One of the reasons there's so much talk about the next big thing in church stewardship is that giving to churches is in a long-term decline. Since 1980, church giving has declined to 29% of total giving from a high of 60%.

You may have noticed your weekly offering is lower than in earlier years. If so, you are not alone. In this post, we will explore eight of the most common reasons church giving is declining and share resources to overcome them.

The foundation of a healthy culture of generosity and funding your 2022 ministry spending plan, is placing your priority on developing the gift of joyful generosity among the households that call your church home, rather than on getting money from them. The difference can seem subtle at first, but if you get it backward, you will drive down giving and steal joy. If you would like to learn more about this idea, I suggest spending 30 minutes reading a Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. It will give you and other church leaders a common picture and language to use when cultivating a culture of joyful generosity.

Creating a 2022 Ministry Spending Plan: To accomplish this, you will need:

  • A compelling ministry plan and discipleship process with clear and measurable outcomes.
  • An accurate understanding of your financial situation, such as your cash flow cycles (income and expenses), donor giving patterns (donor analytics), and your capital and deferred maintenance needs.
  • A means to measure the effectiveness (return on investment) of the human and financial resources you are spending in each area of your ministries.
  • An understanding of an adequate financial reserve for 2022. Horizons recommends 60 to 120 days of operating expenses for most churches.
  • Knowledge of the most current recommendations for church budgeting.

Funding Your 2022 Ministry Spending Plan: In order to fully fund your 2022 Ministry Spending Plan, it is critical that you understand and make plans to address the most common reasons many of your households are failing to achieve the joyful generosity and spiritual growth you yearn for them to experience and champion with others.

It’s a Two-Step Process: Keep in mind, your goal is to help people discern God’s leading in the area of generosity and to encourage them to respond to this leading faithfully. It comes as a surprise to many church leaders that there are two questions being answered in this spiritual process of discernment.

  • Why be generous?
  • Why be generous to my local church?

The Eight Most Common Obstacles to Funding Your 2022 Ministry Spending Plan

1. We Fail to Effectively Communicate Our Impact Stories

The number one reason donors chose to give to a particular charitable organization is belief in the mission. Belief comes from hearing about and seeing the impact their giving is making.

Americans continue to give about the same percentage of the United States Gross Domestic Product and of household disposable income as they have for over 50 years, but they are rapidly shifting their giving from their local church to other non-profits that they perceive are more effectively changing lives than their church.

I meet donors all the time that tell me they are committed tithers or over and above extravagant givers, who list their church as 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or lower in the amount of their annual giving. These generous givers are most often motivated by their relationship with God that was formed in a local church, but they just do not see their church effectively doing its primary job of making disciples of Jesus Christ who are changing the world one life at a time.

Often, these donor’s churches are doing some great work, but they are falling short in effectively sharing the impact they are making. As church leaders, we can't assume that our people are seeing the impact or life change from their giving. People live busy lives, they often miss church and don’t always read what we send them. They are definitely not going out of their way to find these stories on their own.

It is our responsibility as church leaders to go out of our way to communicate our stories of life change and impact. We have to get in front of them, in offering talks, emailed videos, quarterly giving statements, social media, thank you notes, online giving receipts, etc. Communicating in one single channel simply is not going to connect with the majority of our households. If you want a story to reach a majority of your giving households, even in small churches, you will need to use 3-5 different communication channels.

The most effective single action we can take is to get our donors engaged in a hands-on ministry where they experience firsthand the power of the Holy Spirit at work in life. Imagine if each week everyone who calls your church home, (not just those who came to on-campus worship), could see the Bible's stories applied to the lives of people in a way they felt a personal connection. This usually means telling the story of a single life that was changed. It’s a changed life (outcome) that moves people, not just sharing the participation numbers (activities). Far too often I see churches taking the easy route of saying there were 27 men who attended XYZ event, instead of telling the story of Marcus and then saying, he was just one of 27 men who…

When you capture a story of a single life that was changed in a photo or video, you can share it not only through the typical “one to many” channels such as worship (on-campus, online, and on-demand), social media, newsletters, etc, but also in one-to-one emails. Imagine the impact of simply adding a picture and a hyperlink to a short descriptive paragraph to all the emails you send each week. Perhaps you take it a step further and ask during several of the conversations you have throughout the week - “Hey, did you see the story about Marcus we shared this week in worship? If not, let me text you a link.”

By normalizing storytelling, you'll make generosity a core value, and what's more, you'll see how it spreads to others because people tend to do the same things as those in their social circles. A great starting point is to read A Better Offering by Don Smith or check our many free resources on Giving365.com.

