives? How has the church made a difference in their lives of faith? Members who are able to articulate that difference understand why the church matters and will be more likely to be committed to contributing their resources, whether it be their time, money, passions, or simply their regular participation in the life of the church. That is the key to sustainable stewardship: members who are committed to the present and future of the church, and understand the difference that the church makes in their lives and in the world.
Ultimately, what makes the Church different from other nonprofit groups is its mission to be the gathered body of Christ. Your church is not the only group that can feed the hungry, visit the sick, or do other works of God as commanded in Matthew 25:35-36. In fact, other organizations in your area may do the same things and do them in a more efficient manner, from a business standpoint. But the church is not a business like any other in the world. Our mission is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So, tell your stories and invite people to join you in this holy, life-giving work.