This Month in Stewardship: May

April 3, 2019 by Robyn Davis Sekula

Editor's note: Wills Emphasis Sunday is observed in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on May 5.  For this year's observance, we invite you to consider a broader and more important question: what do you want to contribute to the world?

Emphasizing wills makes the legal instrument of legacy building the focus instead of a much more comprehensive question: how do we want to contribute to the world beyond our lifetimes?

That’s from Karl Mattison, Vice President of Planned Giving Resources at the Presbyterian Foundation, and he’s so right. May 5 is Wills Emphasis Sunday in the PC(USA) and while it sounds like something we all need to consider, to many it’s not very exciting, and it’s hard to engage people by that title alone, Karl says.

Karl Mattison

“I think the common approach is to go so linear that we talk to people about the importance of wills, planned giving and even some of the technical details,” Karl says. “Usually that’s going to be of low importance and minimal interest. If we say we’re going to have a planned giving seminar, you’ll have just a few people to show up.”

Instead, turn Wills Emphasis Sunday into something bigger and more meaningful: ask your congregation to consider how God may be calling them to contribute to the world beyond their lifetime. Karl points out that at any time 95 percent 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 have to decide who are the people and places that receive these assets next. “For most of us, it’s the biggest gift we will ever make,” Karl says. “With good planning, you can make a game-changing gift that can have a huge impact on the causes you love.”

Legacy planning is a service

Churches can provide a service to members by providing seminars and significant time to think through legacy planning. Pastors and other church leaders can be sure that some members are indeed thinking about the places and causes they love, including the future of their local church or perhaps a beloved ministry of the congregation. In fact, they may be anxious about the future. “You’re up at night, thinking about what would happen if you’re not here,” Karl says. “You still want the church and its members to thrive without your contribution each year. If we’re up at night thinking about it, that’s important and we should be planning for that, and as church leaders, we can assist with that.”

Wills Emphasis Sunday is easy to grasp and understand, Karl says, and that’s probably why we call it that. But a will is a tactical conversation point, Karl says. Having a conversation that’s more aimed at legacy and contributing to the world after you’re gone is a more advanced conversation. “It’s almost the equivalent of the phases of life,” Karl says. “When you’re a kid people ask what do you want to be when you grow up? I wanted to be a pilot. I said I want to fly. I didn’t say I want to go to flight school and pay tuition. Those are details – albeit important details – to accomplish the dream. The dream was to fly. In creating a legacy, the dream is to keep caring and working here after our lifetimes. The will and planned giving is just the details to get there.”

Important steps to a legacy program

Leading a legacy planning effort in a congregation starts at the top. The pastor and members of session should agree upon the reasons to begin a legacy program as well as simple goals and language to use when talking about legacy. The members of your congregation should be invested and interested as well, but it takes that leadership to start the conversation and demonstrate that it matters. “Everyone sitting in the pews clearly has an interest at a minimum in this church,” Karl says. “How do we engage them in how to think about this church as their ministry?”

All staff need to be briefed on the program, as well as church leaders. Staff are the face of the church to many of us. So each member of staff needs to know what to do if someone calls and wants to discuss leaving a gift to the church in their estate or, for that matter, any kind of gift to the church. Staff members need to be trained to be gracious and thankful in their responses, and they need to know who to send those calls to, so that they receive prompt attention. Leaving a paper note in a box probably isn’t adequate. Yes, train people to do that, but also to call the staff person responsible for responding to ensure they don’t miss it. A planned gift is the biggest gift most of us will make. Our church should be prepared to treat it that way.

Here’s four things to consider in timing your legacy program.

  • Think through what you want to say about your church’s ministry that will help people see how incredible your church and its ministries are.
  • Listen and discern who in your congregation needs our attention.
  • Be ready for the kairos moment. As the legacy concept lands, there will often be that moment, Karl says, when a member feels that the legacy conversation is a priority for them – a way that they can continue God’s work in your church.
  • Invite someone to lead the effort who feels like the vision of the church overlaps with their vision. Ask them to help lead or engage their support in other ways.

If your church is ready to hold conversations about how members can leave a legacy, we’re available to help. Your Ministry Relations Officer is ready when you are. You can find yours here. They’re the best place to start with a conversation around planned giving. You can find resources on planned giving here. Additionally, you may find the Planned Giving Navigator a useful tool. Spearheaded by Karl, it is a web site/tool that allows churches to create materials for a planned giving program.

Does your church have a planned giving or legacy giving program? I would love to hear about it. You can reach me at

Robyn Davis Sekula is Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation. She is a ruling elder in the PC(USA) and member of Highland Presbyterian Church.