Among pastors and church leaders, this has to be one of the most common laments. "Why don't people give more?" we ask. This struggle only builds as we get closer to budgeting time or as we start to see financial statements looking more like a slow drain of expenses regularly exceeding the church's income (giving).
Wouldn't it be great to know the answer?
Truth be known, the answer is really quite simple, but knowing what it is will require we as church leaders to entirely change our financial thinking and tact in stewardship.
Are you ready? Here's it is: Your people want to be solid givers and they have a heart for the mission of the church, but a vast majority are unable to give with any boldness because of their current financial situation.
Lets consider some statistics to back this up.
* In the US today, 76% of families, regardless of income level, are living entirely paycheck to paycheck.
* 47% of Americans today say they would not be able to pay for a $400 emergency either without borrowing the money from some source or selling something, or even to come up with the money in any way in their current financial state.
* The average American family today has $132,158 in total debt and of that, $15,675 in credit card debt.
* The average American family is paying $6,658 in interest charges on debt yearly.
This is only a small sample of what could be a much greater array of depressing financial data for average American families today. Chances are that some of these numbers may be of shock to you as your read this, but in truth, some of this may also come a little too close to home for many of us as church leaders and pastors. This is the bigger American picture and your people are living these statistics. And notice that the above doesn't reference income levels. High and low incomes alike can live paycheck to paycheck. Even many (if not a surprising majority) of your "wealthy appearing" members may be walking the very edge of a financial cliff or of financial ruin. These too may be the ones most vulnerable to finding their self-worth in their image and their displays of success, all the while yet living on the edge to maintain this dangerous facade.
So then, why aren't people giving more? They can't presently afford to!
Coming to grips with this reality is pretty harsh if we start to think about these numbers throughout our churches. What this means is that three quarters of your church's pew sitters on Sunday are barely making it one week or month to the next. Many of them live in financial fear of emergencies and their best answer to financial challenges is to borrow their way out of them - which only compounds their long-term financial struggles. Debt is eating many, if not most, of your church's families alive and, of what they do earn, a significant portion is used just to cover interest costs for their debts. Additionally, most families greatest financial struggle is that they don't have any real tools to change or improve their current situation, leaving them feeling trapped.
And then we come along and ask, "Why don't our church members give more?" In truth, we're just hitting people with another punch while they're already down.
What Can...No, What MUST the Church Do?
First, we must digest the reality exposed above. These statistics are real and a whole lot of our church folks are not doing as well, financially and in other related ways, as we might think.
Second, we must think outside the box and consider the unique opportunity for ministry now before us. What if we, as churches and church leaders, spoke to this financial "elephant in the room" and took it upon ourselves to invest in our people; helping them learn how to steward and regain control of their finances? What if, as a part of this endeavor, we too admitted that we as leaders could very well need this same financial help and were focused on learning better personal financial stewardship practices along with our congregants?
Opportunity Meets Options
The good news is that there are great (even fun) tools in our midst to help church folks become better personal finance stewards. The best and most well known is for a church to offer and take Financial Peace University together. This is a 9 week class that invites members to learn a series of 7 baby steps that will, along with a new and empowering method of budgeting, allow participants to:
* change their financial course and relationship with money and debt
* build up solid emergency savings,
* pay off their debts (all of them, even including, in relatively short order, their home)
* focus on saving for retirement
* save for their children's college
* better understand needed knowledge is the areas of insurance, investing and home ownership
* gain a new perspective on personal finance as our living as called and devoted caretakers of what God has placed into their care
* through the process gain traction and confidence to live and give like never before.
There are many similar programs out there, though in my experience, Financial Peace University is the best and most complete program for churches to provide and utilize together for the benefit of their members. Many who enter these classes bring financial wounds and uncertainty, but they finish with a healthy financial plan and a financial confidence they've never had before.
I, your author, have facilitated 4 such FPU classes to date and I have seen the power of what an experience like this can do for the participants in our churches. I facilitated the first class at my church as a student, for I too had much to learn and I couldn't find anyone with experience to facilitate in my place. While I had reservations as to if I could do it, it wasn't hard to facilitate and my wife and I learned so much. The experience changed our financial trajectory and understanding of stewardship and made our marriage stronger. It got us on the same page and set us on a course that has allowed us to eliminate all of our debt and given us a financial confidence to live and give like we never have before. I can say the same for so many of my parishioners. One recently spoke to me about how this gave he and his wife the confidence to tackle their financial challenges head on. Now, 2 years from when they took FPU, they tithe weekly with joy, have a monthly budget they create and manage together, have eliminated all their personal debt, and have purchased their first home with a strong down payment while maintaining a healthy emergency fund. I could multiply their story across many more participants in our church.
Our churches are filled with people hungry to be empowered to walk this same path!
Also, it's worth mentioning that like a lot of things that are really worthwhile, there is usually a cost for Financial Peace University or any related program. But if we consider what is possible for our people, perhaps the cost is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the benefits possible by our investing in them in their times of need. As I like to think, there's a cost to doing things that are beneficial, but there's also a cost for not doing them. Often the cost for missing out is much greater in the long run.
- Until we understand the problem, we as church leaders will likely just keep spinning our wheels; lamenting further about our people while they really struggle, and constantly wondering why things never seem to get better.
- We have tools (and I think a calling), once we own the problem, to try to make a difference for our struggling folks. The effort we make in ministering to our people through personal financial stewardship education is a gift we can give and the yields can be vast. If we as churches are unwilling to make this investment in effort and time for our people, who then for their sake ever will?
- Finally, a congregation of financially wounded members holds little power to financially contribute to the greater work of the church in God's kingdom. Conversely, confident stewards led to embrace their calling to manage what God has provided them can unleash limitless generosity in ministry and outreach and live in ways they could never have imagined before. As church leaders, the answer quite simple - Our people are financially hungry to be better stewards. Let's seize the opportunity to feed them to be God's emboldened caretakers and stewards!
Author's note: this post is not focused on endorsing any one program, such as FPU. The key is not so much in what program or method is utilized, but that we as churches seize the opportunity to help make a difference in and for our people. The hope is that this post invites critical thought about the present reality in our churches and how we as leaders can help be the driving force to make a positive difference.
Up Next: Church Budgeting in a More Faithful Way
Financial Rules of Thumb for Clergy
Why Don't People Give More? Here's Why!
Clergy: Wisely Negotiate Your Call
Church Budgeting in a More Faith-full Way
Reconsider Your Clergy Pension Elections (Now!)
Consider Again Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for Clergy
Clergy: Talk to Your Churches About Wills
Clergy & Financial Compensation Guidelines
About the Author
Hi, I'm Pastor Andrew, an ELCA pastor with a love for sharing empowering personal stewardship for fellow church leaders. I enjoy researching the financial wisdom of the scriptures and of fellow church leaders and I hope to share my findings in a way to help clergy of all types!