2. Our Donors Don’t Have a Relationship with a Person Recently Transformed by Their Generosity

The Holy Spirit often uses our relationships to guide us to profound changes in perspective, motivation, and action. If there's something we learned during the entire course of the pandemic is that people are social. During the pandemic, we found ourselves increasingly isolated, and this is especially true if your church is in an affluent area. During the entirety of the pandemic, many of your churchgoers never met someone personally whose life was entirely transformed because of a ministry their giving helped to make possible. This is why is so imperative that leadership brings forward transformative stories.

What if you took it one step beyond just telling the stories and begin to strategically introduce your most capable givers of time, money, and expertise to experience firsthand the difference they are making or could be making with their giving of time and money. It could be as simple as inviting a couple of people to join you and the principal for lunch in the school cafeteria where your church supports the BackPack Program . They would see the kids and hear the impact made by having enough to eat over the weekend. The next step could be to invite them to bring their children to help pack meals for the next week.

Donors who are engaged in a hands-on ministry give 3.5x as much as donors who only attend service 1-2 times per month. Of course, we don’t want to limit this strategy to only those with high-capacity to give time, wisdom, or money, but it’s a good place to start.

3. We Don’t Demonstrate Our Commitment to Growing in Joyful Generosity

After belief in the mission, the second most important reason people choose one organization over another when making a charitable gift is their regard for and relationship with the leadership. In a church, typically the senior pastor is by far the most influential leader. If you are a senior pastor or key leadership, how often do you speak about building a culture of generosity, not only within the church community, but also in your own household? If you want to build a culture of generosity in your church, you need to share often the importance of this spiritual discipline for each household, but also demonstrate the steps your household is taking to grow in joyful generosity. I’m not just talking about sharing the percentage of your income you give, but also sharing frequently micro-lessons, like when introducing ways to give “my husband and I choose to use electronic recurring giving because…”.

We live at a time of enormous change, disruption and division. We are also bombarded with advertisements which tell us “we deserve the newest and best” or “you are less if you don’t have…”. The result is many people feel responsible only for taking care of themselves and no one else.

Building a culture of generosity in 2022 requires we not only talk about biblical principles but also that we openly model them. Ultimately, there are countless ways to re-imagine church and lead with generosity.

4. Our Most Personal Household Contacts Are When We Want Something

Let's face it; everyone's busy. We live in the information age, and we're drowning in data and a continuous assault on our collective senses and time. As a result, it isn't easy to find space and time for reaching out—personally—to people, except when it comes to the annual giving appeal. Everyone gets a personal letter, phone call, or email. It's one of the reasons why many feel church leadership only addresses them personally when they want something like giving or to fill a hole in the volunteer ranks. Remember, regard for and connection with leadership is the second most important factor when choosing where to invest charitable giving.

It’s important to have church leadership connecting personally with households at times other than asking for money or to volunteer. For instance, you could ask your church leaders to connect with every household that calls your church home with a personal phone call, note, email, or text. The frequency of these connections will depend on the size of your church, but all but the largest churches can connect this way at least annually. Ideally, this would happen a couple of times each year. The purpose must be for something other than asking for something. You might start with saying thank you for the specific ways this person helped the mission of the church. This should not be just a staff function, your church leadership team, finance, trustees, personal and ministry teams can all participate. If you have 24 leaders making 5 “non-ask” contacts per month, you can touch over 1,400 households each year, or 700 twice a year. Doing so keeps the church and its leaders as a living presence in their lives.

5. We Fail to Say Thank You

Our collective humanity, including our differences, is what makes humans in the image of God. As a result, it's vital to see every person as unique. Almost everyone will serve and give more when they are thanked. This human need to be seen and encouraged is deeply connected to our regard for and relationship with church leadership. It is as simple as catching someone doing something you want to be repeated and saying thanks.

The reality is that the power of thanks is essential for serving and giving, but it needs to feel personal. While saying thank you from the pulpit or newsletter (one to many communication) is appropriate and helps to promote a culture of generosity, the real opportunity to open a heart to the movement of the Holy Spirit is to ensure we are also thanking people individually. A note, voicemail, personal text, or email is incredibly powerful, especially when the acknowledgment comes from a senior leader. It can be as simple as thanking someone for serving three years in a church ministry or noticing that a new estimate of giving 10% higher than last year. The key is that it is personal and specific.

6. We Fail to Create or Share Clear Ministry and Spending Plan Outcomes

The third most important reason people choose one charitable organization over another is their perception of the fiscal accountability of the organization. In other words, is my gift going to be used in the way intended and will it have the impact I am hoping for?

