For many religious people, their faith and their money live in an uneasy truce with each other. Seldom are we encouraged to see our attitudes about—and actions done with—our money as essential aspects of our spiritual formation as believers. Our wallets don’t appreciate our faith meddling with their contents, and our faith wants to think of itself as above such gritty worldly issues as money and the way we spend it.
I know there are individuals, congregations, and organizations that feel and act differently about the relationship between spiritual formation and money, and recently I have gotten to know one such group, a midwestern organization that focuses its work on stewardship and capital campaigns. The James Company describes itself as offering “a wide range of development and fundraising services and materials to help congregations cultivate and gather their resources to accomplish specific goals.”
In preparation for an upcoming series of four online webinars that the James Company will be leading for the Alban Institute, a “Year-Round Stewardship Toolkit,” I invited their president, John Clark, to reflect on what congregations need to keep in mind about their relationship with their money, particularly in these tough economic times for individuals and the faith communities to which they belong.
—Wayne Whitson Floyd, Education Program Manager, The Alban Insitute
(Note: The webinar series begins September 24, at 1 p.m. EDT, with a free webinar entitled, “Becoming a Generous Congregation.” All it will cost you is an hour of your time. Be there!)
Wayne Floyd: John, what is your main goal in helping congregations to explore spiritual formation and their money?
John Clark: Fulfilling mission in our congregations is our primary goal. So, focus on mission. Mission consists of identity, values, and strengths for ministry. Whatever else you do, I tell them, do not let reactive decisions interfere with the congregation’s ability to carry out its mission. Ask, “Will what we are choosing to do jeopardize our ability to carry out our mission?”
Oftentimes the mission is not deep enough into congregational consciousness. So be sure to communicate your reason for being, over and over. It seems self-evident, but begin by remembering your identity—who you are.
Then be sure to account for your mission effectiveness. Emphasize the real outcomes of your mission. The church that consistently and creatively articulates a compelling vision and celebrates the effectiveness of its mission will attract generosity.
Even in the midst of personally challenging times, people still want to make a difference. The church that vividly tells its story and challenges the community to live beyond itself attracts financial resources.
Wayne Floyd: How important is it for congregational leaders to assess their ministries honestly, including how they are doing with the money their members have provided for the congregation’s ministries?
John Clark: Nothing substitutes for a realistic appraisal of your ministry. Bring the budget, contributions, and expenses into alignment and create a credible reality for everyone.
Rather than focusing on whether or not you are increasing the budget or meeting the budget, communicate how well you are accomplishing your ministry goals. Explain that your ministry is vital to many people and that sustained and increased giving will make a difference in people’s lives.
Churches must speak more intentionally and directly about how people are dealing with day-to-day finances. People are accustomed to a consumer-driven lifestyle. People have too much debt and say they cannot even think about saving. Do we think the answer is any different about their generosity?
We need to meet people where they are in their finances. We need to teach and coach about how we manage money resources. We need to help people learn how to get out of debt. We need to teach about saving. We need to teach people to live above consumerism.
The church that teaches about sound, biblical financial practices will create a generous culture that supports a compelling vision of mission and ministry.
Build the trust connection with people. Tell people frequently how their financial gifts are being used and how their giving is making a difference. Celebrate generosity. Maintain an open approach about church finances. And most importantly, find as many ways as possible to say thank you.
Wayne Floyd: What are the most important questions you ask congregations as they plan to undertake the ministries they have decided are central to their identity?
John Clark: Our strategy for planning ministry is to ask three questions: What are our strengths, those things we do well? What do we do okay and should improve? What could we begin to do?
Here’s a question that is rarely asked: What is it we should stop doing? Most churches will acknowledge that there are some activities, events, programs, or ministries that they do in order to be “full service,” not because they are good at them.
Churches need to focus on their core strengths in ministry and channel their financial resources toward them. Stop ineffective ministry. People have to adjust their budgets by stopping spending that they’d rather not stop, and the church needs to do the same. We need to model how to adjust spending patterns.
Wayne Floyd: How do you get congregations to take the first crucial steps toward deepening their generosity?
John Clark: I believe that once we put aside our fear and begin to trust God, we can awaken the desire to be as generous as we have always wanted to be. Now is the time for generosity.
Churches that demonstrate generosity in their commitment to sustained mission will grow generous giving. Generosity is a spiritual issue. The church that aligns spiritual formation and money will never lack. Yet, it is hard to give generously without understanding and believing in the connection between faith and finances.
Our mission, our ministries, and our generosity are deeply bound together. Once we can start dealing with our money as a part of our spiritual formation, we will find we are more faithful with both.
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