Church finance updates can sometimes do more damage than good. The message often feels the same and can sound something like this: church giving is behind but there’s a chance to meet budget by the end of the year if everyone can just pick up the slack.
Have you ever considered how a message like this can be interpreted by your congregation?
Don’t get me wrong—much good can come from a carefully delivered financial update! But there are some things church leaders can say that communicate the wrong message. Here are four messages to avoid when giving a financial update:
1. Don’t apologize
Of the 38 parables that Jesus taught, 16 address the theme of money and possessions. And yet, many church leaders feel the need to apologize whenever money is discussed.
Let’s remember that financial matters are primarily matters of the heart. Church finances go well beyond the numbers; they paint a picture of church health and ministry accomplishment. Wise stewardship is important, the mission of the church is important, dependence on God is important, transparent conversation is important. Don’t apologize for it.
2. Don’t make it about the budget
Did Jesus establish the church to make disciples or to finish the year in the black?A church budget is simply the financial means by which a church fulfills its mission. But many financial updates treat a balanced budget like it’s the bullseye. Let’s think about this for a moment. What is more inspiring: mission accomplishment or a balanced budget? Did Jesus establish the church to make disciples or to finish the year in the black?
I’m not discounting the importance of fiduciary responsibility—it’s critical. But it shouldn’t be talked about as if it’s the ultimate thing. A balanced budget is the means, not the ends. The budget doesn’t make disciples; the budget enables the community to be equipped to make disciples. So instead of emphasizing bar graphs and numbers, tell stories of how your church is fulfilling its mission as a way of highlighting the importance of giving to your church.
3. Don’t give a halftime speech
Too many finance updates sound like mellow halftime speeches that a frustrated coach would deliver to an underachieving team. The tone of updates like this can leave a congregation feeling like they need to “pick it up” or “dig a bit deeper” if there’s any hope of catching up before the end of the fiscal year.
This can sometimes work with athletes because they have a clear understanding of team parameters. Players know their roles and there’s little ambiguity about who is “on” the team or the understood expectations. But in a church? You have first-time visitors, longtime members, and everything in-between. Some will share the conviction to give generously and others will feel no responsibility. If you lump everyone into the same group and deliver one “let’s get ’em” message, you’re guaranteed to distance yourself from those who don’t fit your assumed audience.
Imagine how sacrificial givers would feel if they heard, “If we can double our giving over the next two months…” Instead, thank those who are giving faithfully and challenge others to experience the joy of contributing to a church that is seeing the lives of people changed.
4. Don’t stop with the update
Finance updates are like bulletin announcements: they’ll reach some people, but if you choose to stop there, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of engagement.
If your financial update includes a stated goal or challenge, provide incremental updates and build on the momentum that develops. Share a story of a person who is choosing to give for the first time and have them emphasize why they’re giving. If you’re facing a significant budget challenge or are raising funds for a capital campaign, be sure to follow up with individual donors to gauge their commitment level. Failing to communicate in these ways will tell your church that the finances—and your mission—really aren’t important.
Can you think of other messages that do more harm than good? I’d love for you to share your thoughts below.
For further reading on this subject, I recommend Clif J. Christopher’s Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship which has shaped my thinking on this subject.
[Keith Reed is the Director of Special Projects for MB Seminary.