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Posts Tagged ‘stewardship

Creating Congregations of Generous People by Michael Durall, Alban Institute, 1999, 104 pp.

Creating Generous PeopleI’ve been reading a lot of book about stewardship lately, as my congregation is struggling to learn and grow in this area. Michael Durall’s book was cited by several others as an important resource. It is no longer in print, but I found a copy easily at half.com for less than a dollar.

I was surprised by the tone of this book, from the beginning. Most stewardship experts write in a way that is frank, but relentlessly encouraging. They seem to say, “You’re doing it wrong, but if you do these things, you’ll be rich!” Durall has all the frankness, but a much less cheery outlook–while maintaining that congregations can create generous people and provide ample resources for their ministry.

First, Durall acknowledges that most people give the same amount, year after year, without significant increase. He argues that traditional pledge drive methods (especially those that emphasize the annual budget) actually encourage and reinforce low-level and same-level giving patterns. Durall names the 80/20 rule–that 20% of the people carry 80% of the load of work and giving. What makes his work different, though, is that he argues that increasing stewardship is not about going after the 80%, but increasing the 20%. He says that most people in the bottom 80% do not know why they give the way they do, resist changing it, and that “attempts to increase the giving level of the bottom 80% of the congregation may be futile.”

Durall backs this up with experience and research. He counters the dictum that “money follows mission,” common in so much of the literature, including the popular J. Clif Christopher books.

Increased programming (expanding the mission) will not motivate 80% of the members of most congregations. … Parishioners who give the least are motivated by maintaining the building and the congregation. More generous parishioners believe they are also helping people who are less fortunate, and strengthening their relationship to God. (26-27)

He names the deep intransigence of a church’s giving culture, and the sustained effort required to transform it. While he does agree that people should be encouraged to give to God and not to church, that we need to be emphasizing mission, he does not think this is enough to overcome longstanding patterns of same-level and low-level giving.

Durall instead invites us to nurture the trait and spiritual discipline of generosity throughout our churches.

Charitable giving should make some difference in how we as religious people experience life from day to day. If giving to your congregation is similar to writing a check at the end of the month to pay the phone bill or the electric bill,  and then forgetting about it until the end of next month, you are not giving enough. Similarly, if you take spare change or a dollar or two from your pocket or purse for the weekly collection and never notice the difference, your giving has too little meaning either for you or for your church. (38)

The remaining chapters offer some practical advice and exercises, some of which are familiar (like not encouraging giving to the budget) and some of which were new to me. I found his advice to ministers especially helpful. While he agrees with J. Clif Christopher that ministers should know what people give, Durall assumes they probably will not, and that makes his guidance most helpful. He says that the minister should “introduce the importance of stewardship to the congregation at the earliest opportunity,” which is best accomplished by making a leadership gift and sharing that intent with the church, even before a call is issued. (49) I love this idea. He adds to the minister’s list: stressing the importance of giving to new members, encouraging a mentality of abundance over scarcity, setting vision and clarifying roles, and including stewardship in worship regularly–especially by finding ways to thank people.

Durall’s concrete advice about stewardship builds upon his realistic assessment of congregational giving culture, his claim that we are to be building generous people, and a commitment to year-round stewardship. Though it is older, Durall’s book offered new ideas and perspectives that I have already shared with my Stewardship Team and we are finding ways to use in our congregation. Some might find his less-than-optimistic read on giving cultures depressing, but I found it honest and helpful. I think this is a worthwhile addition to every pastor’s stewardship library.

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Rich Church, Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry by J. Clif Christopher. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2012. 108 pp.

Rich Church Poor ChurchThis review was originally published at the Center for Faith and Giving, who provided this book to me for review and gave permission to share here as well. If you want more strategies to become a Rich Church, I recommend their work and resources highly. They are a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a sister denomination to my own United Church of Christ.

We’ve probably all heard a convicting sermon—a message in which we recognize for ourselves how our lives have strayed from God and feel compelled to turn ourselves around, seek forgiveness, and try again. J. Clif Christopher’s Rich Church, Poor Church was a convicting book for me. With every chapter, I could catalog the ways in which my congregation has been following the bad habits of a “poor church.” However, like any good convicting sermon, Christopher’s book did not abandon me to my despair—he points the way to a future of redemption, with clear, practical, action and attitude oriented measures for churches to move from scarcity to abundance.

