Money, Money, Money: Stewardship in a Church Plant
Talking about money in a church plant can be a strange and wondrous thing. First of all if you are reaching the people that you have set out to reach you will likely be doing a lot of teaching about what stewardship even is. People who are new to church don’t know about the Bible’s instruction about giving or why it’s important to their discipleship. It is a new idea to many that we should stretch ourselves by giving sacrificially and trust in God for our provision.
In their book Ten Most Common Mistakes Make by New Church Starts, Jim Griffith and Bill Easum list “[f]ear of talking about money until it’s too late” as one of those mistakes. Talking about money is not a bad thing – Jesus did it a lot. It’s the way in which we talk about money that gets us in trouble sometimes. In my experience as a church planter, talking about money was not painful; it was actually fun. People were brought into the vision of the church and so they wanted to support that mission financially. We also communicated well about how we were using the money so that no one ever had to question whether or not investing in the church was a good investment.
So as you look at your stewardship plans and goals for the next year, here are five things that we found very helpful in teaching and leading stewardship in our church plant.
Prove the Church Plant is Willing to Be Generous
The advantage a church plant has over an existing church is low overhead cost. That allows the church to do more creative missional things with its dollars. In our first year of existence we were doing so well financially by Easter that I went to our finance chairperson and asked if we could give away our entire Easter offering. He wasn’t crazy about it at first but after some more conversation and prayer he called me and said, “I’ve been thinking about it and if we just hold on to everything that comes in, then we’re not really being the church.” That Easter we had our largest offering to that point and we gave it all to an orphanage in Haiti from where our worship leaders were adopting. It ended up paying for 6 months of their operations. At the end of that year we finished way ahead of the expenses from our very conservative budget and we put a bunch of the overage in savings but not before we tithed 10% of the overage and let the church vote on the mission that we would spend it on. The church was more than willing to give because they knew we were practicing the generosity that we were asking of them.
Be Creative In How You Do Stewardship
There are a lot of great stewardship programs out there and many of them are “plug and play” with proven results. Don’t forget, though, that church plants are often very different from existing churches and many of the programs assume a certain level of stewardship understanding that new churches won’t have. We tried to find creative ways to communicate the discipleship importance of giving during our stewardship push. One year, I had heard about an idea that I liked so much we tried it. When people filled out their pledge cards we had them put them inside envelopes and then seal the envelope. We then asked them to put their address on it. They would bring their commitments to the altar and leave them their for God and we would never open them. We told the church that we had enough historical data by that point to make a budget for the next year and that their pledge was going to be between them and God. Six months into the year we mailed the cards back to the individuals so that they could see how they were doing on the commitment they had made to God. We were trying to make the point that giving is a big part of discipleship – not just “paying the bills” for the church.
Don’t Neglect the Offering Time In Worship
I know a lot of church plants don’t have an offering during worship and I get why. I am a proponent of still having a regular weekly offering. We never got much from passing the plate, but it gave us a chance every week to share about the importance of giving. I once heard Jim Shepherd from Generis, a consulting firm in finances for church, say that every week during the offering time you should be doing one of three things: 1. Teach what the Bible says about giving, 2. Have a witness about how giving (or the ministries of the church supported by the giving) has changed someone’s life; or 3. Thank the people for giving. All three of those things are important and your weekly offering time gives you a chance to teach, witness and thank people for their giving regularly.
Regularly Report on the Finances
I did a quarterly report on the finances of our plant and I called it an “Investors Report” because we were trying to drive home the point that they were investing in the vision of our church. In the report, I shared stories of the fruit from the church’s ministry over the last three months and at the end of the report I thanked the congregation for investing in our ministry. In a small box on the side we would put the hard numbers—what came in, what went out—and on the back we put that individual family’s giving report for the last quarter. It kept people in the loop with what was happening and it gave us the opportunity to share ministry success stories and further shape the narrative of what the church was accomplishing.
Conclusion: Be Generous Yourself
You have probably heard the old adage that you can’t lead people where you aren’t willing to go yourself. That is certainly true when it comes to giving, especially in a church plant. People in a church plant can smell anything inauthentic a mile away and if you are asking them to give 10% of their income and you are not doing that yourself, they will figure it out and you will likely lose those people. You have to be willing to be generous if you are going to ask others to be. For the first couple of years my wife and I were in the top 5 givers of our plant. As time went on that changed, we kept sliding further down the list – not because we changed what we were giving, but because others were becoming more and more generous. That’s a good thing. Being generous allows you to experience the joy of faithful stewardship and experience more deeply the Lord’s provision in your life. If you’re not connecting stewardship with discipleship in your own life, then you will be lacking resources to lead out of abundance!