Few church board chairs are comfortable when it comes to talking with their congregations or other board members about money. Yet we all know how critical this resource is to the advancement of the congregation’s mission. In smaller and mid-size churches little thought is given to the matter of fund-raising. At the annual meeting a budget is proposed, the members approve it and then we sit back and wait to see whether the funds come in. Of course, we certainly pray about it. We might also include a brief note about budget matters in the weekly bulletin or on the church website. And when the giving fails to meet the budget, at some point communication with the congregation becomes necessary. It may be a verbal plea for funds or a formal letter given to each member or some combination, but the church board chair often is tagged with making such a presentation. However, this tends to be the limit of fund-raising, at least for the general budget. We just expect it to happen and when it doesn’t, we become anxious and resort to emergency remedies. Is there a better approach that church board chairs can lead their boards to consider regarding fund-raising?
Initially we have to develop an understanding of “fund-raising” that integrates well with our theological convictions and values. Leaders in faith-based agencies such as churches do not always like the phrase “fund-raising.” It seems counter-intuitive to the nature of faith which seems to imply that we rely on God for resources. He will supply and so in essence God becomes our “fund-raiser.” Theologically this is appropriate, but we know from passages such as 2 Corinthians 8-9 that in most instances God uses people as the means to generate resources for Kingdom work. Paul seemed to have no inhibitions when it came to fund-raising for gospel mission.
If “fund-raising” is an offensive term, then let’s talk about “resource management.” The bottom-line is this — some group within the congregation has to give attention to securing the resources necessary to advance the mission. If the church board ultimately is entrusted by the congregation with the responsibility to advance the mission, then the church board also has to attend to all means used to fulfill this responsibility. This necessarily involves the matter of fund-raising.
In the case of most non-profit boards fund-raising is one of the top three priorities to which they must give attention. I suspect that this is not the case with church boards. Their priorities get focused on ministries, personnel, theological issues, facilities, conflict resolution, strategy, etc. Usually it is budget time or some financial crisis which elevates the matter of fund-raising to priority status in a church board’s agenda. I would strongly recommend, however, that church boards elevate the matter of financial resources to a higher priority. The ability of a congregation to thrive depends to a significant extent upon the capacity of the board to secure sufficient financial resources. So it is important for church boards “to get ahead of the curve” in this matter and not wait for a crisis to energize their focus. Crisis-management usually is very difficult.
Yes, ensuring that there are sufficient resources to implement the vision and advance the mission is the church board’s responsibility. The means used to fulfill this responsibility will vary, but will include some attention paid to fund-raising. One place to start is to have the board discuss the nature of their responsibility when it comes to securing resources and articulating this clearly so everyone has good understanding. In such a statement you can include theological and ethical principles which guide the board in fulfilling this role. For example, if generosity is one of the values you think is important for your congregation to develop and express, then this can be included in such a statement.
The church board members also have to decide what their personal responsibility as board members is in fund-raising. What expectations define their personal contribution? How will the board members be examples of generosity and how can their example be used positively and appropriately to encourage others in the congregation to be generous? I think we expect that Christians know intuitively how to give financially, how to be generous, how to bless others through giving, but this is misplaced optimism. It is naive thinking. Many people have little savvy when it comes to personal financial management and this affects their ability to be generous. Becoming generous people is part of discipleship. Exercising personal discipline in financial matters requires spiritual guidance. Giving God’s work priority in our finances needs substantial faith in God’s promises. This kind of discipleship requires careful nurturing.
Who wants to talk about money? Many Christian leaders are uncomfortable addressing such issues within their agencies. Church board chairs and lead pastors are no exceptions. However, if clarity about the issue of primary responsible for securing needed resources can be achieved, then it might also be possible to create some normal practices and paths for communicating with the congregation about these matters. It is important to note that such communications are not about means, i.e. funds, but about ends, i.e. achieving the common vision.
What’s the plan? I would observe that usually within congregations there is little planning related to securing resources. We operate, as previously noted, “by faith.” This is good in one sense, but often it hides the assumption that good planning and careful thinking are somehow contradictory to exercising faith. We know that this is false thinking. So the church board has to figure out who is responsible for developing and then implementing a plan to secure the necessary resources.
How do we communicate? A significant part of the strategic plan for fund-raising involves consistent, honest, and celebratory communication. Keep the focus on the vision and how people’s giving of time, talent and treasure are contributing to the congregation’s goals. The point in this is not really the money, but the heart-condition of the donors and their response to the Holy Spirit. It is all about discipleship.
When and how do we celebrate? I think good fund-raising plans contribute to exciting worship. People see God providing in astonishing ways and this builds thanksgiving, encourages prayer, and motivates generous stewardship and faith.