How Do We Talk About Money at Church?

Okay. So, you buy into the idea that churches need to foster and form disciples who give, not simply because money is needed, but as an act of worship, an action inherently a part of discipleship. But now what?

The most important way to demonstrate and communicate this to a local church is through Sunday preaching. This is such a difficult topic for many to preach on (and for many to hear!) it’s well suited for a sermon series. This creates the space for meditation on the Scriptures, discerning God’s will, and helping form hearers into the full picture and vision of what God is doing in their life, in the life of the local church/parish, and in salvation history. (Yeah, unlikely most hearers could take all of that in during one sermon!).

Adam Hamilton and the Rebuilt pastoral team both give the great advice that these kind of sermon series should be done sparingly. It’s a deep topic for disciples, not the focus for every season of the year. This opens up time and resources for preparation and follow-up!

Image: Carmen Degelia @ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

An Example of a Stewardship Series

As a great example of what an integrated series and follow-up can look like, check out Len Wilson’s project for St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

He explains:

“We broadened the message to include not just giving, but the entire spectrum of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus – for us, that includes a four part strategy of Worship, Connect, Serve and Give.

This four part strategy is embedded in the story of Jesus calling Simon Peter the fisherman on the shore in Luke 5. We used this story as the basis for the campaign, which ran for four Sundays. Here’s a description of the series from the Creative Brief I wrote”

The “Creative Brief” is a great tool for getting a grasp on a sample format for concisely communicating main ideas and deadlines in a way an entire church can plan around, so that all ministries are aligned and integrated in the effort!

Do you have any great tools you’d like to share to help others plan stewardship sermons? Tell us in the Comment Box!


Evangelize Giving: Capital Campaigns & Year-End Asks Not Excluded

As long as we talk about  making stewardship more effective, it won’t work.”
                                                                                       –Don McClanen

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.

Budgeting with Disciples

Giving financially as a spiritual act of discipleship is part of our growth as disciples–not an optional, extra add on for those who are “rich” or do “financial planning” to make major gifts to charities and the like. If you’ve decided that percentage giving (sometimes called tithing, though historically this would specifically refer to 10%) is the form of giving most likely to go hand-in-hand with discipleship, implementation can be a tough road.

A first question (especially this time of year, as Fiscal Years for churches come to an end) is how do we set the budget?

If percentage giving is about disciples discerning a call to sacrifice and participate in God’s work financially, how can a parish staff (or finance council, parish council, etc.) tell them what the total of their giving should be?

Two main techniques for setting the “revenue” part of a budget:

  • Incremental Increases — Using this technique, a parish or ministry takes giving from the previous year and simply increases it. How to do this realistically? Look at other indicators in your area, i.e. Cost of Living Adjustments calculated by government agencies, inflation, wage growth, etc. While these can’t tell you how the Holy Spirit will lead the disciples in your parish 🙂 these indicators can help keep you in the “ballpark” of the economic realities your givers likely reside in. Beware, it’s easy to be too optimistic in incremental increases, i.e. a 3-5% increase is considered (in secular studies) to be “aggressive” and anything more than 8-10% really requires additional staff, initiatives, etc. to be implemented successfully.
  • Committee/Commission/Department Driven — Here, all of the departments, programs, committees, and/or commissions of a parish are consulted and asked for an expense prediction for the next fiscal year. Then, whatever is above last year’s revenue becomes the new revenue goal for the next Fiscal Year. This can work well in parishes where the needs aren’t changing, or a parish in “maintenance” mode. [But should any parishes be in maintenance mode today? I think not!]

Many parishes also use a combination of these two methods. The most critical piece for discipleship, however, is to not allow the raw $ amounts to drive the reason for giving. We don’t give to the parish because the parish needs it. We give because God has revealed this to us as part of communio, part of living as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Practically, shifting to an emphasis on percentage giving means that parishioners need to have a greater understanding and ownership for the reason the parish exists, for the specific mission and vision of being Church in a concrete time/place–for what makes this community of disciples life-changing and essential. Percentage giving generally means that there’s an annual (or semi-annual) emphasis for disciples to discern and make a commitment. Logistically, this takes additional volunteer leaders/ministers to carry the message, create materials (like cards or websites so that the parish has an idea of what givers are committing to).

