A new year, a new goal

January 25, 2022 by Robyn Davis Sekula

Stewardship is answering the call of God to fulfill our larger purpose. And it begins with two questions: What matters to you? What is important to your church?

Exploring and answering these questions provides you and your congregation the opportunity to connect with the larger world through gifts to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) agencies, including the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Special Offerings. It’s an opportunity to be a force for good in the community and around the world.

What follows is an unofficial guide for how you might approach stewardship in each month of the year. These are merely suggestions. What’s most important here is to be thinking about stewardship year-round as a spiritual discipline.

January: Review and evaluate

January is an invitation to take stock and adjust for the coming year. It’s not too late to ask those who have not pledged to do so.

The easiest way to get a sense of who might have skipped filling out a pledge card is to pull a list of LYBNTY — that’s “last year but not this year” — pledgers. Who pledged for 2021 but not 2022?

Reach out to those who have not pledged to see if they are willing to make a pledge, or if they are facing difficult circumstances that preclude a commitment. Perhaps personal difficulties have kept them from making a commitment, or they have a health concern for themselves or their family that has consumed their time and thoughts.

In both instances, you can pray with this person and ask how the church can serve them.

Monthly Focus — Stewardship is a pastoral care opportunity. Reach out to those in the congregation with a call.

February: Share the love

Holding a February “love-fest” is a great opportunity to remind people what’s great about your church — and to have a positive effect on stewardship — without asking for a dime. Here’s how you might accomplish this.

Put small sheets of paper (index card-sized, perhaps) in shades of pink and white at the end of each pew in a small basket along with some pens or pencils. Announce from the pulpit why those papers are there. Ask worshipers to place those notes in a basket near the exits of the church and collect them after the service. You can tack them to billboards, snap photos of them for social media or display them in other ways.

Ask permission to share them from the pulpit on the following Sundays. If you do this on the first Sunday in February, you’ll have three more Sundays in February to share the love notes.

In this age of virtual worship, you can also ask people to email the church office with their reasons why they love the church, or post it as a comment on Facebook, YouTube or wherever your church is active on social media.

Monthly Focus — Ask members of your congregation to share why they love their church.

March: Take a broad view of stewardship

During Lent, think about stewardship of the Earth, as well as acts of kindness and generosity.

“Tread Lightly for Lent” is a resource produced by the Presbyterian Hunger Program. This is a downloadable four-page calendar that suggests simple things you can do each day to better connect you with the impact that your own choices make on the planet, along with reflections, verses and thoughts that pair with this theme.

In the United Kingdom, an idea that has taken root is “40 Acts,” which challenges participants to an act of kindness for each of the 40 days in the season. If you sign up at 40acts.org.uk, you’ll wake up with a new kindness challenge in your inbox every day. This is operated by Stewardship Services, a London-based nonprofit.

Monthly Focus — Practice good stewardship of the Earth and acts of kindness during Lent.

Every month should be an opportunity for your church to address stewardship Here, an offering is collected at Central Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, Ohio. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Foundation

April: Review your pledge system

Look at the church’s pledge cards. In fact, consider renaming them “estimate of giving” cards. This appeals particularly to younger generations who may feel they need some flexibility in giving and are wary of making a binding pledge, says Robert Hay Jr., senior ministry relations officer for the Presbyterian Foundation. Also, create a way for your members to complete such a form online or even just provide an email address for a church staff member who can take the information. Make it as easy as possible for people to let you know how they plan to contribute in the coming year.

Monthly Focus — Create easy ways for people to let you know their estimated giving amount for the coming year.

May: Plan for the future

In the PC(USA), the first Sunday in May is designated as Legacy Giving Sunday. Ask your congregation to consider how God may be calling them to contribute to the world beyond their lifetime. Karl Mattison, vice president of planned giving resources at the Presbyterian Foundation, points out that at any time “95% of our stuff” is being used by us. Our home, our retirement accounts and other assets are all in use or are being saved for future use. But one day, we’re going to be finished with those things, and we must decide the people and places that receive these assets next. “For most of us, it’s the biggest gift we will ever make,” said Mattison. “With good planning, you can make a game-changing gift that can have a huge impact on the causes you love.”

