As the Evergreen Project continues to create, collect, and curate the best resources for a thriving church, the issue of pledge cards comes quickly to the front of the line.
Recently, we addressed the base level question of whether congregations should use an annual pledge card system as a best practice for regular giving. We looked at some of the pros and cons, emphasizing that, whether it is through a yearly pledge system or something else, each congregation needs to have an intentional generosity plan. This plan needs to help people take/make a moment of prayerful decision about their giving.
Remember, this isn’t merely fund-raising. It’s about making disciples as we invite people to participate with us in the mission of God and relate to their money in a counter-cultural manner.
In this blog post, I want to bring up some additional factors to consider.
- First, we’ll look at a creative approach to the annual pledge card system.
- Second, we’ll consider ways the annual pledge card system might operate from “old school” assumptions about resources and income.
Pledge Cards: A Creative Approach
One of the main reasons that churches use an annual pledge card system is for income forecasting and budgeting. In terms of posture, for many, it is designed for the church.
If the membership of a congregation has pledged $400,000 for the next year’s budget, then church leadership has a firm starting point for making the annual budget. This can be a vital part of wise stewardship.
Of course, churches will need to engage in further wise, prayerful forecasting as they anticipate their income. Is the church growing or declining? What percentage of pledges are typically fulfilled?
One young church planter I talked to does not use an annual pledge card system. Instead, his team tracks the monthly giving of each member and then multiplies it by 10 for a conservative guesstimate looking ahead to the following year. That figure is then added to an amount forecasted for new giving and increased giving by members to calculate the annual budgeted income amount for the next year.
Again these are all questions and issues about how the annual pledge card system helps a church.
But, what if we think about it from the other side of the pew. What would it look like to take the budgeting aspect out of the annual pledge card system?
Here’s what I mean. The most important thing is to help our people make an intentional, prayerful decision about their giving. What if instead of a pledge amount, we invited people into a process of pledging a percentage.
Imagine what this might look like with me. We ask people to pray about making a giving commitment for the following year based on a portion of their income.
We hold up the 10% tithe as a Biblical norm, but point out that some people will be working up to 10%, and some people will be working up from 10%. Think about the member who might not be giving anything. Do we want to hold up 10% as all or nothing? I don’t think so. Rather, we want them to think about a reasonable plan to get to 10%.
Leaving aside the assumptions about income when we talk about giving 10% (we’ll talk about that next), having people commit to a percentage rather than an amount feels different.
The “Pauline” Pledge
In keeping with the Apostle’s strong suggestion to the Corinthians, we can name this approach after Paul. He asked the Corinthian believers to set aside an amount of money every week in keeping with their income (1 Corinthians 16). It was a proportionate pledge.
The way this might work is to send each member a letter about the upcoming year and an invitation to prayerfully consider their giving. Enclosed would also be an index card and another stamped envelope addressed to the member.
You could have a commitment Sunday where members bring this forward as a prayerful commitment before the Lord. All they have to do is write the percentage on the index card and turn it in with the envelope.
The congregation could record the percentage and then mail it back to each member as an encouragement of their commitment for the next year. Some congregations may even wish to make it a sealed envelope commitment between each member and the Lord.
This takes issues of exact amount and budgeting out of the equation and focuses on the discipleship side of generosity.
“Old School” Income Assumptions
There is one additional factor that churches must think through in light of their local context as we consider the annual pledge card system.
Some might cast aspersions on the yearly pledge card system as “old school” in the sense that it could feel dated and stale.
However, I think the most “old school” thing about the annual pledge card system common in many of our churches is the “old school” assumptions about income.
Put simply, the annual pledge card system assumes income stability and job continuity that no longer matches the reality in most of our ministry contexts. The annual pledge card system assumes that each member has an accurate projection of their income for the next year—a projection that they can use as their basis for their annual pledge.
Think about it—some in our churches who are part of the Builder Generation likely worked 30 years for the same company! They knew exactly how much they got paid and what a reasonable bonus or raise might look like. There were set salaries and set jobs. So, it makes sense to make set pledges from that amount.
But is that the reality today? Think about how many in our churches work in commission-based environments. They don’t know how much they are going to make year to year. They can guesstimate, but an annual pledge system based on a percentage rather than an amount makes much more sense for them.
The “Gig” Pledge
There is a buzzword out there—”the Gig Economy.” I’m not an expert in this by any means, but it gets at the idea that many more people are adopting creative approaches to work, vocation, and income.
Many, many more people are starting small businesses or working for themselves. Others find “side-gigs” to supplement their income or work multiple jobs. People are much more prone to move around from job to job and place to place.
Does our annual pledge card system make room for them? The basic discussion around pledging a set amount based on a 10% tithe of your income does not account for this fluidity.
This may be particularly true in a younger congregation, but it’s also true for our older congregants. Think about the number of retirees in our churches. If we ask them to give 10% of their income, what are we saying? Many of them are living off past income and investments. Some of them even tithed 10% off that initial earning. Should they give 10% of their retirement income based on earnings? Is this a kind of double-tithing tax?
Here’s the thing, we might retire from working, but we shouldn’t retire from generosity. How do we help our older members with generosity?
You see the number of issues. In my mind, the annual pledge card system assumes that the majority of the congregation is regularly working in a stable job and income environment. But, most of our job and income environments are fluid and many of our members are no longer regular working.
These factors must be taken into account by church leadership as we think about best practices around generosity and how helpful an annual pledge system is as a stewardship tool in any given local context.
The “Triple-T” Pledge
Those who have subscribed to the Generosity Box have seen the Manual and Supplement for the Fall program called “The Joy of Giving Up.” It is included in the cost of the Box.
In the Supplement, there is an example of a pledge card used at Chapel of the Cross in Dallas. The pledge card they have produced has spaces for each person or family to fill out how they will give of their
- Talent, and
It is a unique approach and demonstrates that the church is not only interested in the money side of people’s commitment. Check it out. (If you want a Generosity Box, please order yours today at the Evergreen website.)
Whatever system you choose, remember that the completed pledge card is not the goal of the campaign. The pledge card is the result of a process of prayer, discussion, discernment, and decision that every family should be encouraged to have during these Fall months.
Canon David has over 35 years of local congregational ministry, diocesan and national involvement, leadership, and ministry experience and is the founder of Leaderworks. He was the founding Rector/Pastor, Christ Church, Plano and currently serves as the Strategic Leader and Dean, Diocese of C4SO.