While this may seem like a burden, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good that the Pastor can’t do it alone. The Parish Council can’t do it alone. By striving for the widest participation, parishes can come to know the parishioners on the margins–those who aren’t experiencing the joy of discipleship, those who are facing financial difficulties, those who’ve never felt “needed” or a part of this local embodiment of the Body of Christ. And, by moving toward progressive giving as a spiritual sacrifice (rather than “extra money” given to “fundraising at the church”) we create the space for believers to experience discerning a tough issue, to experience what feels like a “risk” for God, to pray about something that matters personally to each and every one, to experience what it means to trust.

Top 5 Techniques for Increasing Giving in Catholic Parishes

As we’ve looked at from various angles, spiritual giving is an essential characteristic of disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ have been contributing to the church and mission from the earliest days–and it’s the act of sacrificial giving, rather than the size of the gift, that’s always mattered the most.

Once you’re on the path to focusing on conversion and discipleship first, how do you set the conditions for a fruitful stewardship culture?

The Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University provides valuable research into empirical trends shaping stewardship in Catholic parishes. In a 2014 conference presentation, Center Director Charles Zech brought together various studies to present the “five best parish activities” for positively impacting giving.

#1 — Open Parish Forum to Discuss Finances and Budget (29% increase)

Having an open forum to discuss finances and annual budgets results in a 29% increase in giving. Why? I think it’s due to a sense of ownership and transparency. Parish finances aren’t the sole responsibility of the pastor, business manager, or finance council–every baptized believer has the duty and responsibility to care about how the community’s resources are being used for the mission of the Church in this world. Ownership begets ownership. When missionary disciples in a parish are treated as relevant to financial/budgetary discussions, then these same disciples look to the parish as relevant to their own work of spiritual giving. The ability to manage communications content and media to create and share such forums is an important competency for ministerial leaders (while not specific to budget–check out how Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI not only hosts a “town hall” parish meeting, but makes the presentations and Q&A public via video).

#2 — Preach Tithing (27% increase)

Tithing is a framework for spiritual giving that involves discernment and commitment to give a set percentage of one’s income. I so rarely hear about it in Catholic preaching (see here and #7 here for some exceptions). Preaching tithing is not about fundraising. And, it’s certainly not about guilt trips. It’s about breaking open God’s Word so that the assembly is transformed by hearing how God’s plan has always been for His followers to consider material goods/resources a gift from which a portion must be first given back to God. Giving is a part of one’s worship, thanksgiving, praise, and spirituality as a whole–nothing less! Preaching is a critical means through which ministers lead a body of believers to a common vision and demonstrate what’s important for the whole church. From the Sunday Eucharistic homily to weekday night preaching after a potluck dinner, the message matters. If spiritual giving matters, it should make it into preaching messages.

#3 + #5 — Stewardship Committee [for 7 years or more] and Separate Stewardship Committee  (27% and 22% increases, respectively)

Now we’re getting into organizational techniques. Zech’s research synthesis shows that having a Stewardship Committee that’s separate from the parish council (or Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Advisory Council, etc.) and also separate from the Finance Council matters. Zech notes that the separation from the Finance Council is important because it shows that Stewardship isn’t some churchy-euphanism for fundraising, and in fact goes beyond financial resources. I’d guess that the greater impact of Stewardship Committees apart from a Parish Council is a result of difficulty translating vision and execution between two council/committees. And, the increased opportunities for synergy with other leadership circles in the parish (i.e. faith formation leaders, etc.) However, even slightly more important than how the Stewardship Committee is organized, is it’s presence and longevity. So 🙂 stick with it! No technique is a silver-bullet, and sustainable long-term improvements are more important than taking a quick/easy financial gain that sacrifices the bigger picture.