Rich Church, Poor Church has nothing to do with the economic status of the people who worship in the pews. What Christopher means by a “poor church” is one that is “always behind financially and searching for money, as compared to what I witness in churches that are not always struggling to find resources for mission and ministry (Rich Church).” (ix) The book catalogs the different behaviors and practices of these kinds of communities.

For example, one chapter talks about how Rich Churches focus on mission. Everything they do is about serving people, changing lives, making disciples and following Jesus. In a Poor Church, you will instead hear a great deal of conversation about the survival of the church, the need for more money, the costs of caring for the facility, and meeting the needs of the members who are already involved. Most powerfully, while the Rich Church is talking about what Jesus needs, the Poor Church is talking about what the church needs. (My own church’s recent stewardship and budget process failed miserably by Christopher’s measure.)

The chapters continue with discussions about debt management, communication, asking for support, being thankful, sharing information about giving, and more. Each chapter begins with a simple table, listing the practices of Rich Churches on one side and Poor Churches on the other. The chapters conclude with a set of questions for discussion, making this book ideal for group conversation. The book is short and easy to read, and would be a great tool in multiple settings of the church.

I’m planning to order copies for my leadership team, because we need to hear this convicting message, stop pursuing practices that are only making the problems worse, and be moved to change our ways and follow more faithfully, so that we can stop feeling like a Poor Church and start being a Rich Church.

I did a guest review for the Center for Faith and Giving this month on Clifford Jones’ Star Bookbook for Judson Press, The Star Book of Stewardship. It is part of their Star Book series which includes handbooks on worship, occasional services and more.

The Center for Faith and Giving is run by the Disciples of Christ, and is a great resource for all things stewardship in the life of the church. Follow the link and check them out!

You can find the review here, or just go directly to the Center’s home page.

Christopher, J. Clif. Whose Offering Plate Is It? New Strategies for Financial Stewardship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010. 145 pp.

This review was originally written for the Center for Faith and Giving, a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), whose mission is to create a culture of generosity across the church. You can find this review there as well, along with my review of the first volume, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. Check them out for great resources for stewardship, giving and growing generosity in your congregation. 

Whose Offering Plate is It? is the companion volume to J. Clif Christopher’s Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. Not Your Parents Offering Plate makes the hard case for why churches need to change their approach to raising money. Whose Offering Plate Is It? offers clear, concise directions about how.

Christopher moves beyond making the case that churches need to emphasize how their ministries change lives. He shows how to follow his advice with practical tips for using testimonies, emphasizing the good news, collecting stories of changed lives. His strident argument that the pastor should know members’ giving habits becomes a strategy to present this case to the church leadership and practical advice for those who might be reluctant about the effect of financial knowledge on their ability to minister impartially. Instead of just making the case for individualized stewardship letters, Christopher offers sample letters and a breakdown of various types of donor groups.

The book is based on a question-and-answer format, as Christopher addresses the most commonly asked questions that arise from his first book. He includes questions that reach beyond his own writing,  such as: “Do We Tell When Things Are Bad?” and “What Do I Do in a Bad Economy?” Many struggling churches and pastors would benefit from reading and discussing his responses.

Christopher manages to be brutally honest at the same time he is full of hope and encouragement about why the church should be excited to ask for generous gifts. He makes the case for the church and its ministries as unique in their ability to offer hope and good news in troubled times, to transform people’s lives from the inside out. He reminds us of why our mission matters, and inspires me to tell our church’s story more effectively and ask for generous gifts more boldly.

In my church, we have put into practice many of the ideas that we read in Christopher’s first book, but we definitely could have used the roadmap provided in this second volume. While you could read both books cover-to-cover, I would recommend reading the first book with a group of lay leaders, and then discussing it. When you find ideas you want to implement, then you can read just those sections of Whose Offering Plate Is It? together and use the strategies to get started. As you grow into Christopher’s ideas, you can return to this volume for the practical tools you need.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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