“As Any Had Need”

A friend of mine realized that she only had one friend who went to church. As someone who cares deeply about the church, she wondered why it was. And so she began to ask them, “Why don’t you go to church?”

The answers startled her. It wasn’t what she was expecting at all. The number one answer that she received was, “I can’t afford it.”

Another young women echoed another sentiment to me recently. She said, “I was like most people in their twenties. Even though I loved church, the budget always seemed to be going to their dilapidated building or mission work that I didn’t care about.”

Another person confided his personal budget to me. “I have my salary. Thirty percent of it goes to taxes. Sixty percent of it goes to paying rent. Ten percent of it goes to paying student loans. I don’t even know how I’m living, much less how I’m going to give to the church.”

Long before the economic crisis hit the stock market and the real estate market, it was creeping into the realities of young adults. Men and women in their twenties and thirties were feeling the crushing load of student loans, high rents, temporary employment, stagnant salaries, quick lay-offs, and uncovered medical expenses. Men and women who did everything “right” in their careers and budgets still found themselves with jobs that were not able to pay off the loans. They ended up juggling bills, figuring out which ones to pay each month, and praying that they never had any medical issues.

Congregations often want to reach younger members because (let’s be honest) churches need them for the bottom line. When men and women are in the midst of a personal financial crisis, and they walk into a church with a bigger financial crisis, it can be difficult for them to keep attending. When we want some shelter from the storm, some hope in the midst of our despair, it is hard to walk into a church and have the stress hit an even higher level, along with the expectation that you will be able to save the situation. Since there is not much cultural expectation for young adults to attend church (in fact, there’s more of an expectation that they will not attend), then it’s easy for them to go grocery shopping instead of walking into another financially stressful environment.

New congregations have responded to this in various ways (I don’t advocate all of these practices. I’m pointing them out, in the hopes of stimulating more ideas.):

•Rethinking the gathering space. Rent is often cheaper than maintenance. A few innovative churches have cut down their expenses dramatically by shedding the need for a building. They can often be found nesting in the basement of a church, a livingroom, a gallery space, a coffeehouse, or a pub.

•Changing the giving traditions. A few gatherings quit passing the plate during the service, and they have “joy boxes” near the door. People can place the money in the box on their way out. Some gatherings have extensive podcast or videocast ministries, so much of their income comes from around the world, as men and women give through the paypal button on the website.

•Encouraging tentmaking pastors and gatherings. Pastors are often encouraged to be bi-vocational. Or, the church itself is bi-vocational. For instance, the gathering might also serve as a coffeehouse, a winery, or an art gallery. If a person cannot give money to the church, they might be able to give their time serving coffee, or their talents in the form of an art donation, or expertise in website design.

•Creating a culture of giving and receiving. New congregations are often small, and they tend to respond to each other’s personal needs. When someone loses his or her job, the community often knows and they give to one another. So they are able to practice something an aspect of stewardship that has been missing in many of our established congregations: the act of receiving.

Of course, these innovative communities haven’t solved our economic concerns. But they are responding with creativity, imagination, and love. In many ways, there is a new economy arising in some churches. Where “stewardship” moves beyond the tiny pre-printed envelopes dropped into a shallow plate at 11:45 on Sunday morning. Instead, we are beginning too see how each can give to each other, in our needs and our abundance.

There are less radical ideas that would help in these situations as well. Having younger members as part of the process to carefully choose the mission projects and articulate them clearly. Making sure that people know that we don’t have a church tax. And, of course, always understanding that our ministry to and with all people, is not so that it can make our income line higher, but so that we can do God’s work.

What else have you seen? What other faithful responses to our economic crisis have you noticed?


