It’s that time of the year for churches. Those who are looking to move, renovate, build, or fund ministries are getting into full swing in capital campaigns…or generosity initiatives…or vision campaigns…or whatever you want to call it. No matter the name I seem to get similar questions each time I walk through this process with a client. So I decided to document five common campaign questions I’m hearing once again. 
 
1. Why does the process take so long?
 
A typical campaign that I’m seeing right now will take at least six months from the time that we have the first meeting until commitment day. Some churches can fast track it and some churches might take a year, but six months seems to be about average. The most important aspect of the timeline is that we really do need that much time to inform everyone of what’s happening. There might be new renovation/relocation plans, new ministry plans, an expanded vision for the church or many other factors that go into the process. With that much to communicate plus the fact that a regular attender to your church now attends on average twice a month,  it makes it imperative that a church takes the time to explain and cast vision. I recently visited with a church that was thinking of doing a campaign to raise a million dollars. They decided that their church had heard enough about the renovation plans so they gave their members a two week notice on pledging to give towards the renovation. You can probably guess what my advice was, but they went forward on their own. The result? A commitment of 80k. Now they are stuck and can’t move forward. They were too impatient with their communication and paid the price. A campaign is a critical time in a church’s life, it’s too important to rush through. 

 
2. Why do we have to sign pledge cards
 
I’m hearing this one more and more often. “If this giving is between us and God, why do we have to tell the church what we’re giving.” For two reasons. One, if the church will be financing the project, a bank will require signed pledges to base the financing amount. Second, the church will need to have a good idea of what they can afford, and what the cash flow will look like through the giving phase. Those two things can’t happen with anonymous pledges. You aren’t signing a loan note so no one will be garnishing your wages to fulfill your pledge. My question would be, if you’re willing to make a pledge to God, can’t you write it down?
 
3. How much will we raise?
 
That’s why you hire an expert like me to tell you…I don’t know. Ok that’s not the entire truth. I can usually give a church a range that we feel comfortable can be achieved based on prior giving data, but past that I don’t know the hearts of your people. But I can help lead your church through prayer activities and lay out some specific financial goals to reach to give your church the best possible outcome. Also throughout the campaign we will often get a better idea once some of the higher capacity donors tell us what they will be giving. Now I recognize that one sacrificial gift is not more important to God than another, God sees the heart. But realistically we know that the gifts from our major givers are going to get us closer to the goal quicker. That is why we have specific strategies for every portion of the church, no matter of the capacity to give. 
 
4. What is the difference between a 2 and 3 year campaign
 
Easy, one year! Of course it’s not as simple as that. There are good reasons for 1,2, and 3 year campaigns. The shorter campaigns can be just as successful financially as 3 year campaigns if there are members of the church with high capacity to give. If they have the capacity and willingness, then a shorter campaign may be best. Most of my work this season is in more traditional and rural churches. There are fewer high capacity givers, a higher percentage of members on fixed incomes, and more members who give out of income, not assets. For these churches I would recommend a 3 year giving phase. 
 
5. How can I give to the campaign?
 
A critical question that seems easy to answer, but can be complicated. Many think that they will give out of regular income, and maybe give up some things in their life that they would normally spend money on. And that’s great! But we also need to keep in mind that there are other ways to give that may be better for both the giver and the church. Do you have stocks that have gained value recently? If the stock is given to the church before being sold, the church will receive more money, and the giver will not have to pay taxes on the gains. The same can be said for land, cars, retirement accounts, etc. A question I’m also asking now(thanks to a colleagues suggestion) is to think of the top three possessions you own. Not a mortgage, not a car with a payment, something you own. What would it look like to sell that item for a higher purpose? I recently had a pastor sell a motorcycle that was very special to him, in order to give to his church. I can’t wait for him to share that story of sacrifice with his people! The important point is that there is more than one way to give to your church. 
 
To those who are in a campaign season what questions are you hearing that you are continually answering? For those who are thinking about the process, what would be your big questions? 
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How important is one second to you? To those fans of Auburn or Alabama football, it meant either a win or a loss in the most important game of the season for the two fan bases. 

For those who didn’t see (what were you doing!), Alabama and Auburn were tied with one second left in a game that decided who would go to the SEC Championship game. Alabama had the ball and chose to attempt a 57 yard field goal. The field goal attempt came up short, and Auburn defensive back Chris Davis returned the kick all the way back for a game winning touchdown. 

So what does that have to do with your church? 

It was clear that Auburn had a plan for that one second. The coach chose to put a player back to catch the ball that had great speed. His teammates were coached how to block in the right direction to open up a hole. And that attention to detail made all the difference. 

