When I meet with church leaders, they often ask me to help them devise a strategy for increasing giving among their members. While there is no simple plan that works everywhere, there are several ways to cultivate positive attitudes about stewardship. If you create the right kind of atmosphere for giving, you will inspire generosity. Some universal guidelines I share with church financial leaders are listed here.
• Raise expectations of members. People tend to live up to what’s expected of them. Where is your church setting the bar? If it’s low, your members will not likely strive to reach above it. Many church leaders fear they’ll drive people away if they raise the bar for financial expectations but in reality, people are wired to achieve more. Don’t undermine God by asking less of your members than what God asks.
• Keep members informed about where their money is going. People like to see the results of their giving. Use time in your worship services (perhaps during the announcements or before/after the offering) to highlight a ministry of your church that’s supported by tithes and offerings. Enlist people whose lives are touched by those ministries to share their experiences firsthand.
• Teach biblical financial principles. Many church leaders are scared to talk about money because they don’t know how to. Use a God-centered model for teaching biblical principles. Focus on what God wants for your members and not what the church needs from them. God wants people to live and give generously and not be constricted by the financial indebtedness our society promotes. Most members aren’t compelled by reasons like “give because the church needs it” or “give because tithing is biblical.” Make biblical financial teaching a regular practice. As with all habits, once you do it enough, you’ll get used to it and do it regularly.
• Hold church leaders (paid and volunteer) accountable. Who holds church leaders accountable for what they spend and how they spend it? Do those expenses advance the Kingdom, or do they reflect frivolous spending? Can church members get a copy of the church’s monthly financial statements without hassles? If your church’s checkbook were posted online, would you be embarrassed at any of the entries? I often say that church money should work hard twice: once when the donor earns it and again when the church spends it.
• Be transparent with your church finances. A church’s monthly financial statements should be in a readily accessible place, and members’ questions should be answered clearly and completely. Make your financial statement accessible. Answer all financial questions to the satisfaction of the person asking the questions.
• Be strategic in leadership and management. Leadership is guiding the church toward a vision that captures most people’s imagination and gets them on board the ship. Management is ensuring that you have the right people in the right places on the ship and rowing in the same direction. Leadership is about positions; management is about people. Every five years, do strategic planning so that you know what positions your church needs in order to accomplish its mission and vision. Then, find the right people to put into those positions even if it means letting some people go or altering their jobs. If they can’t lead the church in its strategic plan, then help them move on so that your church can move forward. You may end up discontinuing some programs that, while still viable, no longer fit into the church’s mission and vision You may let go of some fine friends and colleagues. But as a leader of the church, you must decide what is most critical to its future. A church pursuing its mission should not be distracted by programs or anything else that takes the focus off its overall vision.