Some of you may know the acryonm KISS. I did not when it was first whispered in my ear by an unknown man about five minutes before my first sermon many years ago. He was a robed lay reader and was seated next to me. The church was filled with the good people of my first curacy in Arizona.  Ken leaned over to me and whispered the word kiss in my ear. I was undone. What? Kiss? I turned to him as the great “Amen” was being sung and asked him to clarify his comment. Please! He smiled and said, “It’s is something I say to myself before I deliver any of the presentations at my office. K – I – S – S. It stands for “Keep it Simple, Stupid”.

Not only was I relieved…but I had received great wisdom in one word; or rather, four.

It is good advice and, in the leadership role of ordained men and women, it is sometimes GREAT advice. It is no secret that the work and the ministry we do is difficult. It is hard. Some are church planters in rocky or hard soil. That’s hard. Some are trying to revitalize congregations. That’s hard, too. Some clergy have resistant leaders or unfocused staff. That’s hard. Can we all agree? It is hard sometimes.

Keep it Simple!

But when I go visit a congregation I often find that the hard work of ministry is actually being made harder. Sometimes it is easy to see (as an outsider) and sometimes it takes a bit of investigation. But in almost every church situation I encounter (and I love them all!) I find that a few administrative tweaks here and communication links there can make a huge difference. Sometimes the introduction of ONE SIMPLE IDEA can spark a roomful of leaders with enthusiasm.

In other words, how do you KISS your work? Is it possible? Here are five easy and simple ideas about Being a Generosity Church that might make a big difference for you. I probably didn’t think of any of them on my own…but I have seen them all working well in other places.

[Note: I’ve put links to some external resources that go along with these ideas at the bottom of this post.]

Time to Write Off Checks?

Sure, no one under thirty-five seems to know what a checkbook is. While the use of a check is centuries old, it is going the way of all the earth. Dust. (Did you know that the United Kingdom had planned to phase out checks by 2018?) There is no question that check use is down…way down.

But there is a whole host of ways for people to give to churches now, and that’s nothing to be afraid of. Whether it’s giving kiosks that accept credit or debit cards, text-to-give options or other apps, or Electronic Fund Transfers, churches need to look beyond just passing the plate.

A historical artifact believed to be a primitive form of payment (credit: Michael Kooiman)

It is hard enough to ask members to give to the cause of Christ and the minstry of the church. Why make it harder by making it hard to give? Do yourself and your members a great favor and check your own channels of giving.

KISS! Here is a thought for stubborn decision makers:  At your next meeting, ask everyone to give a five dollar donation (non-cash) within the next 15 minutes. Ask them to find a way to send a check, an EFT, and credit card transaction, etc. using their own phone or laptop and your church’s current portal.  Hard or harder? In other words, we should audit our giving portals once a year; if there are redundant or little-used systems, we should look to consolidate and cut back.

Second, we must remember the paradox of choice. The more options people have, the more paralyzed and anxious they become about their choice. We should understand our people and our context and offer them the simplest, clearest choices to encourage faithful giving. My personal recommendation here is that churches should have 1) an easy way to set up a consistent monthly offering, 2) an easy way to give instantly through a mobile device or card, and 3) a collected offering of cash and checks during the Sunday service. Figure out what works best for your church and make it transparent to your people.

Everyone Chips In

But there is an objection to electronic giving. It isn’t worshipful. It doesn’t take place during the worship service. And taking out a mobile phone to punch in a few numbers doesn’t really cut it for some people. Ugh.

So how can you allow everyone to participate in the Sunday morning offering even as so many are giving through other channels? One rector came up with a great idea that keeps it all very, very simple.

Shawn McCain, the rector of Resurrection South Austin cares about making the liturgy of the Sunday service comprehensible and formative for those who attend. So, while his church has set up some seamless ways to give online, he didn’t want that to hinder full participation in the service. In a stroke of simple genius, Shawn and his team decided to create some branded wooden tokens that are available as individuals walk into the service. When the plate is passed, everyone is encouraged to contribute their token.

KISS! This symbolic gesture achieves several things at once. First, it connects the ethereal act of mobile or online giving with the tangible offering of our gifts to God in this moment of worship. Second, it allows individuals to make a pledge of a gift to be made later. It’s easy enough to think that you’ll go back and give after the fact; this makes that promise more vivid and encourages faithful follow-through. Third, it sends a clear message to everyone—we all give together. Even when there’s plenty of healthy giving through other channels, empty plates can send a message that discourages giving.

Go Old School: Envelopes, Pledges Cards, and Stamps

While we should look to be creative with new opportunities, we should also remember a few tried and true ways to encourage generosity. These days, giving envelopes seem almost nostalgic relics of a bygone era. I still see value in them. And, in today’s day and age, there’s no need for these to feel stiff or impersonal. There are plenty of sites (like this one) that allow you to customize envelopes to fit your church’s mission.

What can you do with these envelopes customized for your church?

KISS!  Here are five ideas that will work:

  1. Hand them out one by one with the bulletin on Sunday morning during the summer months to remind people to continue to give while they are on vacation.
  2. Use them for special cash offerings that could be given for specific ministries or missionaries. “Everything in the envelope this morning is going to be given to X ministry.”
  3. Send them in your quarterly statement as a very convenient way of helping people fulfill their giving commitments.
  4. Put your church’s financial update information in this customized envelope to help people imagine their part in the ministry.
  5. Put a packet of instant coffee in each envelope and a note that reads like this: “I’d love to have coffee with each of you to be sure that you know everything your church is doing…and how much your giving is a part of it. Call me and let me bring the hot water!” (Yes, I did this.)

