Tell your church’s stories to connect people, reinforce reasons for stewardship

November 16, 2022 by John C. Williams

Stories motivate stewardship by demonstrating the “markers of hope” each church creates and reminds members that they are part of an organization that makes a positive difference in the world.

But rather than rely on canned scripts and web-based stewardship links, look to your own church, says Robyn Davis Sekula, vice president of communications and marketing for Presbyterian Foundation.

Robyn Davis Sekula, vice president of communications and marketing for Presbyterian Foundation

She led a workshop during Stewardship Kaleidoscope, an annual conference on generosity and stewardship. This year’s conference was held in Savannah, Ga., September 26 to 28.

“While the pastors shape a lot of the church … it’s the people in the pews who make the church,” she says.

She speaks from personal experience. After 20 years in her church, she felt disconnected due to the pandemic, staffing issues, and the loss of a key lay leader and friend.

As the pandemic eased, she and her husband and three daughters took a long-awaited trip to Spain. Upon returning to the States, they that their two-year-old black lab had health issues and died on their first night back in their home. Almost immediately, church members checked in on her and her family, made the trip to deliver food and desserts to her back steps, and over the next days and weeks made sure she and her family were coping with the loss.

“The outpouring of love about my dog by my church … It really was the people who brought me back,” she says.

That kind of story resonates with people and can help them connect to their own church, especially during stewardship calls. Sekula recommends keeping these points in mind:

  • During a stewardship campaign, Minute for Mission or other opportunity to present to one person or a congregation, give them a single person’s story to focus upon
  • Help them – let them – feel emotions
  • Tie their giving to their sense of duty and purpose
  • Remember the idea of “contagious generosity”
  • And, describe the impact of the gift or campaign as precisely as possible. Rather than say your gifts will help us stock the local food pantry, tell how many cans of food the church donated in the past six months, or how many jars of peanut butter the church contributed. Numbers make it real.

In the big picture, stewardship is inviting people to be a part of the church’s success story, she says. It’s up to each church to find, highlight and showcase those success stories.

Where to look? The easiest places are inside the regular church schedule: Choir, Bible study, children’s Bible school or Sunday School lessons, and activities such as Wednesday night family dinners, arts and crafts, or exercise classes held by the church.

But don’t stop there. Does your church host a 12-step program, or help the homeless? Do you have a pancake breakfast for the hungry in your community? Without sharing specifics about the people participating, these stories reinforce the work of the church in the greater community – and can reinforce a donor’s sense of pride and belonging.

Finally, look beyond the “expected” stories of people who are widely known to be deeply involved in the life of the church. Seek out the retired, the elderly, who have found new purpose in volunteering. Or, reach out to the high school or middle school youth group.

Sekula recalls an impressive moment at her church during a stewardship campaign. A high school student took to the lectern to show a fist full of pledge envelopes from him and his youth group friends. They pledged because they believed in their youth pastor and their program.

To the congregation, that was a clear challenge: If these young people, attending school and without full time jobs, were willing to pledge their limited resources to help their part of the church, how can others turn their backs?

Find the stories and share the stories. It makes asking, and giving, so much easier.

For more information about the Presbyterian Foundation, visit https://www.presbyterianfoundation.org.

John C. Williams is a veteran writer with his own PR firm specializing in helping K-12 education, government and non-profits tell their story. He is a 30-year member at Sea Island Presbyterian Church in Beaufort, South Carolina. Send comments on this story to robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.