Posted: Jan 19
Resolve To Do Three Stewardship Practices This Year
Annual Giving,Environmental Stewardship,Generations & Stewardship,Stewardship Formation,Year Round & Holistic Stewardship
I know. New Year’s resolutions are a joke. Nobody keeps New Year’s resolutions, good intentions notwithstanding. Let’s just say that upfront and out loud. Now, take a breath and admit that sometimes things have to change.
Here are three simple ideas that if practiced over the coming twelve months will transform your stewardship efforts and your church. In reality, we truly cannot do without them.
1. Write Thank You Notes Every Week
That’s right, every week. Look for people to send hand-written notes of thanks to–your church is full of them. In the line at the post office recently, several people lamented to me that no one sends letters any more unless they are important communications. Bingo! Your notes of thanks are just that—important communications that build and cement relationships with your parishioners.
Begin with a hand-written thank you to all households that pledge, and to each pledger in a household if there is more than one. If the rector or vicar makes the effort to send a hand-written thank you to all your pledgers, and sends them all at the same time so no one receives theirs before anyone else, people will be amazed, and in the long run your church will benefit in ways unimaginable. Take 15-20 minutes a day to write them until completed. It is worth doing. Send them in January and again in June, without fail. When you take the time to send hand-written thank you notes, the response to them is typically overwhelming. Their response may overwhelm you, too.
Make time each week to send sincere notes of thanks and praise to five or six people, and you will change your church inside out. A priest from the Diocese of Texas heard me make this claim at a workshop I presented at Camp Allen one summer. At a Gathering of Leaders conference later the following fall, he happened to be there. He stopped me abruptly and told me he “wrote five or six thank you notes a week for over a month and it changed everything.” For him, it worked. I cannot imagine that saying “thank you” often and sincerely to your parishioners would not work for you, too.
2. Ask People What They Like About Your Church and Listen To Their Answers
Do I really have to say this? Yes, I do. Because most clergy and stewardship ministry leaders THINK they know why people love their church, but unless you actually ASK them you are making an assumption. And you know the rule about assumptions.
How do you do this without sounding obvious? Easy! Get them to tell you a story.
Try starting with this prompt: When you look back over the entire time you have been a member here, tell me about the best experience you’ve ever had at Precious Blood of Jesus Episcopal Church*? What made it the best experience? Who participated in it? How did you feel about it? What you did do as a result of the experience? (These questions come from the Appreciative Inquiry approach by the Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle, at ClergyLeadership.com: see his “The Power of Great Questions.”)
Without making it sound like you’re interviewing parishioners, you might ask them what they value about the church, what they think the core value of your church is (“you know, that ‘thing’ without which it wouldn’t be Precious Blood of Jesus Episcopal Church”), and what three wishes they have for your church. That is a key question because it points to a vision your people have of where they want to see the church go. When they share with you their wishes, write them down as they watch, so they see you seriously meant the question and that you value their answers.
The most important thing in building these relationships is to listen, truly listen. Do not assume you know what they are going to say. Ask follow-up questions without sounding nosy or like you work for 60 Minutes. People will tell you everything you need to know if you only listen to them. The best book—by far—that I have ever read on listening is Just Listen, by Mark Goulston, MD.
3. Tell Stories of Transformation, Again, and Again, and Again
One of the most fascinating books I have read of late is The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall. Unlike any other creature on the planet, human beings are built for stories: to tell stories, to hear stories, to be influenced by stories. Well, every one of our churches has multiple stories to tell of the lives changed and transformed by the ministry of each congregation.
We must tell stories of transformation to our people, so they know that we have used their resources rightly in the building up of God’s church. And whenever we tell a story of transformation, which I think should occur on a monthly basis at minimum, we should also say thank you. “Thank you. Without your generosity and financial support, this story wouldn’t have happened. When you give to Precious Blood of Jesus Episcopal Church, you know it changes lives. Thank you for your generosity.” That simple reminder alone makes a powerful connection: giving to my church = life transformation. Who would not want to invest in that?
Also, tell these stories of transformation throughout the year, and not just at “pledge time.” Make communicating how lives are changed by the ministries of your church a regular part of your communications: in newsletters, in emails, from the pulpit, at announcement time, on bulletin boards, in bulletin inserts—tell real life, flesh and blood stories of transformation, over and over and over again. Let people know their giving matters, that it changes lives, and thank them for their giving regularly.
Adopt these three stewardship practices in your congregation during this coming year, and by year’s end, you, too, will have a story of transformation to tell about how such practices can change people’s lives, and transform a church, as well.
*Precious Blood of Jesus is not a real Episcopal Church, but a fake name borrowed from the late Rev. Robert John Dodwell, who told stories of a little church called PBJEC, located in the Louisiana bayou.
The Rev’d Canon Timothy M. Dombek
Canon for Stewardship and Planned Giving
The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
114 W. Roosevelt Street
Phoenix, AZ 85003-1406
(602) 254-0976, ext 2229 work,
(602) 495-6603, fax
(602) 615-1352, cell