Oregon-Idaho Conference

Clergy: You Need to Talk about Money

Inspiration? Challenge? Read this study.

Most of you, dear readers, know that numbers scare me. I was never a good math student. I switched my undergraduate major from elementary education to English when I found out that I’d have to teach third grade math. My graduate class in statistics almost pushed me over the edge.

But, and it’s a big but (and I cannot lie), I know that numbers areimportant. Last week’s postencouraged you to keep attendance and giving records (but please, don’t post them in the Bulletin). I actually groove on research that paints a picture of what’s being done well and where we could be doing better. Especially in the church.

Thus, I was excited to read the new study by (this is a mouthful so please bear with me) Indiana School of Philanthropy’s Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, the “National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices” or NSCEP for short. Whew. Now I can take a breath.

With a response rate of 40%, the NSCEP data was collected from leaders and administrators of a nationally representative sample of 1,231 congregations. The report provides an overview of how congregations receive, manage, and spend their financial resources. You can download the full report here. An excellent synopsis of the report written by folks at the Lake Institute can be found here.

What I found most intriguing from the synopsis was the way finances are managed by congregations. Here’s part of the NSCEP abstract (the pertinent information is bolded):

Unlike most nonprofit leaders, a substantial proportion of congregational leaders or clergy take a limited role in financial decisions and are hesitant to discuss finances or teach on giving.

  • Most congregations ask for money weekly, but at the same time 76% of congregations explicitly discuss giving during religious services quarterly or less often. Nine percent discuss or teach about giving weekly, and among those congregations, 90% experienced revenue growth over the past 3 years.
  • We find that 55% of head clergy have access to giving data, and of those with access, only 50% view giving records. Among those that have access and look, 58% reported increased revenue.
  • Congregational leaders ask their members to give a portion of their resources but rarely acknowledge or thank their donors. Sixty-three percent of congregations acknowledge individuals for their gifts once a year. 

Please let these numbers sink in:

Only nine percent of clergy talked about giving weekly (weekly!), but of those 90% – that’s ninety percent – experienced revenue growth over the past three years. Still afraid to talk about money in worship? In all likelihood, your fear of talking about money is getting in the way of people expressing generosity for your fabulous ministries. Those donations that could be going to your ministries are probably going to non-profits who are unashamedly asking people to support their organizations.

55% of clergy had access to giving records. Of those, only 50% looked at the data but 58% of them reported increased revenue. This didn’t happen by magic (or prayer, though it probably helped). Knowing who is generous in your congregation (with big or small gifts) can lead you to approach those people for specific projects that need funding. It does not and should not mean that you treat those people any better than you would any other people in your congregation. It does means that you know (just like many other non-profits) to whom you can turn to for an extra gift.

63% of congregations acknowledge individuals once a year for their gifts. This one hurts my heart the most. Once a year? A mere acknowledgement? Where’s the gratitude? No wonder people aren’t clamoring to give more. If you need a refresher on ways to thank, please re-read
Four Ways to Write a Right Thank You Note and Giving Statements: From Boring to Wow! Whatever you do, please mind your manners and say, “thank you” as often as you can.

I encourage you to read the highlights of the NSCEP Study and – especially for those research nerds – the entire report is well worth reading. But whatever you do, remember:

1. Talking about money can increase generosity.
2. Knowing who is generous in your congregation can increase generosity.
3. Thanking people is a key first step to increasing generosity.

These numbers in the NSCEP Study can help your ministry. And friends, they don’t need to scare you at all.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She is so happy (and relieved) that there are people out there who love numbers. And, she’s glad she knows how to use a calculator. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity or at CesieScheuermann.com.