Are you prepared for that one second that could change everything in your service?

What would happen if your microphone went out? Do you have extra batteries on hand? Do you have a backup mic on stage already?

What if the video screens went out? Do you still have song books or could you sing songs in which everyone knows the words. Would your worship leader freeze or deftly handle the situation?

God forbid someone comes in your church that could cause problems. Do you have a security team and where are they located? Is someone assigned to protect the pastor if someone should head towards him?

And on the positive side, what if fifteen people respond to the invitation this Sunday? Who can attend to their needs and pray with them? What would happen if the service goes over time and spills into the next service?

Yes there are a lot of issues to think about, but one second could change everything in your church for better or worse. So take time at your next staff meeting to go over these issues and make sure everyone is prepared. By doing this, you’ll be ready for the last tick on the clock, and hopefully you’ll make it count!

 

No, Thank You Pastor

November 29, 2013

It’s time to be thankful, but we often don’t thank you enough Pastor, so here goes.

Thank you for answering God’s call
Thank you for your commitment to the church
Thank you for sharing the vision with us
Thank you for pushing us out of our comfort zone
Thank you for always being on call
Thank you for being there to celebrate and to mourn

There are many others things to thank you for doing, but these came to mind. We know you don’t actually have a day off, that you’re likely underpaid and overworked, and that your family sometimes takes a back seat. But for leading us closer to Christ, we thank you!

So imagine if you will, walking into a Bible Fellowship class (Sunday School for those old schoolers) sitting in a chair, only to have it break. Yes, I’ve seen it happen in my class.

I have a fantastic church that is doing great things, but we have neglected many parts of our building. The old chairs in our class were dirty, some had metal parts hanging off, and many had fabric torn. Now as you might assume from the blog title, I’ll sit in those dingy old chairs. It’s my church, my family, my friends…I’d sit on the floor if I had to!

Image

But yesterday we walked into a room of new chairs. Certainly a welcome surprise, but they weren’t for us. They were for the couple (who shall remain nameless) who visited our class for the first time. Would they come back to our class if we still had the old chairs, maybe. And who knows, they may not even come back with the new ones. But by having new comfortable chairs, we’ve removed one more roadblock to welcoming them to our church.

My monday words of (hopefully) wisdom…remove one more roadblock to visitors who pass by your church everyday. A clean appearance, easy to read and follow signs, welcoming smiles, and yes even comfortable chairs can go a long way to making your church a place that someone might just take a chance on.

So tell me, what does your church need to change to create a welcoming space?

P.S. Actual chairs not pictured, I wasn’t smart enough to take one before they were gone

church_chairs

I recently heard of a church that is promoting its contemporary service by saying they will not pass the offering plates. Beware of the unintended consequences!

In my previous post (approximately a decade ago) I wrote about saying thank you to those who serve with you, and those who give to your ministry. It is a critical way to be sure that the generosity becomes contagious. 

Many churches and non-profits are or have already entered the world of online giving. If you’ve followed my blog for any period of time you know that I’m a huge proponent of taking this step. Unfortunately this is where I’ve too often seen a breakdown. 

Exhibit A: Here is the word for word response I received after a recent donation to a ministry that we as a family support. Of course the names and amounts have been left out.

“Dear Nathan Ealy,

This email is to notify you that your online transaction to _______________ was successful. Please keep this email for your records. You can login to your E-Giving page and view all of your recent transactions and their status.

Transaction Details:

Donation initiated on: 6/20/2013 9:59:00 AM

Transaction completed on: 6/20/2013

Reference #: _______

Payment Method: Credit Card

Total: $______

Your contribution is greatly appreciated. If you have any questions, please contact your organization for further assistance.

Thank you”

Now you may be saying, “They did say thank you! Right there at the end. And they said that your contribution is greatly appreciated.” I’ll give you that much, and I’m not questioning if they are actually grateful or not. However they are missing a huge opportunity. 

The first part of the response is what I want to analyze. They refer to the gift that my family has given as “your online transaction”. True it was technically a transaction that was made online. However there are so many other phrases that could have been used to let me know that the “transaction” has gone through. How about, “your generous donation”. Maybe, “your generous gift”. Or, “your thoughtful donation”. I’m fine with any of those. 

I wasn’t buying a book from Amazon, or a new Memphis Grizzlies t-shirt from Dick’s Sporting Goods(both of which I’ve done recently). This was a decision that we as a family made through prayer and planning to gift a ministry that we are passionate about. 

