I love church bulletins that put as much information in them so that I have something to read during service. One section that I find in many churches is the Year To Date report on the giving to the church. For instance, in October the section shows $250k given of $280k expected…a subtle hint to get back on your pledge! I did that myself in my first church’s monthly newsletter, as I didn’t want it in the weekly bulletin (nor to calculate it weekly either!). Regardless, the practice is using +/- abstract numbers to encourage faithful giving, which may or may not be effective to church folk.
Professor Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University recently presented an idea to “hack” church giving: present the congregation an offering receipt. He remembers in 2009 a group estimated how much of a person’s tax went to certain programs (ie. of $5,400 given in taxes, $28 paid for NASA, $1 paid for the Smithsonian…and $1000 paid for social security. Yikes!). He wonders what that idea might look like for a church:
Dropping money in the collection plate is kind of like paying taxes, psychologically speaking. You put your money in the collection plate but you don’t know where or how that money is spent. You know abstractly that you are paying for everything around you, just like the taxpayer, but the lack of specificity makes it hard to feel a connection. But if you listed out the particulars, like with a tax receipt, then you might increase the feeling of a connection.
If you’ve ever heard someone rant about the government not doing anything for them while they drink water from a federally-inspected water treatment plant or have their home saved from firefighters paid for with local taxes, you get the idea that a abstract concept doesn’t translate as well as concrete language.
I’ve got at least two thoughts on this.
First, transparency is actually a letdown when it comes to church finances in this manner. Let’s be honest, if we broke down a person’s $100 gift to the church, its percentages would not inspire more giving in most churches. I’ll offer up my own church budget from 2008 for example (it has since been significantly adapted…and the 2008 budget is the only one I could find in my laptop’s documents atm). If I wrote in the bulletin what a $100 gift broke down to:
- $23 would go to the Pastors’ (plural) salary/pension/health insurance
- $14 would go to Apportionments (support for UM ministries/global missions/church bureaucracy beyond the church walls).
- $10 would go to the staff salaries
- $7 would go to insurance
- $6 would go to building utilities
- And so on…
From my old 2008 church budget, the highest mission or ministry “outward-facing” line item (although staff have roles that face outward and clergy obviously do) is the Youth Ministry Budget at $2. Although I would argue that with community/ministry groups using the building means that insurance and utilities expenditures are ministry when the community comes into the building.
So by breaking it down, it may not inspire but it does illuminate the reality of church budgets require plenty of staff and plenty of upkeep and plenty of trust in the people to initiate and sustain the ministries of the church. And it can start a conversation about priorities and how to better adapt the church budget so that a higher percentage goes to direct ministry support.
For your churches that may not need more inspiration (or your percentages horrify you, which is good if you do something about it), Prof. Beck talks about using language of “with your offering, we let AA use our building free of charge and 12 men/women had one more day of sobriety support.” So a narrative budget, which I’ve seen before, might be helpful.
Second, I am concerned as I think such a thing is theologically backwards in a Wesleyan (ie. Methodist) context. We believe in prevenient grace which is recognizing the unmerited work God does for us. We are loved by God from before our first breath and through our own recognizing God’s presence and love in our life.
So when we approach the altar with our tithe or offering, I often talk about that we give not to support the church or for the church to even continue to do the work we do. Rather, we give with a thankful heart, thankful for what everything God does everything from it. We give out of recognition of what God has already done, not out of expectation of what could be done.
For the duration of the entire service, the direction of our focus is on what God has done, through our own lives, through the lives of the bible stories, through the stories from the hymns. We let what we “get” out of church to be on faith, trusting that when we leave the church doors that we become the gospel we have heard, not expect that our dollar becomes the gospel. It does support the gospel, let’s be clear, but the theological focus is on what God has already done and building our faith that God will continue to be our companion on the journey.
So, those are my thoughts. What are yours?
- Has your church done a tithe/offering receipt like the above?
- What are other ways that churches can make the connection between the collection plate and the ministries of the church.
Discuss. And thanks for your comments!