“An offering talk that is supported by a story of life change is one of the most effective tools in growing generosity I have seen.” Joe Park
In his book, A Better Offering: 5 Unmistakable Habits of Generous Churches, Horizons’ Partner, Donald Smith, invites church leaders to embrace storytelling during the offering time. Of the reasons he cites, the most compelling is following the example of Jesus who rarely spoke publicly without telling a story. Learn more about storytelling in the blog Five Reasons Why to Include Stories in Your Offering Talk.
The following are seven keys to successful offering talks identified by Horizons during our Next Level Generosity Discovery Assessments and coaching engagements.
1. Support of the Lead Pastor and Worship Planning Team.
Any successful initiative requires the support of senior leadership to sustain it over time. This is especially true for offering talk storytelling because it is often the lead pastor who shares the majority of the life-changing stories in the offering talk.
While success starts with the lead pastor, filling the offering time with an abundance of life-changing stories requires genuine staff support, especially the worship planning team. Churches with effective storytelling offering strategies almost always include it as an important item in worship planning and regularly solicit stories of life-change in staff and volunteer meetings.
2. Engaging the entire staff and all ministry leaders in identifying stories.
Buy-in and the commitment to finding and sharing stories of impact from staff and ministry leaders are also critical. When stories are written by one or two people, the focus becomes increasingly limited and repetitive. The work of God happens in many ways and through many different kinds of people, ministries, and missions. The stories must reflect the diversity of the voices of those who are in the trenches providing ministry, as well as those who are impacted by them.
Create a system to regularly ask your ministry leaders for impactful stories. Begin staff meetings, leadership team meetings, and volunteer training meetings by asking in advance for a person to come prepared to share a story of impact from a ministry they are connected with.
3. Making a clear connection between the changed life and personal financial generosity in the church.
Without careful focus, the stories shared can become a series of God’s people doing kind things for others. It’s important for God’s people to do kind things. But, the purpose of the offering talk is to clearly link financial generosity as essential to both life-changing ministry impact and our own spiritual growth. Here is a great bit of wisdom attributed to Lovett Weems.
Never talk about people’s money apart from their discipleship.
Never talk about the church’s money apart from its mission.
While it is also important to communicate the impact of being generous with time and talents, without a consistent connection to personal financial generosity as the primary discipleship point of the offering talk, an unintended consequence emerges. Research from the Barna Group is clear that what our churches are hearing is an emphasis on being generous with our time, or our talents, or our financial resources. This has led to a troubling trend: Christians are increasingly choosing the areas of generosity easiest for them and ignoring the others.
4. Mixing it up.
There are four potential pockets of giving for your church: annual, capital, special (a.k.a. designated), and planned (a.k.a. legacy). Annual giving is foundational in that it funds the ongoing ministry and mission of the church. A helpful practice can be to focus on three offering talks each month on the impact of annual giving, leaving the opportunity to focus on the impact of capital, special, or planned giving once per month.
5. Focusing on the story of a single life that was changed.
The most effective storytelling focuses on the story of a single individual whose life was impacted by a ministry funded by your church. Only after you have effectively “put a face on your story” should you move to share how (many, much, often) information is usually represented numerically. Facts and figures are important, but they speak to a person’s mind and the most effective motivation for behavior change is centered in the emotions of our hearts. We must first capture the attention of our listeners’ hearts before layering in supporting data points.
6. Keeping it short.
Consider how long it takes to read one of Jesus’s parables. There are times when a video or an occasional story will take longer than a couple of minutes. Make those the exception. Consistently taking more than three minutes to share the story, point out the ways you have to give and make a specific call to action can be counterproductive. Display information on ways to give on-screen, in seatback cards, or worship guides. Use QR codes to speed up the process.
Less is more. Celebrate a changed life, make the connection to personal financial generosity, thank those whose gifts made your story possible, share the ways people can give, and with clear specificity on how to invite God’s people to multiply this one changed life into many more.
7. Always make a call to action.
Once people are inspired by the story, see the connection to give, and understand the ways they can give, leave them with a call to action that squarely places the responsibility to act in their court. Avoid any form of manipulation, shame, or guilt. Rather share that God is doing great things through your church, and in response here is one action you would like them to prayerfully consider.
Use different calls to action each week. For example, one week, you might ask to calculate the percentage of income each household is giving through the church and to prayerfully consider increasing it by one or more percent. The next week, you might invite persons to ask God to show them what steps they should take in their lives so they can be more financially generous. The following week, ask each person who calls your church home to consider signing up for recurring giving, so their financial support is present, even when they cannot be.
Always have a call to action that asks for a very specific and measurable response.
If your church is not using a storytelling offering talk each week during on-campus, online, and on-demand worship, I also recommend reading the blog Three Steps to a Better Offering and adopting this powerful practice each week.