Not only would I suggest that the wording be changed, but I would have also added more text and pictures to show the impact of the gift. According to mailchimp.com, an e-mail marketing service, less than 50% of those who receive e-mail newsletters from a non-profit even open the e-mail. Keep in mind however that when a giver opts to give online, they expect an e-mail confirmation and are much more likely to open the e-mail to make sure the amount is correct. Take this opportunity to show pictures of those who will benefit from the gift or tell a story of something that has recently happened in your ministry. And of course include a link to let the giver know that they can set up recurring gifts as well. 

I hate to use an example from a ministry that my family loves so much, but hopefully we all can learn together. By properly expressing gratitude and showing impact, your ministry may gain a consistent giver that will impact both your ministry and their lives.

Saying ‘Thank You’

February 14, 2013

So I was talking to my dog the other night(doesn’t everyone?), and I was telling her that although she got a head start on our daughter in her development, Evelyn is catching her and will soon pass her. 

Murphy, the dog, and Evelyn, the child, are pretty close in age. Of course the dog started walking earlier, obeying commands earlier, and was potty trained earlier. But Evelyn is now walking, saying some words, using sign language to communicate, and the potty trained part isn’t too far off in the future. 

So how does the relate to generosity? I don’t know. Wait, I remembered. As they grow and learn, we have to do certain things to encourage them both to behave the way that we believe is best. Most of the time that means affirming positive behaviors, sometimes that means disciplining the bad behaviors. But the affirming part is way more fun, and I think more effective. 

The same is true in our churches. How best do we encourage those behaviors that lead to more mature Christians and help the Kingdom and our church grow? And specifically in the area of generosity. 

Too often we take on the discipline approach. “Our budget is down and we really need people to step up and cover the difference,” you might hear a pastor say. Or, “We are challenging you to put God to the test and see what He will do for you if you tithe this month.” Neither of those are bad things at all. In fact being honest with your finances, and challenging your people is a big part of leading in the area of generosity. 

But why don’t we hear more thank you’s? Why don’t we encourage the positive more. Andy Stanley says, “What’s rewarded will get repeated.” Furthermore Stanley gives four ways to make our thank you’s more impactful. Here they are…

1. Be specific. When you say thank you, include details. There is a huge difference between saying thanks and saying thanks followed by a detailed description of what you caught, saw, or are aware the other person was doing.

2. Be public. Over the years we have learned the value of story telling–the value of spending a few minutes in front of your leaders telling success stories that communicate vision, but more importantly, express gratitude. Public gratitude expresses a high level of value and can result in an even higher level of loyalty.

3. Be aware. You have to develop a mindset that looks for behavior to reward. Listen for stories two or three levels away in your organization and call or write to say thank you. Even though you didn’t observe the act, you communicate, “I didn’t see it, but somebody else saw it and they are talking about it. What you did is significant.”

4. Be honest. Don’t say you liked something you didn’t. Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. Also, don’t attribute something to someone that she didn’t really do. Rather than being encouraging and motivating, you’re communicating that you really weren’t paying attention. So when you say thank you, be honest and don’t overdo it.

Obviously this way of saying thank you extends far beyond financial generosity, it encourages an entire culture of generosity and permeates every aspect of your church. 

So in 2013, why not spend more time on the front end encouraging and affirming the positive behaviors. Hopefully by doing that, you’ll be doing less disciplining towards the end of the year. 

 

Happy New Year! I know for most of you there is little time to rest over the holidays, the church schedule stops for no one! But I do hope you were able to find some time to reflect, and be reenergized for the coming year. 

Maybe you’ve decided that it’s time to focus on the generosity of your people. Is your budget continually staying the same each year? Are your meetings getting testy over which ministry to cut back on to make things work? Are you tired of making the same announcement each December that we need X number of dollars to finish even for the year? If so then now is the time to plan how the culture of generosity can be cultivated in our churches. 

When I do a generosity diagnosis for a church, the first area I pay attention to is staff/leadership. As Jim Sheppard and Chris Willard put it in their book Contagious Generosity, “Generous churches are led by generous pastors. Period.” Have you as a pastor had a true “conversion” to a lifestyle of generosity? If not then there is no reason to expect that the people you lead have had one themselves. 

However if you have, are you expecting the same lifestyle from those on your paid staff or lay leadership? For instance, would you appoint someone to be an elder, board member, deacon (or choose your leadership model) who has no history of giving to the church? 

Instead, let it be known among your staff and leaders that all are expected to give, and not only that, but each is expected to make a commitment to grow in their generosity. I know of a pastor who has taken this step in his church, only to find out that two of his staff members have neglected to follow the pledge to give to the church. The next step is to follow up with each of them to discuss why, and if there is any way the pastor can help them along the journey. Hopefully you won’t have to make any tough decisions beyond that, but understand that others on your leadership team know what’s going on as well. 

