I am genuinely impressed at the way public radio stations unabashedly ask for the money they need. They highlight public radio’s unique mission, excellent quality, and public service. They appeal to listeners’ self-interest in terms of both the time that members of the radio audience spend listening to the station and the importance of preserving listeners’ favorite programs. Public radio appeals to people’s character, both positively and negatively, by hinting that good people pay for the services they use, rather than freeloading from others, and care enough about the things they value to become part of a community committed to preserving those ideals and services. Public radio stations also express their appreciation with rewards, special opportunities, and gifts. They do all this without apology, embarrassment, discomfort, or shame, because they are so convinced of the value of the product and service they provide.
Congregations needing to raise money can and do use these same fund-raising techniques, often to great success. They frame people’s giving of money to the church as a response to a given need, the congregation’s performance, a budget or budgetary shortfall, or people’s attitudes and feelings. The preacher might appeal to a special project, such as a new roof. The church in the United States has a rich history of inviting people to contribute to worthwhile causes and special projects, and of partnering those invitations with fund-raising techniques. The more the preacher can make the project sound urgent and compelling, the better the results will be. For example, the best time to appeal for a new roof is undoubtedly a rainy Sunday morning when the worship space is cluttered with buckets collecting the raindrops that find their way through the church’s leaky roof. The best way to make the appeal might be to divide the cost of the roof by the number of shingles needed to cover it and sell shingles at the resulting price.
The preacher might point to the congregation’s mission, to all the good things the church is doing, as if to say, “This is a worthwhile institution” or “This is a good investment.” The preacher highlights the benefits the congregation provides members and the positive difference the congregation makes in the community and the world. Closely related, the preacher might appeal to people’s sense of gratitude for or loyalty to the congregation, inviting people to give back for all the benefits they receive or have received in the past. This is perhaps a better approach when a congregation’s mission was more vital in the past, and members appreciate the congregation’s legacy and want to preserve it.
Some congregations make the annual budget the impetus for giving and ask people to contribute their fair share . Leaders might divide the total budget by the number of giving units to provide a benchmark for giving. In this fee-for-service or member-dues approach, congregational leaders often attempt to demonstrate that they are spending the congregation’s money prudently and asking only for what is absolutely necessary. For their part, some congregational members genuinely appreciate this approach, because it employs a business model and does not theologize or spiritualize necessary giving. Some leaders want congregants to understand themselves as members of a club or group who pay the required dues. Interestingly, rather than viewing themselves as club members, some parishioners see themselves as consumers who pay for what they receive apart from committing to the faith or the church. Still other members of the congregation carefully scrutinize and even quibble over the budget, cutting what they deem extravagant or superfluous, as they determine whether the congregation’s leadership deserves their continued or increased giving. Sometimes, members of the congregation will move to amend or decrease the budget so that they do not have to increase their giving.
Appealing for money in response to an urgent need, the congregation’s performance, people’s attitudes and feelings, or the annual budget is not bad or inappropriate. In fact, in critical times, these fund-raising techniques may be a congregation’s best way of generating the money it urgently needs. The issue is that these ways of answering the question of why people should give to the church, or grow in their giving, are not preaching . While God and the gospel might be implied or assumed, they are not the explicit answer to the question, “Why should I give money to the church or grow in my giving of money to the church?”
“We preach Christ crucified,” Paul declares, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24, transl. mine). When the need to raise money is urgent, proclaiming Christ crucified can strike us as foolish and, in fact, turn out to be a stumbling block to success. Yet, preaching is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. As tempting as it is to do what is expedient or popular, to say what is burning in the preacher’s heart, to give the correct answer, and to outline the best course of action, preaching is always a word from God about God’s love—for us and all creation—and the new life that God brings in Jesus Christ. It is inappropriate and even dishonest to pull a kind of bait and switch and replace what people expect in a sermon—the promise of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, justice, and participation in God’s own life revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—with a fund-raising appeal. When congregational leadership determines that a fund-raising appeal is necessary, this appeal should never replace the sermon. In fact, making such an appeal from the pulpit is confusing. Some preachers and congregational leaders argue that, when a fund-raising appeal is made in the worship service, it is best that a congregational leader other than the preacher make that appeal to distinguish the proclamation of the gospel from an appeal about the financial needs of the congregation. In these ways, we avoid fund-raising from the pulpit.
Comments welcome on the Alban Roundtable Blog
Adapted from Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow by Craig A. Satterlee, copyright © 2011 by the Alban Institute.
Craig Satterlee is leading an online seminar through Andover Newton Theological School entitled “Why Is It So Hard to Preach About Money?” Click here for more information and to register.
Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow
by Craig A. Satterlee
Both new and veteran preachers alike find the annual stewardship sermon a challenge and are eager for encouraging, practical advice. In Preaching and Stewardship, Craig Satterlee offers a nuts-and-bolts handbook on preaching stewardship, raising issues preachers need to consider when preparing stewardship sermons and offering advice on how to address them. Satterlee argues that stewardship preaching must include a bold and concrete proclamation of God’s love, will, and justice, as well as an invitation to grow as stewards in response to this proclamation. .
When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition
by Craig A. Satterlee
Homiletics professor and parish pastor Craig Satterlee reflects on how to integrate significant transitions in a congregation’s life into the preaching ministry of the church. Issues considered include: (1) the benefits and risks of using preaching to address transition, (2) how to incorporate transition into the form, content, and delivery of the sermon, and (3) how transition affects the preacher’s ability to proclaim and the congregation’s ability to receive the message.
When God Speaks through Worship: Stories Congregations Live By
by Craig A. Satterlee
When God Speaks through Worship: Stories Congregations Live By is a collection of stories of congregational worship in which God’s ongoing presence, speech, and activity are apparent. These stories of proclaiming the gospel, teaching the faith, praying, singing, baptizing, blessing, and sharing bread and wine in Jesus’s name share the purpose of these activities in worship, yet still challenge the reader to explore the motives behind them.
When God Speaks through You: How Faith Convictions Shape Preaching and Mission
by Craig A. Satterlee
Craig Satterlee helps congregations learn to articulate their convictions about the Christian faith and share them in a nonthreatening manner. This prepares them for broader conversation about how people’s faith convictions shape both their lives and the congregation’s worship, life together, and mission.
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