#4 — Communicate on Stewardship Through a Parish Newsletter (23%)

The take-away here is less about a “newsletter” (per se) and more about the idea of regular communications, rooted in the ownership and discipleship culture so important to the entire endeavor. Newsletters might be the most effective form of communication in many parishes today, but this will vary tremendously by location and parish culture. Most of the larger and more diverse parishes in the United States would likely need to use multiple communications media to be highly effective in communicating on stewardship. Bottom line, whatever the most effective form(s) of communication is in your parish, use it for providing regular updates on stewardship. Many of the techniques for effective church annual reports would also apply to regular updates on stewardship.

Again, it’s important to remember that fostering the conversion in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that evangelizes the world is what the Church on earth is all about. Stewarding our individual and communal resources, including financial ones, is an essential part of how we live in the Spirit as disciples.

Research gives us tactics that we can use to operate in a way that is optimal for giving. Think of it as removing barriers–solid management techniques like the ones listed above aren’t (usually!) the cause of life-changing encounter with Jesus or a means for spiritual conversion, but by having the operational basics down, we make sure that it’s not our choices (i.e. a lack of transparency, no preaching on giving, etc.) that prevent someone from growing as a Christian through the opportunity to be a faithful steward of the resources God entrusts to us!

It’s Annual Report Time! Does Your Parish Have One?

For many Catholic parishes, summertime means it is time to close the books on the fiscal year and compile an annual report. While this may seem like something of only passing interest to pastors, pastoral associates, or other ministry staff, it is an opportunity to grow in faith through both the process of preparing the report and the messages you choose to communicate. Now, you might be thinking that this is sheer nonsense. But, think of how much care our Gospel evangelists took in communicating Jesus’ teachings on money. Each knew that for his first century audience, money mattered—and it does just as much for those we minister to today. How then can we follow in their examples in our modern context?

  1. Money is the How, Not the What

Financial resources enable parishes and ministries to be Church—to do and embody the work of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. An annual report that conveys financial data without sharing what impact the financial resources made misses the point. As Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. recently challenged ministers, “material health means nothing for a Church, unless it sets the stage for something more important:  renewing the heart and spirit.” Now, it is a good starting point for parishioners to know if the parish came in over or under budget for the fiscal year. At a minimum, communicating financial status creates an atmosphere of trust in a culture where many do not trust the Church when it comes to money. Managing with excellence matters and impacts ability to meet financial goals:

However, a parish that finishes the year “in the black” and able to cover all expenses may be doing so without having the impact the Holy Spirit calls us to. An annual report is an opportunity to move from the (commendable!) starting point of offering transparent financial data (an outstanding example from the Archdiocese of Atlanta) to sharing God’s work among disciples.

  1. Don’t Just Tell About the Parish. Tell About the Impact of God’s Action.

            Hearing stories of God’s action in our world is a powerful means of conversion. Consider the Acts of the Apostles—episode after episode of vivid testimony to God intervening in the world to reconcile and transform. Imagine what the Acts of the Apostles would be like if its author, Luke the Evangelist, simply provided us quantitative data—that Paul made sixteen visits to synagogues, the Hellenist deacons delivered eight pounds of food, that Peter baptized twenty-five young adults, etc. [Note: these figures are completely hypothetical and do not reflect any Biblical analysis.] Yet in many annual reports, the story of God’s work in the parish is told quantitatively, without emphasis on impact and transformation. Or, it is told as a list of “what we did” (that is usually also available on the parish’s website by looking at ministry lists) rather than the more essential kernel of “what happened, what was the impact?” Reports of conversion and transformation in the Acts of the Apostles became models of God’s action for Christians in the first century through today. But, the power of the Holy Spirit is not contained by history. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thes. 5:11). It is hard to be a disciple of Jesus Christ while wondering about what God is doing in our present day, in one’s own community. Hearing stories and testimonies of God’s impact in the parish helps form the expectations of parishioners so that they too will be ready to look for the Holy Spirit intervening powerfully. Having examples of God’s impact in the annual report fosters common language and shared experience—suddenly, the victory is the entire parish’s, suddenly those who may be unsure of their faith or wonder how God works today might become curious, and all know that this parish is a place where (at least the ministerial staff) is ready to talk about such things.

