When Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, decided it was time for a systematic approach to planned giving – including incoming bequests - there was really no question of how
that would be done – it was just a matter of doing it.
“We agreed that we wanted the Presbyterian Foundation to be the custodian of the endowments and gifts we would receive,” shared Pastor Ted Wright. “That decision came as the result of a longstanding relationship with those we’d known and trusted.”
The alternative, as Wright explained it, would have been to have a group of trustees who would manage those funds and make decisions regarding them. “From everything I’ve seen and heard, that tends to be a waste of good people’s time,” explained Wright, adding that it is often a ‘thankless’ and ‘no-win’ situation, requiring much energy from those involved – energy that ot
herwise could be invested into the ministry of the church.
“Frankly, I haven’t heard too many positive stories about people coming home from those meetings and thinking, “Glory to God, we’ve done the best we could,” continued Wright. There always, in Wright’s observation, seems to be some kind of second-guessing or internal conflict caused by such in-house management.
The church has set up two funds with the Foundation - Gaithersburg Presbyterian Endowment Fund and the Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church Memorial Garden and Columbarium Fund.
Several recent gifts had been given for the upkeep and maintenance of the church’s new columbarium and memorial garden. To keep those designated monies separate the church decided to create two separate funds. The general endowment includes the areas of worship and music, education and nurture, buildings and property and local and global mission.
For Wright, who came to Gaithersburg three years ago after four years in overseas mission service, the church’s willingness to engage in issues of planned giving has been a welcome surprise.
He realized during the late 90’s that there would begin to be a generational transfer of wealth as the World War II generation, a generation with unparalleled discretionary wealth, passed on. During that time the congregations that Wright served did not share his vision for the need to cultivate a culture of planned giving.
“I thought to myself back then, this is something that is really being missed – and there will be a day when you will regret that you didn’t cultivate it,” said Wright.
Serving in the field in Africa only served to convince him further of the need to cultivate such a climate of giving. While in the field he saw what could be done when those with a vision and a well-planned approach can tell the story of what God is doing in the world, and attract gifts by doing so.
So, when Wright arrived at Gaithersburg and found not only a willingness, but an untapped desire to be proactive in the area of planned giving, he was thrilled.
“This is work I’d been wanting to do elsewhere and couldn’t,” he explained. “But when I came here I realized that there were people who were waiting for a pastor who has the vision – now we’re going somewhere.”
The church not only caught the vision, but has it well-organized. A planned giving committee, a recognition society, and a planned giving policy are all part of their offering.
“When donors think that you don’t know what you are going to do, they are likely not to give you funds,” explained Wright. It is why, he believes, it is important for a church to not only have a plan in place, but also to ‘project a readiness’ to use planned gifts.
“Usually in planned giving, what you sow today will bear fruit far beyond your time,” explained Wright. A congregation might get an immediate reward, but it is not something to count on, according to Wright. “To be reaping rewards now you should have done the work a dozen years ago,” said Wright. “But since I can’t turn back the clock, all we can do is to start now and plan for the future.”
It is something that he and the other leaders at Gaithersburg are trying to inculcate into the culture of the congregation. But it is also something, Wright admits, that takes time.
“Most people can do more financially for the Kingdom of God the day they die than they can before,” said Wright. “Why
shouldn’t your stewardship survive your time on earth?”
What will be your witness, Wright asks, when you are gone?
For the leadership at Gaithersburg it is a pressing question as the 49-year-old church finds itself in the midst of a demographic transition similar to many congregations in changing neighborhoods. Just outside of Washington, DC, the church began as a plant of the southern arm of the Presbyterian Church in what was a rapidly growing, primarily white suburb. The neighborhood now is approaching a majority immigrant population, many of whom have a lower income potential than their aging predecessors. Over twenty percent of the church’s membership is foreign born with the majority coming from more than a half dozen African countries.
It is a congregation, as Wright describes it, in transition.
Because of that it is even more important, in Wright’s opinion, to lay a solid foundation of planned giving. “At least in the foreseeable future, just as the median income in this part of the county has dropped fairly substantially, I can anticipate that the income resources for this congregation will perhaps level off or drop off,” he continued.
Wright believes that for the future of the church it is important to sow now so that eventually they will be able to reap the benefits of planned giving to help the church through this time of transition as they determine how to sustain ministry into the future.
“You can’t take it with you, it is true,” said Wright. “So the question becomes, how are you going to leave it?”