The pastor I spoke with yesterday had a familiar problem: he wanted to encourage his church members to give to the church, but he was worried about making appeals for support from the pulpit. Fundraising in church was a difficult topic to navigate for him.
He’s not alone.
Fundraising in the Church Can Be a Touchy Subject
Pastors and staff often express that they worry about seeming too money-focused, even if part of their job is to keep the church and its programs running. Caught between their financial responsibilities and congregations that are sensitive about appeals from the pulpit, church staff often find themselves scraping by.
At the same time, churches are often the hub of a community that relies on its programs, outreach, and events.
What’s a church to do?
Here’s a look at the issue.
The Basis for Fundraising in Church
The Bible is full of references to giving in the church. Christians are called to be cheerful givers in 2 Corinthians 2:8-9, and Jesus praised the widow who gave her last two coins at the temple in Mark 12 and Luke 21. The generosity of the early church figures prominently in Acts, and, before the formation of the Christian church, Jewish believers were commanded to give 10% of their belongings to the temple.
So, historically, giving to the church is a time-honored tradition based on Scriptural commands.
Understanding why it’s a touchy subject requires a look at more recent events.
Today’s Skepticism around Fundraising in Church
Today’s church often operates as more than a church. It can be a social hub, a gathering place, a daycare or school – it’s often the center of a large community of people that go there for everything from worship nights to Wednesday-night dinners.
As a church expands its offerings, it naturally follows that more tithes and offerings are needed to fund those programs. Since regular tithers make up only 10-25% of any given congregation, it also follows that pastors and staff must find a way to encourage their members to support the church.
But recent scandals around high-profile evangelists misusing church funds has made church-goers leery of regular appeals for additional funding, especially when those funds are going to vaguely-defined programs or causes. Skeptics (or those who feel the church misuses money raised from members) point to Biblical stories like the moneylenders at the temple or Jesus’ command that disciples travel without carrying their belongings and trust in God to provide.
Church leaders can’t fault critics’ skepticism. Instead, they can lean on the Biblical case for supporting a church and its community while taking steps to put skeptics’ minds at ease.
Ease Fears by Building Transparent Church Fundraising Practices
Perhaps the most effective way to avoid skepticism from church members is to establish transparency around a church’s fundraising activities and how the money they raise is used.
There are a number of ways to do this, but here are some ideas:
Involve church members in budget planning
Making appeals for funding to make up budget shortfalls is tough. It’s even tougher when congregants aren’t familiar with your budget. To avoid that issue, give your church members insight into your budget planning process.
In many churches, members are invited to join semiannual congregational meetings. They’re usually short meetings that give members an overview of the church’s budget for the upcoming six months, plus reports from the staff that manages the budget. At the end, members are invited to voice any concerns they have, then vote to approve the budget.
Your church can modify this model by having your budget approved by a group from your congregation, by your denomination, or by other church leadership. Involving others in the church budgeting process increases transparency and accountability, which will be reassuring to church members if you have to make an appeal to make up a budget shortfall.
Let committees raise their own money for their own programs
Appointing committees that manage and find funding for their own programs does two things; one, it takes the pressure off staff that already has their hands full with other programs. And, two, it means that church leadership isn’t always the group that’s asking for additional funds.
De-centralizing appeals for support helps reiterate to church-goers that the money they give to various programs is really being put to work for the programs they want to support. Church donors, like donors to other nonprofit organizations, are more likely to give if they feel they are directly supporting a specific cause than a large, more nebulous cause. So instead of asking pastors to appeal for donations to the building fund, children’s fund, and youth group, invite committee members to make those appeals.
Move fundraising activities out of the pulpit
A quick word or message before passing the plates (or however your church members prefer to tithe) is appropriate. But for more fundraising communications, consider referencing ongoing needs at a different time. Including announcements about fundraising activities in the church before or after the service helps bring members’ attention to needs in other parts of the church without distracting from the main offering. You could also consider giving members the ability to support different groups’ fundraising efforts in the church lobby, setting up donation forms so people can give during the week, or bringing up needs at more informal church gatherings.
As churches continue to expand their offerings to their communities, they’ll need to figure out ways to raise more money without alienating their members. Having measures in place to separate tithes and offerings from program-specific fundraising helps accomplish those goals, and it gives churches more room to experiment with fundraising and more opportunities to grow.