by David Roseberry
I have been so grateful for the many people who have responded to the vision of Giving Up. Several rectors have texted me and told me that the book made a difference in their thinking and in their planning for the last three months of the year. And, thankfully, in the way their church responded.
One bishop told me that we’ve “created a conversation among our leaders that has been very helpful.” He says: “Lots of our clergy have told me that they have used some of the principles and approaches you outline in the book for the first time. I heard one young leader say to another, ‘I just wrote the whole church about becoming a generous church! No fallout!’”
That was a gratifying comment to hear.
Another leader texted me: We saw 70K come in December! (60k will hit our December books & 10K will spill over to Jan)… Everyone is so happy and relieved. Thanks again for all the coaching! I have a list of 44 people to write thank you notes to who gave. And this same Rector and his team put together THE MOST beautiful Year-end appeal letter I have ever seen. (See right.)
But know this: we aren’t done yet. The entire purpose of teaching and preaching this hidden virtue of the early church is NOT to fill the coffers of your congregation; it is to develop the heart of generosity in your members so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can go forward!
We are calling churches to rethink everything they know about generosity, giving, and the gospel. Generosity renews our hearts—it redefines the call to discipleship. Generosity changes minds—it re-establishes the evangelistic vision of the church for the sake of the world.
So stay with me all year long. Read this blog. Reread the book. Order a box of books for your Vestry. Keep the dream alive! We are preparing some adult education curriculum for Sunday Schools and small groups. And more.
In the meantime, there are some ‘new year’ conversations you may be having in your church right now. Here’s some friendly advice from someone who’s been there a time or two.
I had an interesting text from a Rector wondering if I had any advice about a thank you letter to go along with the annual statement of giving for tax purposes.
Here was my text back:
Well…here is how I feel about it. If you include a “thank you” note in the tax receipts there are three negatives: 1) Your people will associate their giving with tax-deductions, and that is not a good thing. That is not the primary motivation for giving. 2) Whatever you could say in that letter would read like a form letter. It won’t mean much. Your people took the time to think and pray about what to give at the end of the year. You should too. Send them an individual letter that is from you to them with a REAL stamp on it. And besides, 3) most people will not read it; they’ll just throw it in a drawer and pull it out later when they are doing their taxes.
What about a Savings Account?
A few churches I worked with ended in the black and have substantial ‘excess funds.’ That raises a fascinating question that someone might ask me: what would you advise the Vestry to do with excess funds?
Excess funds need to be prayed about, thoughtfully understood, and carefully managed. Some thoughts:
- There is no such thing as a ‘Savings Account’ for a church. A church is not in the business of saving money. It is not Savings; it is a ‘Reserve.’
A church needs to have a reserve for many reasons. But the general idea is reserve funds are monies that are used to help even out cash flow or address emergencies. Reserves are a good thing. But Savings accounts demotivate givers.
(I learned this the hard way. A donor was about to give an extra gift in one specific year. He asked me what the funds would be used for. I told him that the church was going to open a savings account with it. A rainy day fund in case we have something we want to do. He said to me, “I tell you what, I already have a savings account. I’ll keep it there until you decide what you are going to do with the money. I give so that it will be given.”)
- A church might consider that a 3-4 month reserve is sufficient to ‘even’ out the cash flow. This is wisdom.
- It is unwise to say, “Let’s start a building fund with our excess cash!!!!” While there might be a need for a building fund, a bit of excess cash will not get it started. That is a significant decision that has to planned and prayed over. Officially labeling surplus funds as a ‘building fund’ can stall your church from the challenging work of raising real capital for new facilities.
(I’ve seen this sort of account in some small churches. Somewhere down below the middle of the page is a “Fund”, about $45,000, more or less, labeled ‘BUILDING FUND.’ These funds were windfall money one year that were set aside by some well-meaning Vestry for a future project. When asked about it, someone will say, “Oh that has been on the books for seven years.” Seven years and no building. Think of what that $45,000 could have done seven years ago!)
In sum, a Vestry should consider one of three possibilities with excess funds:
- Place them in reserve to be spent if needed. “What foundation do we need to have to support this budget and all the ups and downs we’ve gone through?”
- Recast this year’s budget in light of new resources. “What did we cut that needs to be funded?”
- Give them to a church plant for some other congregation that is in need. “Who do we know that might need what God has provided in excess for us?”
Generosity is a year-long conversation—it will take different forms in the seasons of your church’s life. When you drop in a stewardship sermon in late November, it feels hollow if it isn’t connected with a holistic message of learning how to give sacrificially in the model of Jesus for the sake of others.
And, like I said, we are just getting started here at LeaderWorks. We are committed to equipping you for the long-haul, to grow giving and create a culture of generosity that transforms the church from the inside out. I can’t wait!
 Remember that every church should provide a statement to every donor of over $250 that includes their name, contribution amount, date of contribution, and the name of the organization to which it was contributed. And one more statement that, in effect, says: “You did not receive any goods or services in connection with these contributions other than intangible religious benefits.”