As inflation impacts church ministries, technology, and new ideas from donors, the future of church ministry funding can seem entirely uncertain. Churches everywhere are having to work smarter and perhaps harder to fully fund the Vision God has for them. According to a Giving USA report, church giving is in a 50 year period of decline. In short, it's gone from almost 60% of total charitable giving to 29%.
That's not exactly encouraging news for church leaders across the country. But it doesn't mean your church can't be thriving. In fact, churches that have adapted their approaches to cultivating generous disciples in response to cultural and economic changes are thriving. If you are interested in becoming a thriving church, we have created a resource to get you started.
Download your free copy of The Future of Church Funding.
The remainder of this short read gives you a quick overview of some of the ideas covered.
Understand Your Givers
To develop new and existing givers, it's critical to first understand their existing motivations and views on giving, stewardship, and generosity. It would be great if all of those who call your church home gave generously from a place of gratitude for God's goodness, a deeply rooted understanding of the importance of giving in our spiritual growth, and a thirst to join in the work God is doing in the world, but everyone has a different starting place. Our job as leaders is to engage them where they are using language that informs, inspires, and invites them on a journey of a lifetime.
The foundation for engaging people is gaining clarity on their perceptions of generosity and messaging that leads to growth in both their understanding and practice of being generous. It is also important to understand that each person's generation, economic situation, and history with money will color their perceptions.
Without question, your ability to demonstrate a strong connection between someone's giving and a life that was changed as a result remains the single most effective tool in growing giving. Your challenge is that dozens of nonprofit organizations are sending that same message to your donors, and sadly, they are gaining a larger share of charitable giving as Christians increasingly look beyond the church to invest their giving.
Are your giving experiences engaging and meaningful enough to inspire giving? You need to know what supporters want to get out of their experience with you and what they need to feel connected. For instance, Millennials and Generation Z are more likely to give to a cause than a church. This means the way we describe our ministry impact is critical. We also need to be open to methods of giving that feel native to these groups, such as cryptocurrency or using payment applications.
In order to help persons embrace generosity rooted in their relationship with God, we must be committed to sharing impact, using words that connect to people who fall along a wide array of giving patterns, spiritual maturity, and motivations (such as eradicating poverty, social change, creating community, sharing the good news, supporting the church, or that giving is good for you, etc). It means embracing giving options preferred by our givers. This approach is called being "donor-centric" meaning to communicate in a way that speaks to the donor's needs and motivations rather than focusing on the church's needs ("church centric"). Church-centric communication serves us well with the builder generation who is motivated by membership, support for the institution, and belonging to an organized group, but it has increasingly failed us in our mission to inspire generosity with each new generation, which brings its own perceptions and motivations.
The encouraging news is that giving in the United States has remained a consistent percentage of disposable income and GDP since WWII. While the church has been falling behind our nonprofit friends, it simply does not have to be that way. But, to reverse these trends and live into our mission of growing generous disciples of Jesus Christ who are focused on changing the world, the Church must adopt new ways of communicating and be willing to explore giving options preferred by our givers.
Move Beyond the "One-and-Done"
Most people in your church do not feel a strong connection to the traditional "one-and-done" annual giving appeals. Reimagine your approach to funding your ministry budget. Rather than a "one-and-done" approach, consider an integrated ministry funding strategy focused on growing generosity as a year-round practice of discipleship. This involves the creation of a year-round plan that addresses annual, capital, and planned giving needs through an integrated strategy of proven practices focused on creating movement along a giving growth pathway such as from a first-time giver to an intentional giver, to a percentage giver, to a tither, and then to an extravagant giver. You should take advantage of the natural rhythms of the church and community. For instance, a focus on growing recurring giving might occur just before the summer when people know they will be away more often, or a year-end strategy during the month that the largest amount of giving happens and you benefit from participation in Giving Tuesday and the heightened giving awareness created by other nonprofit appeals. To learn more go to NextLevelGenerosity.com.
Make Friends with Technology
New technology completely revolutionized the way we exchange information. And it even impacted how we form genuine connections with others. Let’s face it, every day, more of your church members turn to technology for their needs. So, you can create new ways to engage with them and even grow giving.
For example, many churches have recognized that online worship is the new front door of the church with most people shopping for churches exclusively online. Many have discovered that online and on-demand worship can increase the number of times a household attends worship each month and project QR codes during the offering to instantly take viewers to registration and online giving options. Others are using low-cost donor analytic software to automate responses to new givers, identify lapsed givers, and thank growing givers. Technology allows us to work smarter and more efficiently.
Engage with High-Capacity Donors
If you want to grow your church, it’s vital to find ways to engage with your high-capacity donors. These donors may already give a lot to your church, and they’re likely involved with your mission. However, research tells us that the typical high-capacity donor is giving a minority of their charitable donations to your church.
You can win a greater share of their giving if they are properly informed, inspired, and invited. One of the most effective strategies is to simply engage them in authentic conversations. For instance, as part of building an authentic relationship, listen for the passions God has raised in them and look for ways to inform them of how their passions align with ministries in the church. Inspire them with stories of impact around their areas of interest or better yet take them to see your ministry in action. When you have fully developed an authentic relationship, invite them to prayerfully consider funding a specific need that will benefit this ministry in addition to their undesignated giving.
Don't forget most high-capacity donors are also high-capacity people. Let’s say you have a pressing need for a technology upgrade for your online and on-demand worship. You know it’s essential, but you don't know how best to go about securing the additional funding. Share your challenge with a high-capacity entrepreneur who you think would understand the need and ask for their advice as to how you might proceed. Transparent talks with high-capacity donors often produce creative ideas and offers of assistance and funding.
Embrace the Future of Church Funding
As technology continues to advance, we'll see new funding approaches emerge. For example, blockchain technology brought us crypto philanthropy. As technology evolves with Web3 and the metaverse, it's expected that more transparency and donor anonymity will emerge. As a result, the future of church funding methods will have to change with the times.
While these changes could unsettle church leaders, it doesn’t have to be the case. One of the best ways to lead in a season of change is to keep your mission, vision, and values as the primary lens through which decisions are made.
A Final Word
Finally, it's essential to know that you need to diversify your church fundraising efforts because of uncertainty. The best thing you could do for your church is not to rely only on traditional support methods. Instead, leverage everything that's happening with today's donors. For example, understand the elements of donor-advised funds and required minimum distributions from IRAs. Reconsider how you approach your annual fund. Think about developing subscription fundraising or membership programs.
The expectations of donors are evolving and they are not going back to the way they were. So, this is the perfect time to respond with new ideas and thinking. It’s essential to learn to view things through the eyes of your donor. If you pay attention to them, you're far more likely to get their attention. The competition for the attention of your donors is increasingly competitive. But, if you meet people where they are, speak a language they understand, and employ proven practices and technology that garners their attention, then you have the opportunity to inspire them to invite God into the conversation where anything is possible.
Don’t miss reading this free guide, and if you’re looking for ideas to grow giving and generosity in your church, become a member of Giving365. It’s free as well!