“As long as we talk about making stewardship more effective, it won’t work.”
Giving money to the church, whether in literal “tithing” (10 percent), another percentage gift, or a different form is a genuine act of prayer, praise, sacrifice, and worship. And much like with any other area of sacrifice or worship, conversion comes first. As we’ve discussed before, the act of spiritual giving is an essential part of formation as a disciple. It’s a step along the path–much like taking the leap of faith to add more contemplative prayer time each day, or attend a weekly small group.
But what about this time of year? The end of the calendar year when Americans are most likely to make additional financial gifts. Or what about your capital campaign? Or what about all the times a diocese might ask for additional giving? How do we give generously while still participating in spiritual giving, and not ‘fundraising’?
Catholic parishes are much more likely to have a “pay the bills” culture than other Christian congregations (at least according to this study). Now, imagine a parish has undergone the deep cultural transformation away from need and scarcity as the driving reasons to give, this is a great thing! A wonderful shift! But, what about when that next diocesan appeal or parish capital campaign rolls around? Does the parish revert to a “fundraising” mentality of needing to “raise enough money” to meet a specific monetary goal? Or is there another option?
Absolutely. If you’ve begun the cultural changes to move from “fundraising” to giving as discipleship on a weekly basis, then let those changes resound, rather than retreat, when it comes time for a special effort.
For example, if you’re talking about a capital campaign, when it comes to spiritual giving, it’s not about the building. Really. It’s the why not the what that matters the most. Needing space to grow is too narrow a why, it still makes it all about a building. Instead think broader, what is the transformation that will occur for those you minister with and to? What is the impact on the surrounding community? As you discern God’s call on your parish to a wider vision, remember that a “capital” campaign can be for almost anything that requires a specific period of new funding above and beyond your operational budget. Buildings? Yes. Formation for ministry? Yes. Special communications? Yes. Non-brick and mortar needs show the depth and reality of that broader vision, that it really isn’t just about a building. Because when it comes down to it, what can facilities alone do to transform the world in the light of the Gospel?
The Rise campaign of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is a great example of this. There’s an easy to remember vision that this is a campaign to accelerate the Gospel movement in NYC toward a tipping point for the renewal of the city. It’s not just clever marketing or avoiding communications mistakes (like these “Worst Themes Ever for a Capital Campaign”). The intended uses of financial support (start up funding for new church plants, seminary and lay leader training, and new buildings) are clear and multi-faceted.
Okay, so once your parish has a Spirit-driven vision, and knows what needs require a concrete infusion of resources to become a reality, how to “ask”?
A guiding principle from Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD is that at the core it’s “about giving more of our hearts to God” (Sermon, “Groundbreaking 5: Vision,” April 24, 2016). Invite people to be a part of the fullness of your vision, not merely “give money.” Be consistent, you’ve worked hard to change the culture by not talking about “paying the bills” or “what we owe annually to the diocese,” so keep the same emphasis on percentage, planned giving. Reflect on how the spiritual act of “tithing” (whether a literal tenth or other percentage) has impacted each person’s embodied discipleship–both the challenges and spiritual fruits.
According to the National Survey of Catholic Parishes, 25% of parishes make special requests for year-end giving or capital campaigns, and almost all contribute to diocesan annual appeals. If a parish isn’t rooted in spiritual giving, then these campaigns quickly turn into mere fundraisers. Where both the need and end is raising money. Period. Don’t give into this temptation. Evangelize giving, so that it’s a full response to the Gospel and life in Christ, as well as part of God’s vision for Gospel transformation in your community, wherever that is.