9 thoughts on ““As Any Had Need”

  1. Carol, a couple of years ago we moved away from the traditional “pledging” approach. We’ve also become a pretty well-distributed congregation in terms of age (vs. when I got here). I recognize what you describe in this post among our younger adults, but also several other generational tendencies. The oldest adults are the biggest fans of pledging and keep asking me to bring it back. The middle adults seem to really like what we’ve moved to – a more general faith appeal that broadly encourages stewardship as an act of worship (vs. supporting a budget or paying the bills). Many young adults I know both face the realities you describe and are moved on occasion to really extravagant acts of giving – usually to a cause or mission that touches them deeply.

    So, we’re kind of experimenting around this year – basically to offer all of the above as faithful ways to give… we’ll appreciate the “certainty” of the pledgers, continue to talk about stewardship as worship, and try to identify and put out some more kind of out there ministries and missions as an alternative to patching up our building. I’m kind of feeling my way through this, but it seems like the right way to go and seemed (to me) to resonate with some of what you were saying.

    Robert Austell
    Charlotte, NC

  2. Thanks Robert for sharing the adaptive ways that your congregation is addressing stewardship opportunities. It does seem like generations approach giving in different ways and offering different opportunites makes great sense.

    Carol, I appreciate you piece and I particularly resonate with the call to congregations to explore alternatives to owning and nurturing expensive old buildings.

    I was really surprised though to read this line:

    “Congregations often want to reach younger members because (let’s be honest) churches need them for the bottom line.”

    Like Robert’s, my congregation has a healthy mix of ages among our membership, and I can honestly say that if every church member between the ages of 20-35 reduced their annual financial contribution to zero, we would barely notice in our budget, whereas if every member between the age of 65-80 stopped giving, we would quickly go bankrupt.

    Whether this huge difference in giving is a product of differing financial capacities or our having done a poor job of teaching and inspiring genersoity among our younger members (or both) it is striking and disturbing. I am not indifferent to the unique challenges faced by younger members, but to say that churches “need them for the bottom line” has simply not been my experience.

  3. I was talking with a homeless advocate once, and he told me the number one reason the homeless give about why they don’t go to church. “I don’t have anything to wear.” The comment has always stayed with me. It reminded me of your comment at the beginning, “I can’t afford it.”

  4. Pingback: “As any had need” creative stewardship is about spiritual formation « Soul Rain

  5. Pingback: “As any had need” creative stewardship is about spiritual formation | Passion in Partnership

  6. When I pastored in rural Mississippi, I heard this quite often. Except that in the case of rural Mississippi, the issue was much more “class-based”. The folks at my church, felt that they were not wealthy, & yet they were, compared to much of the surrounding community. The three comments I tended to hear from those I invited to church were:

    1. I don’t have the clothes.
    2. I don’t make enough money.
    3. You must be kidding! (When I told them none of that mattered.)

    The folks at the church felt that people simply used these objections as cheap excuses for not wanting to come to church. After asking dozens of people and hearing these things over and over, I could not believe the church’s point of view.

    Churches today need to develop a much lower center of gravity.

  7. I read this, and I buy into it, but I think – how can I possibly do this in a church that has been in the town, near the same spot, for 200 years, with a congregation that is exhausted and over-committed such that they can’t even attend a bible study? It would be great if I had another paying job, or if we could have an art space or a coffee hours, or a podcast or video ministry – but I have maybe 6 volunteers, each of which are already doing 10 other things.

    The ideas are great – how do we actually accomplish them?

  8. I’m right there with Robert. I’m a first year pastor. I’m trying a mix of pledges and spiritual focus. My stewardship emphasis has been on giving as worship and spiritual discipline rather than how much more the church needs even though our budget is in crisis.

    This year we are doing pledge cards in envelopes that will not be opened. The sealed commitment cards will be returned this time next year – admittedly in time for folks to “catch up” if they haven’t kept their commitment. The idea is this a commitment between each family and God rather than each family and the church.

    My other quandry is there seems to be a culture that folks will give more generously for fund raisers than in the weekly offering. This doesn’t exactly fit in the giving as worship or spiritual discipline line of thinking.

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