Stewardship Reflection: Inspiring Awe and Motivating Stewardship
August 16, 2023 by Joseph Moore
In my work at the Presbyterian Foundation, I’m often asked to share what we see across the church that is “working.”
Church leaders want to know best practices, strategies, really anything that might guide a congregation through these complicated times. And, contrary to what you might have heard, there are things that are working. Churches are engaged in vibrant and effective ministry. Disciples are being formed, budgets are balanced, and beautiful life changing worship is happening.
There is no question that these are complicated times for the Church. In many places attendance on Sunday mornings is lower. Patterns of church engagement are changing. Finances and deferred maintenance are an issue in a large number of places. It is a challenging time to lead a congregation.
When I look at the churches that seem to be holding steady versus struggling congregations, often, the difference has less to do with effective stewardship or evangelism strategies, and more to do with the stories they emphasize. In the mainline Church, we are really good at telling stories of despair and scarcity. Strategy matters, but the stories we emphasize matter even more.
In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger writes that the three most motivating emotions are anger, anxiety, and awe. One only has to look at cable news or our social media feeds to see the ways in which anger and anxiety are often used to make us respond. Anger and anxiety are the emotional equivalent of caffeine and sugar. They can get you going, but the effects are fleeting and ultimately not sustaining.
I know of plenty of congregations that unintentionally motivate people by emphasizing these emotions. They do so because emotions like anxiety and anger do get people moving. It can be effective, in the short term, to say things like, “We are going to close if you don’t give more” or “We might have to fire the pastor or sell the building if giving rates remain unchanged.” Those things might be true, but their motivational power is fleeting.
As you prepare for this year’s annual giving campaign, what if you decided to see how you can inspire awe in your people? What are the ways God is using your congregation to make a difference in the world? How is your building serving not just your congregation, but your community? How does Sunday worship inspire folks to make a difference in their lives?
Answer those questions, tell those stories, and then show people how they can participate in what God is doing in their midst. Give your folks the opportunity to connect their generosity with the work of God in the world and allow the sustainable and fruitful emotion of awe to do its good work.
The early church didn’t tell stories dominated by anger and anxiety. They told stories and experienced God at work in such a way that “Awe came upon everyone” (Acts 2:43). That can be just as true for us as well.
Bless you as you do your awe-inspiring work. Know that you’ve got a partner in the Presbyterian Foundation.
Rev. Joseph Moore serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the South Central Region. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. You can reach Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.