This is first about trust. The reality is that if your households don't have trust in the fiscal integrity of the church, they're not going to give generously. You may be thinking, how could church members not trust their church? Trust in anything becomes harder and harder to win with each new generation. We live in a time of “fake news and opinions cast as facts,” and generally speaking, people are wisely skeptical about what they read or hear. The trusted institutions of the past aren't as trusted, including churches, government, and the media. For example, trust in government in the U.S. declined from a 73% high in 1958 to 24% in 2021. Trust in the church has fallen from 86 percent in 1985 to just 36% in 2019.

Churches must be transparent. In short, at a time of great mistrust, church leaders have to offer clarity and transparency. For example, your church could invest in an audit or a review of internal financial processes and promote a link to the summary on the website.

It is not only about trust, but also about effectiveness. Some households simply don't know how effectively their giving will get used. We don’t enjoy the trust in leadership that once existed. To grow a culture of generosity today, we must clearly answer the question - why should I give to this church? This means we have to share what happens to the money raised.

But it’s more than just saying where the giving is spent. It is critical that churches articulate how they measure the effectiveness of their ministries in relation to the human and financial investments and the desired impact (measurable outcomes). A great starting point is a narrative ministry budget that describes the financial resources (inputs) for each area of ministry. Narrative ministry budgets allocate overhead expenses into ministry areas, such as Worship, Spiritual Formation, Serving, and Caring Ministries. In doing so, you offer members increased clarity as to how their donations are invested.

A narrative ministry budget should illustrate the desired activities and outcomes of each area. For instance: Grow Ministries (spiritual formation):

  • Creating Community and Growing Spiritual Formation: Launch 36 small groups (Sunday School classes, in-home groups, etc.) with the goal of increasing participation from 37% percent of adult active households to 45% in at least one group.
  • Serving as a Front Door: Add 35 new participants who were not already members or regular worship attendees with the goal of creating new members.
  • Developing Servants: Increase the number of persons in small groups who also serve in a hands-on ministry from 28% to 35% to increase community impact hours by 7%.
  • Developing Generosity: Increase giving among small group participants by 1% of the average community median income of $72,350 or $723 per household to increase ministry funding by...).

The best thing you could do as a church leader is to be transparent. Share with your church family during services, on the website, in church newsletters, and in special reports what happens with church giving and the difference it is making. Explain your plans, desired outcomes, and your processes that ensure financial integrity.

7. We Don’t Talk About Our Fears and Hang-Up’s Around Generosity

Unfortunately, money can be a good thing, or it can be something that's not so good. In other words, your households might not have a healthy relationship with their finances, let alone with church giving. In this case, it's not about you, but it's about them. Perhaps you wonder how this could be the case? How could someone not have a healthy relationship with money? It happens. For example, perhaps some of your members grew up in households where their parents couldn't pay the bills. Inevitably, they repeat the same pattern as adults or have deep feelings of scarcity around money. These examples can also apply to how a person views time.

How can you help people increase their generosity? Pastors, acknowledge the reality that money and the use of time is an essential part of our lives. Sermons need an aspirational element, but it is helpful to also talk about the issues that make living into generosity difficult. By acknowledging peoples' (and your) fears around money and time, you help them see that they're not alone. Others feel the same. As they realize they are not alone in their struggles and that the church is part of their solution, you'll see generosity increase.

8. Our Debt and Money Management

Unfortunately, our schools and families don't do a great job of helping people become financially literate. As a result, many households struggle with debt and crushing money issues. As it stands, household debt in America stands at $15.24 trillion! Between maxed credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, car loans, student loans, etc., it's no wonder Americans live to work. However, this affects church giving because people don't feel they have “enough” to share.

One of the best things you could do as a church is to provide classes and resources about financial management for households. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every church in the U.S. offered courses to students and families about how to manage finances? This is a pressing issue and one that is impacting giving in your church. Consider interweaving messaging about generosity with resources on how to be good stewards of the 90% God has entrusted us to manage, enjoy and use to further the Kingdom of God on earth.

Keep in mind that your church is looking at the way leadership stewards the church’s human and financial resources. We would never recommend a household create a plan to spend more money than they expected to earn or to create a budget that left no margin for the unexpected. Never would we say spend today and have faith God will provide tomorrow. Sadly, far too many churches model exactly this behavior. We increase the ministry spending plan without a solid plan to grow giving or our spending plans allocate 100% of all the giving we “hope” will come in, leaving no room for the unexpected or the movement of the Holy Spirit for something new between fiscal years.

The fiscal accountability of your church is the third of the major factors influencing your household’s giving and it extends beyond just ensuring each dollar was spent the way we said it was. In creating a culture of joyful generosity, we are modeling good stewardship as the church and as leaders and providing resources to help our households discern “why give and why give to our church.”

We Can Help You Create a Culture of Joyful Generosity: Horizons has helped thousands of churches and faith-based nonprofits overcome these issues. If you need help, please reach out to us at horizons.net or check out our free resources in Giving365.com.

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