Bridging the gap between generations

The good people in the Conference Communications Office asked me to contribute to the fall edition of Joining Hands Magazine. This issue deals with bridging the gap between generations and below are my thoughts. If you haven’t read it yet  or don’t receive a subscription you can read it on-line.

In response to the earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross invited people to send a text that would result in a $10 donation to help their relief efforts.  More than $33 million was raised this way from 3.2 million individual donors.  At one point, 900 such gifts were made in a single second.

Unfortunately the church is not as adept to change as the Red Cross.  I would bet that if you looked back to the stewardship program of your church 50 years ago, it would look very familiar.  Every October or November you ask your members to make a financial commitment to support the church for the following year.  You may mention tithing but not really expect most of your members to do so.  You have the same pledge cards, the same offering envelopes sized to hold cash or checks and ushers passing the plate each Sunday.

Can you imagine if the Red Cross still did business the way they did 50 years ago?

We have already recognized that “church” needs to bridge the gap to be relevant these days.  The music has changed, we are more accepting of a casual dress code and we may even see a Starbucks cup during worship.   If we are to ask younger generations to support the church, stewardship needs to make changes as well.

Younger people are less likely to want to support the institution of the church.  They don’t care about the copier contract or the pastor’s health insurance costs.  They want to invest in what they deem to be important: changing lives.  Show them how their financial contributions help feed the hungry, clothe the poor and comfort the afflicted.  Stop hiding shared mission funding and lift up the work the church is doing in the area and around the world.

Make giving possible for a generation that rarely carries cash or a checkbook.  Are you set up to receive electronic transfers either one time or regularly every month?  Can a member stop by the church office after worship to swipe a debit card to pay a special offering or even register a child for Vacation Bible School?

Talk about money all year.  The old stewardship model assumed that the person in the pew in August had been there the previous November to hear the stewardship sermon.  How do you respond year-round to not only new members but also new attendees who may never join?

And finally, be transparent.  Finances that are open and available to all people suggest good management and wise stewardship of your resources.  Do you have a narrative budget that shows how much of that copier contract supports missions and that utility expenses are actually costs to feed the hungry?  Keep this information available and easy to find on your website.

Businesses have learned they need to make it easy for us to be their customers.  How hard is it for someone to be a paying “customer” at your church?

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