Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team
“Stewardship is a journey that is grounded in gratitude, revealed in prayer, lived in faith.”
—Kristine Miller & Scott McKenzie
Most of us struggle with stewardship: those of us who are asked to make a commitment to our congregations out of our God-given gifts, and those of us being asked to do the asking. Kristine Miller & Scott McKenzie’s book Bounty: Ten Ways to Increase Giving at Your Church speaks mainly to the latter: the stewardship ministry leaders in our congregations.
It comes as great relief that Miller & McKenzie understand our struggle and provide us guidance, encouragement, and useful hands-on approaches to encourage our fellow parishioners to join us in inviting God into our giving. That such an invitation should even be necessary may be a surprise, but the reality, acknowledged by Miller & McKenzie, is that our giving out of God’s bounty reflects a journey. From “because I’m told it’s the right thing” to “joyful giving,” most of us go through several profound transformations.
Giving with Gratitude
Our role as stewardship ministry leaders is to help our fellow parishioners— and ourselves—to travel this road by integrating our giving and our gratitude for God’s bounty in our lives. This is the first, and perhaps most important, of the ten ways to increase giving in our church.
Gratitude is also what distinguishes our congregations from so many of the worthwhile secular charities which approach us for gifts. With our secular donations, we may target specific causes: relieve hunger, protect animal friends, alleviate the impact of catastrophe, protect a piece of the world in which we live, support refugees… But only when we are asking—or are asked—to give to our congregations, are we asked to give because we are grateful to God, who gave to us first. And only if we invite God into our discernment of God’s gifts can we begin to reflect and respond in gratitude. This is perhaps the most challenging but most liberating gift stewardship ministry leaders can return to their congregations.
Practical and actionable
From this foundation, Miller & McKenzie offer nine practical, hands-on areas from which stewardship ministry leaders can choose specific actions for our congregations. The list of possible actions in each of the additional nine areas is as comprehensive as can be.
All of these nine additional areas are important and many perhaps fall into the category of “all we need to know, we learned in kindergarten.” But we can lose sight of them under the pressure and time constraints of an annual stewardship campaign. Miller & McKenzie don’t overlook anything, and all readers will benefit from their thoroughness.
Witnessing—perhaps a challenge for some supposedly staid and reserved Episcopalians—gets its own chapter as one of the nine areas that stewardship ministry leaders should not overlook. Building your leadership team, letting go of unhelpful ingrained practices, expanding into year-round stewardship, and asking the right questions of our congregations round out the discussion. Every one of these is accompanied by to-do lists, from which the stewardship ministry team can select appropriate actions for a given year’s focus, and select additional or different actions in subsequent years.
Know the congregation
Miller & McKenzie are careful to remind the reader that it is important we understand the makeup of our congregations first, using current giving habits as one way to group parishioners. Once this analysis is complete, the stewardship ministry leaders can focus on specific actions from the comprehensive lists offered, speaking to just a few specific audiences when shaping a given year’s stewardship campaign.
In Miller & McKenzie’s model, “demystifying money” is key. We must be willing to see money as a means to express gratitude, as well as a means to further our congregation’s mission of building God’s kingdom. Tithing—a challenge for many of us—is discussed with great honesty and in great detail.
One area where this reviewer differs with Miller & McKenzie concerns the provision of regular updates to the congregation on progress made over the course of a year in meeting the aggregate stewardship commitment. The authors offer substantive and good insights on how and why not to do it, as well as some suggestions on how to do it right. For this reviewer, providing a well-constructed and regular stewardship update is a natural part of demystifying money, as long as it is done right.
Bottom-line: an eminently practical, hands-on guide, full of insight, and immediately actionable suggestions and ideas. Take your pick, do not fear, and lead your congregation’s stewardship campaign to soar!