  1. Introduce People.

Catholic parishes are big—according to a 2010 CARA study, the average U.S. parish includes 3,277 registered members. The annual report is a great opportunity to put faces, to names, to programs, and beyond. Instead of simply describing programs, introduce people. Include photographs of leaders, volunteers, and/or participants and share stories and testimonies. Think of the many individual encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John—the evangelist does not merely give us generic summaries, but gives us names and personal stories so that the power and work of Jesus is more truly communicated. The annual report is also an opportunity to share stories of what spiritual giving means for those in your parish. For many, the parish is just another charitable option—but this is contrary to how a disciple understands and stewards money. By focusing on how money has been a means of conversion in the lives of real people, you can help transform the conversation so that finances become a pathway to conversion.

Motivated to make a change or do more? Check out more detailed tips from: 26 Lessons from 15 Church Annual Reports | unSeminary

No Stewardship Without Discipleship

“You can work the pants off money, but if you’re not deeply into Christ and the Spirit, all the talk, theology, biblical study, [and] suffering of the world won’t make any difference. It’s a spiritual problem. As long as we talk about  making stewardship more effective, it won’t work.” (Don McClanen quoted in Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church, 1996).

When it comes time to look back at the past fiscal year and consider future budget needs (as many ministries do in the summer months), it’s tempting to focus on the financial bottom line. Leading us to conversations like this: we need better stewardship–by which we really mean–we need people to give more money. More giving. Better fundraising. You know how it goes…

But here’s the thing, the Church and your local ministry/parish are not like any other charitable organization. Our givers make donations, but reducing them to “donors” is missing the big picture–and that bigger picture is discipleship.

Giving (in classic tithing or a different spiritual form) is an act of prayer, praise, sacrifice, and worship. Conversion must come first. The act of spiritual giving then becomes 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.

The good news is that more and more organizations and dioceses are starting to put forth the essential connection that discipleship comes before stewardship/giving. Check out this evidence from the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota. However, the real challenge is at the parish level. Though measuring foundational conversion, response to initial proclamation, and discipleship is a nuanced (and certainly not exact!) process, it would seem that most people registered with parishes have not had that life-changing response. So, we have to have the patience to wait on stewardship so that the conversion that changes the direction of one’s life, definitively, happens first (Deus Caritas Est §1). But what about the bills due this month? This year?!? Tough situation. In many cases it may be necessary to shrink materially, in order to prioritize conversion–knowing and trusting that God will provide through changed hearts and increases in giving disciples in years to come. This isn’t ordinary parish budgeting. It feels risky. But, deep down inside–most of us would admit it’s the right approach. Raise up disciples first, then stewards. The other key component of this approach, is that we actually have to have a strategy for forming disciples as givers within parish life. So, if a parish isn’t sure that most people are growing in any way as disciples to begin with–then it’s hard to envision how to add spiritual giving as a component of that growth process.

In a nutshell, a parish/ministry worried about finances should focus less on money and more on: 1) Cultivating life-changing foundational conversion to discipleship, 2) Growing disciples in all areas, and 3) Making sure one of the areas for disciples to grow in is spiritual giving. Then, and only then 🙂 is it time to sit down and worry about stewardship (or fundraising) strategies.

Huge cultural change. Huge opportunity for the Spirit to work. Start praying about it during these summer months.

Outward Looking Parish Finances


Awesome. That’s looking outward, and putting your resources where our Catholic theology points! The follow-up questions would be [drumroll] … is this boldness communicated and understood by the parish? By the community? It’s not about marketing to make ourselves look good, but communications to share a vision. To inspire others by example.