Pledge cards aren’t just for capital campaigns, though those certainly have their time and place, as well. Thoughtfully and pastorally presented, pledge cards can help individuals and families assess their giving habits and make commitments for a dedicated period of time. Pledge cards can be used once a year or during a specific season—perhaps during a Lenten or Advent focus on generosity. I’ve always found that Christ the King Sunday, the end of the liturgical year, is a proper time to reflect on how Christ’s lordship is reflected in our giving. And, because this comes at the end of November, it can help reshape December spending and lay a foundation for next year’s gifts.

Get Grateful

Like I said above, we make a dangerous mistake if we think that people give to our church based on their opinion of our leadership. It’s not about us. Making it personal is a recipe for poor spiritual health and broken teaching about giving.

However, there’s nothing wrong with expressing your personal gratitude for faithful giving. Giving is a stretch for many individuals and families—either because it is tightening an already-tight budget or because it is exercising a new ‘generosity’ muscle that is unfamiliar and, at times, uncomfortable. People don’t need to have their egos stroked, but they also shouldn’t feel taken for granted. Hearing a pastoral voice recognize generosity and sacrifice reinforces growth and encourages a renewed commitment.

Further, it’s not always obvious that giving has any substantial impact. When a clear voice expresses gratitude for the generosity of God’s people, it completes the circle. It’s plain that the gifts were received and appreciated.

KISS! In other words, do what your mother told you to do. Write your thank you notes!

This ‘thank-you’ can take a few forms. You probably already include lots of gratitude in your year-end appeal letters already, but it can also help to separate the ‘thanks’ from the ‘ask.’ Where appropriate, hand write these letters and put them in the mail with a stamp. You can use a more public venue—the church bulletin or weekly newsletter, for example—to write a brief note recognizing the generosity of the church. You can also always express your gratitude to God in a brief prayer before the offering is received.

Where is it Going?

Sometimes smaller churches struggle to develop faithful givers because it isn’t always clear where the money goes. Many churches operate in rented or leased facilities that seem inexpensive. They don’t see a bloated church staff or flashy programs or slick curriculum. It’s often the case that the better steward a church is with its resources, the more invisible the use of those resources becomes.

When that happens, the people in the pews imagine that the cost is basically nothing. Sure, there are a few small staffing costs and, yes, some monthly expenses, but the church doesn’t really need any money.

Now, you don’t want to present your church as a pauper singing his sad song on the street corner, but it is important that you find intentional ways to communicate the real need for ongoing giving to sustain and grow the ministries of the church.

KISS! Talk to your people; straight up and honest. Like they were friends. Trust me, everyone wants to know what you know.

Here is the truth. In most churches, especially small churches, there is a presumption of knowledge among core members. The leaders think about and talk about the business of the church so often that they assume everyone else is in the know. As a result, communication becomes vague and allusive—it is only helpful in reminding a small group of what they already know, and it leaves everyone else in the dark and feeling out of the loop.

Trust me on this: I attend other churches a lot more than I ever used to now…and most of the time I feel like a total outsider. And I am. I hear a barrage of assumptions, awkward statements and innuendos about giving that leave me feeling squeamish and looking for an exit. I’ve exaggerated this slightly to make a point, but here’s an example of the sort of announcement I hear:

“Some of our members…well, actually more than some—I don’t know how many, but that’s beside the point and that’s really between you and God—but some, as I was saying, are behind in their giving. Or so I am told by our treasurer, Joe. Joe Baker. Retired, CPA. He knows a thing or two. We’ve got some things we are working toward as a church—we’ve talked about that—but it’s really important for us. So anyway, if you are behind in your giving (and you know who you are…haha haha…heh??) well, you can just call the church office on Monday and talk to Betty. The number is in the bulletin. (Aside) Betty, is that your cell or the office?? Oh, never mind…but she’ll answer any phone that rings, I guess. But she can give you Joe’s number and he has all the records, and you can get it all figured out. See Sue after the service if you want more information.”

Send in the clowns! I don’t have a clue what I am being asked to do. Am I one of the ones he’s talking about? How would I even know if I’m behind? Who’s Betty? What is the telephone number? Which one is Sue, again?

Simple Changes

There isn’t anything revolutionary in any of this—that’s exactly my point. Most of the leaders I’ve met believe that the ‘lift’ required to raise generosity is too great. They think that because they can’t do ‘everything’, they may as well do nothing. To them, I would just want to whisper: KISS.

You could implement any one of these solutions in the next week or month, and the benefit will be immediate. Notice also that even though these are practical tips, there’s a pastoral underpinning to all of it. When we communicate well, when we steward our resources responsibly, when we make giving easier, we are uniting everyone in the church around the work of the gospel. We are cutting through distraction, limiting conflict, and enabling the body of Christ to fulfill its mission.

Notes:

  1. If you are trying to streamline giving portals, look for resources like Planning Center Giving that offer all-in-one services.
  2. This site offers inexpensive custom wooden nickels similar if you’d like to try Shawn’s idea.
  3. Customizable or stock offering envelopes from MyOfferingEnvelope.com
  4. If you want more help with year-end appeals, check out this side-by-side comparison of my own letters.