Monthly Focus — Find resources for Legacy Giving Sunday at presbyterianfoundation.org/legacy

June: Assess your team

In many churches, the stewardship team members are largely the financially minded folks. This can be a good starting point but think much broader and deeper about who should be on this team. Stewardship is about fully participating in the life of the church and responding to God’s call to be generous, not just about finances. If you have someone with communications expertise in your congregation, ask them to help you with messaging. Is there someone who writes exceptionally nice thank you notes? Get them to jump in and help with correspondence. An extrovert who knows most of the congregation may be willing to help you make calls.

Monthly Focus — Invite new members to join your stewardship committee.

July: Ministry is going strong

Though this is vacation season, in the life of the church, things are still happening. This is a great time to capture images, short videos and stories about what your church and your members are doing in ministry. Youth may be headed to Triennium, the national youth gathering; Vacation Bible School is likely underway; church picnics abound; and summer mission trips may be part of your church’s agenda. If you gather photos and videos from these experiences, you can use them in the future to help tell your church’s stories of how funds are fueling mission, education and connections. These work well online, in social media, on your website, in printed materials and on screens in your church.

Monthly Focus — Gather photos, videos and stories to tell the story of your church in action.

August: Prayerful consideration

Move the conversation from “What can we afford to do?” to “What are we called to do?”

During this month, seek Scriptures that can be helpful in communicating this call to the congregation and a theme that helps capture how the church is moving toward what God has called you to be. Some more practical elements also need to come into play. Create a timeline of materials that will need to be completed, including minutes for mission, a meeting schedule for your stewardship committee, a goal for the amount that is needed to meet the vision and the number of people you would like to see make a commitment to supporting the church during the next year.

Monthly Focus — Discuss where God is calling you.

Offering is collected at Betania Presbyterian Church, in Phoenix, Arizona. Gregg Brekke

September: Leading the way

Ask members of your session to make a commitment ahead of the traditional fall stewardship season, which allows the pastor, stewardship or generosity committee chair to tell the congregation that pledges have been secured already. It shows leadership and sets a positive outlook for the church. While you may think you are asking for money, what you’re really asking is for them to spend time in prayer discerning the role generosity should play in their lives. Your intention isn’t to raise a specific amount, but for them to acknowledge their blessings.

Monthly Focus — Ask members of session and other church leaders to make their pledges early to lead the congregation.

October: Sharing why generosity matters

For many congregations, October is when stewardship takes a more prominent role. The primary task of stewardship leaders in the congregations, including pastors, is to answer, “Why does giving and generosity to the church matter?” This is a theological question grounded in the ministry and mission of your congregation locally, regionally and globally.

“Minutes for Mission” are a key way for members of your congregation to share what the church has meant to them, and for key leaders in your church to share more about the ministries that the church supports. All those stories you gathered in July? Now would be a great time to share them. Keep in mind, though, that you need to do more with these stories than verbally share them from the pulpit. Record them and share them in social media, and have an abbreviated version published in the church newsletter. Place them on the church website, and don’t forget to include photos.

Monthly Focus — Ask members of your congregation to share why the church matters to them.

November: Celebrate generosity

For many congregations, this is the time when members submit their pledges or estimates of giving for the following year. As mentioned in April, preparation earlier in the year will allow you to be ready to receive estimates of giving (or commitments, or pledges) in whatever way the giver is comfortable doing. If you are open to receiving these commitments by email — and you should be — publicize that and tell people where to send that email. People will follow instructions, but you need to be sure you’re being clear.

Monthly Focus — Ensure members can communicate their commitment in a variety of ways.

December: Say thank you

It is said that people must be thanked seven times before they really feel appreciated. While that sounds extreme, remember that members receive and hear “thank you” in different ways. Every member of your congregation should receive a handwritten thank you note. Also thank members of your church broadly from the pulpit, and in your church newsletter. Even though it is December and people are busy, an expression of gratitude is always well received. Pick other times throughout the year to say thank you in a variety of ways — carrying this beyond December into the new year.

Monthly Focus — Plan multiple ways to say thank you to your congregation, including handwritten thank you notes.