Once it is made abundantly clear that the leaders of the church are committed to such a lifestyle, then and only then can the message be spread to the church. 

Maybe in the future instead of the difficult financial questions, you will be asking, “What do we do with the money that has been given over our budget. What new ministry can we begin or what ministry can we breath new life into with these extra funds.” Or perhaps the best result, you can say to your people, “Thank you church for giving so generously this year. Because you’ve given so much we can now do (X,Y,Z).”

So as you pray about your vision for 2013, ask God how he would have you lead in the area of generosity. That journey just may begin with you and your leaders.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently about her family’s giving. For some background she and her husband are in their mid 30’s, her husband does well in a business that he owns, and they have two small children.  

One of her good friends from high school got married a decade back and they decided to spend their lives as missionaries in Africa, a brave decision indeed. My friend has given money to their ministry for a while but expressed concern to me. “I’m just not sure that what they are doing is making a difference, and we aren’t sure if we will continue giving to them.”

So you understand the situation right? A middle class to upper middle class family, with money to give, saying they may not give money to an old friend who is now in the ministry because they aren’t seeing the impact. 

Does that family demographic sound familiar to you and your church? They do in mine. 

So we have to make the assumption that many families in our church are making the same decision on where to give, and the major factor is whether or not the ministry in question is making impact. 

Too often in churches, we assume that because someone calls our church their home that they will automatically give, and give generously. Unfortunately many of the assumptions that we make are now outdated. Most in the boomer generation would give to the church first, no questions asked. You still have those in your church, and financially they are the ones who have sustained your church for the past twenty or thirty years. But are you prepared for those in their 20’s and 30’s who are entering their best earning years? 

You may ask, “How do we change our approach?” It can take a big shift in your culture, but let me give you one simple idea to incorporate. Celebrate the impact that your church is making, and be sure to tie it back to the money given by your members.

For example, the food bank ministry that your church supports…celebrate corporately how many people were fed and let your givers know that it wouldn’t have happened without their generosity. The teenager who was baptized after being involved in your youth ministry…celebrate that because of your givers generosity, you have a youth minister who can speak into the lives of those kids. You get the idea. 

Your church is making an impact whether it be locally or globally in missions. If you aren’t telling your givers about that impact, they may question whether or not your ministry is the best place for “their” dollars(of course we know everything belongs to God). It’s a tough lesson to learn, but assuming that everyone will continue giving to your church because that’s the way its always be done, will only cause financial problems down the road. But show your people that lives are being changed, and you will see their hearts open.

I often counsel churches on what and how they present giving on their websites. I would estimate that half of the churches I’ve worked with don’t have online giving, so that is an easy place to start.  

So let’s assume you want to offer online giving on your website, now what? Selecting a vendor is not the end of the process. Also, keep in mind how important it is to market this new service you’re offering. 

I wanted to see what some of the largest churches in our country are doing on their websites, so I did a very non-scientific survey of the top 15 churches(based on attendance) in the US.

Of those fifteen, thirteen have a button or link on their front page for online giving. The two that didn’t have “jump-off” pages to select one of many campuses first, then the giving link was available.  Of the thirteen that had a link, two had a large stand-alone button, while the rest had a small link somewhere. 

Once that button was clicked, ten of the fifteen had a page that either described what the church believed about giving in general, or included a video of the pastor talking about the subject. I love the video idea. Including a video of the senior pastor discussing what the church believes about giving sends a strong message that this is something important. 

Once I started the giving process on these fifteen sites, eleven required an account be formed before being allowed to give. I can certainly understand why creating an account is good, and will likely lead to recurring gifts, however we want to make it as easy as possible for someone to give. Even if a person isn’t creating an account, they will still have to give name and address so that we will still have records of their giving. My advice would be to work with your provider to find an option that doesn’t require an account. 

Finally I was surprised to see some of the language on the online giving sites. Words and phrases such as shopping cart, receipt, payments, and checkout should be avoided. This isn’t a business transaction, it’s a significant spiritual decision. If your provider won’t work with you on the language of the page, find someone new. Using the words gifts, offerings, and confirmation do a much better job of conveying the importance of the process of which your people are engaging. 

We can always learn from the large churches in our country who have gone through times of robust growth. In this area I would agree with putting an online giving option right on the front page. I would also encourage churches to either state what they believe about giving, or better yet, have the pastor give his thoughts in a video. Make it as easy as possible to give, and give quickly. The more steps involved, the less likely