The primary source of funds for ministry in our churches is contributions from members. We call it stewardship. St. Francis said that it is by giving that we receive. I have experienced the gifts of giving. It seems that I can give freely and things work out. I still have enough, I am supporting what is important to me, and it makes a difference in my life and in the lives of others.
I am especially eager to give when I see the need and I am asked. During this past end of the year giving season I was asked by numerous worthy causes for my financial support. And I accommodated many of those requests. It is satisfying to me to be able to support good work and meet need in the world as I am blessed with the ability to do so.
In my job in the bishop's office I frequently engage with congregations about their finances. With almost no exception every congregation feels that they are financially challenged. It is my contention that for many of our congregations the financial challenges they feel could be significantly reduced by improving communications about church finances, by taking a year-round approach to stewardship, and by being more direct and clear when asking for money.
Let's talk numbers. The median household income in Worcester and the four western counties is $55,000. Now, I believe it is fair to say that the median household income of members in our churches is higher than that of the general population in our area. I am going to use $75,000 for purposes of this illustration. The average pledge in the diocese is $1820 per pledging household, which is 2.4% of $75,000.
In 2014 we had 4800 households making a financial pledge to their congregation. If the average pledge increased from 2.4% to 3.4% of household income ($750) giving would increase by $3.6 million. Average that number over our 60 congregations and you get $60,000 per congregation.
A biblical tithe is 10%. If our average pledge was one third of a biblical tithe our financial challenges would be seriously reduced if not gone. Imagine what your congregation could do with more money for ministry and without the pressure of meeting expenses each month.
I encourage you all to be very clear with your congregation on the financial condition of your church. I have found that many churches run annual deficits and their members are not aware of it. Members need to see there's a need. You also need to show them that their money will be used to further the Jesus movement and not just to stay open. Staying open is not a mission. Show folks what an increase of $10 or $15 a week in their pledge will do for the financial health of the parish. Show them the math. Ask them to consider increasing their pledge now. I know it is January and the typical season for asking is over. But if we don't ask, we won't receive. If people don't know there's a need, they can't respond.
I encourage congregations to continue to work on stewardship until long after the budget is created in December. Set a goal for pledge income, and continue to cultivate giving until the goal is reached. Seeing what comes in and leaving it at that is no way to fund ministry. We need to explain the need, the vision, and then ask, and continue to in creative ways until the goal is met or adjusted.
I was working with a church on their budget. They showed a small deficit, but they had nothing budgeted for long-term building maintenance. I explained that in reality their deficit was much greater than what they were showing because building maintenance is part of the cost of being church. I suggested that they go to their congregation, tell them what the deficit is, and ask them if they would all increase their pledge by at least $10 a week. They explained what the impact of that would be on the budget. And people responded.
If we are serious about the Jesus movement and about the ministry in our congregation we will respond. We need to be asked. We need to clearly know the situation. And we need to understand the difference our money will make in the lives of ourselves and of others.
If you would like to discuss this further with me do not hesitate to reach out.