In Monday’s blog entry I talked about the insidiousness of the standard 3% budget increase that we have taught our members to expect from the church each year. It’s a convenient arrangement, they increase their giving 3%, we increase our budget 3% and we can expect more of the same.
I had several emails asking why I was opposed to this approach, generally with the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach.
Let’s look at the numbers.
The average United Methodist family in this country gives about 1.5% of its income to the church every year. According to Uncle Sam the average household income for a family of four in Ohio is about $68,000. So a family attending Average United Methodist Church is giving $1,020 to the church. If you think about it, run this past your financial secretary and see how accurate it is.
At $1,020 per year that averages to $85 per month or not quite $20 per week. To meet a church budget increase of 3% that family would have to increase its giving by just 60 cents per week. (At this point I tried to come up with something that costs 60 cents to hammer home the illustration. To be honest with you, I couldn’t come up with anything.)
Wrap your imagination around this scenario: The minister on Commitment Sunday gets all wound up, preaches his best fire and brimstone sermon. The congregation is at the edge of the pews, ready to charge into battle for God. “What are you calling us to do, pastor, how can we move the Kingdom of God ahead in our world?” they are all asking in their minds. As the veins pop out of the pastor’s forehead he calls on them to be good stewards, to follow the examples of Christ, to give what they have.
“God is calling you to be sacrificial givers this year,” he says. You can feel the nervous energy in the sanctuary. The organist kicks up the volume a little, getting ready to bust out the Hallelujah Chorus. The congregation leans in for a better look as the pastor reaches into his pocket. Oooh, a visual aide, you know it’s a good sermon when he has one of those. With great drama he pulls out his hand and shows the contents, two quarters and a dime.
“This, my dear friends, is the size of the vision of this church.”
The organist turns the volume down again. The congregation sits back in the pews and starts wondering what the special is at the restaurant after church.
I realize that not everyone in your congregation has an awful lot of extra cash hanging around, especially now. But is your vision for your church really only worth an extra 60 cents a week? If you presented a strong, mission-minded vision for your congregation and got them excited about it, could you ask them for an extra $2 per week? How about $5 or $10? I bet a lot of your congregation could give that much without really feeling it.
For that member of Average United Methodist Church, giving an extra $10 a week would increase his or her giving 50%. That’s the good news. The bad news is they would still just be giving a bit over 2%, but we’ll work with baby steps here.
But if the people of your congregation did increase giving by 50% you could afford one heck of a vision.
There are certainly exceptions to what I am about to say and I don’t want to paint things with an overly-broad brush. But I believe that in most of our churches the problem is not that the people do not have enough money. I believe the problem is the church doesn’t have enough vision.
A bit over a year ago I was in a Bible study talking about giving and someone said that he and his wife have not increased their giving at all in the last ten years. Not even to keep pace with inflation. The number of dollars has remained constant. He said he looks around and sees the church has enough money to do what it wants to do. We end the year in the black. We pay our apportionments. We have great clergy. No need to give more.
In his mind, level giving was getting the work of the church accomplished. No need to get crazy.
When was the last time your church cast a vision for the future? Not a 60 cent vision, but a $5 or $10 vision. I have a feeling that if you presented such a vision, not only would your current members support it, but the pews would be a bit fuller on Sunday morning.
Work with your members to develop a vision that challenges them. The results may surprise you.