This month in stewardship: January

December 12, 2019 by Robyn Davis Sekula

In the life of the church, January is when pastors and staff members (hopefully) take some time to breathe. You’re through Advent, and the wise men are making their way to the manger soon enough. You may find that cold weather slows down and even cancels some activities – and that’s not always unwelcome.

January is an invitation to take stock of where we are and adjust for the coming year.

Once your pastor and staff have had a week or so to breathe, it’s time to assess your church’s 2019 stewardship. Did your church meet the goals you had set? How did the season of stewardship feel to you? Did it feel joyful, or stressful? Realistically, it might have been both.

Reaching out

Though the books are closed on 2019, it’s not too late to ask those who have not pledged to do so. It’s not so much about reaching the goal you’ve set out, but about inviting those members to the fullest participation in the life of the church. Stewardship is part of that.

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 in 2018 but not 2019?

Then, your task becomes to reach out to those who have not pledged to see if they have forgotten, and are willing to make a pledge, or if they are facing difficult circumstances that preclude a pledge this year. Perhaps personal financial circumstances 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.

I can tell you from my time on the stewardship committee that we have sometimes called people who have not pledged and discovered that they were in need of support from their church family but had not reached out. This is part of why these calls are important. Stewardship is a pastoral concern, and changes in giving can often underscore a pastoral need.

Making the calls

I have to admit how much I personally dreaded these calls, but I learned over the years that those who were on the receiving end were not nearly as uncomfortable as I felt. They were glad to hear from me, and I can’t think of a single instance in which someone became defensive or rude when I brought up the subject of pledging. And, what’s more, it was effective. People who received the calls mostly appreciated the reminder and made a commitment swiftly after we called and spoke to them.

The truth is, people are busy! Years before I was tuned into stewardship in my congregation, I saw notices in the bulletin, noted the headline in the newsletter, kept the mailing – putting all of those aside for “another day” to complete them but didn’t do so until prompted by a call. I am now much better about completing my pledge early because I understand how much work goes into stewardship.

Sometimes, those who don’t have much or especially those who are younger may not understand that pledging or even giving to the church is in fact important to them, too. People may feel they have so little to contribute that their pledge doesn’t matter – or that they don’t really feel the call to stewardship is for them. It takes a personal invitation from a fellow member of the church for some to feel included and invited to participate in stewardship.

It’s similar to putting out an invitation for people to serve as a deacon, on session or to teach Sunday School. Someone might be willing, but they don’t respond to the general invitation because they’re not sure they’re qualified or do not understand that yes, they are invited. A personal invitation to generosity is what’s needed to help some people feel they are truly invited to participate in stewardship.

Reach out to new members

Beyond the LYBNTY list, also look at who has joined the church in the past year. Make a call to those folks, too. Check in with them about their life in the church, and see if you can answer any questions for them. The topic of stewardship may come up on its own, or you may need to simply ask if they will be able to offer a financial commitment for 2020. You can assure them that any amount is welcome and that you’re so glad to have them as part of the church family, even if they don’t feel they can participate in financial stewardship. They may have other gifts they bring to the congregation.

I heard one story recently about a young man who was unable to contribute to his church financially, but he volunteered to clean the church on Sundays following worship. His work saved the church a substantial amount of money on a cleaning service. It was no small contribution! Thinking creatively about ways people can offer their time and talents to the church is helpful, too, especially to help everyone feel included.

Also, as a footnote, I want to point back to another recent column in which I discussed changing the name of pledge cards. What if instead you used the term “estimate of giving”? Robert Hay Jr., Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Foundation, points to this as a less intimidating term to use. The term pledge can sound as if you’re absolutely required to give the amount you write on the card – and that’s scary to some.

Estimate of giving is just that – an estimate of how much people might be able to give in the coming year. You’ll likely find that most still meet the estimated amount – and that you might get more people to make a financial commitment using this softer term. This is especially true of younger members.

How did stewardship go in 2019 at your church? What worked well for you? What will you change for 2020? I’d love to hear from you. Your input helps us provide the best resources for congregations. You can reach out to me at robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org or (502) 569-5101.

Robyn Davis Sekula is vice president of communications and marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation. She is a ruling elder and member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky.