By David Jackson and Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—Nationally know church planters Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas learned about stewardship the hard way.
“This seminar came about out of desperation,” shared Searcy at a recent seminar he and Thomas taught at White Marsh Church in Baltimore. “We were about to lose our partners. We had to learn fast and apply it right away.”
About 100 attendees from locations as diverse as California, Michigan and Tennessee, attended the two-day conference that focused also on church planting and evangelism.
Nelson, the lead and teaching pastor, and Kerrick Thomas, executive and teaching pastor at The Journey Church in the New York City-metro area, lead a successful Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church plant that presently meets in five locations with over 1,200 currently in attendance.
Searcy said, “Here’s the deal: it’s impossible to be a fully-developed disciple without being a fully-developed steward. Your heart follows your treasure!”
Searcy and Thomas contend that the goal is to move people into becoming more fully developed stewards, from non-givers to regular-givers to tithers to extravagant givers.
“If people would give just at poverty-level tithing you’d probably double your income for ministry!” said the pastors, outlining three steps to increase giving in the local church.
“Teach people to give; this is the first step in moving non-givers into first-time givers,” they said, suggesting that the topic of stewardship should be taught at least four times a year.
“Tie them to felt-needs in life around the calendar and seasons of life,” Thomas suggested. Searcy agreed, noting that adding a system of accountability helps increase giving.
“We report to those who support, so use an envelope and we will let you know about our expenses,” he shared, reminding, “Remember: people give to vision, not to need.”
Thomas explained, “Constantly remind people that the church’s ministry is supported by its members.” Searcy added, “Unchurched people have no idea how your church is funded. We let them know that our ministry opportunities are a result of their giving.”
Searcy suggests churches should give the people different options for giving.
“If you only allow people to give at your services you may be losing as much as 40 percent of your receipts!” he cautioned, sharing more opportunistic ways. For example, create a self-mailing envelope and put it in the bulletin with a business reply permit that doesn’t even need stamps.
“You don’t have to pay for those that aren’t mailed. If you just put the envelope in the bulletin not the pew rack, you will get more, I promise…and besides, [speaking of the traditional offering envelope] they’re too small! No one can put big money in a small envelope.”
The pastors said that another way to encourage giving is to set up a ‘bill pay’ with their own bank or as an ACH as an automated debit option. “This is a great option since you will KNOW what will be coming in every week unless they make a change,” Searcy said.
Otherwise, church members may give online at their website through PayPal or other online payment services.
“Sixty percent of our giving comes in ways OTHER than weekend services!” Searcy and Thomas said. “The point is: if you want to get more first time givers, you must provide more options.”
Follow up with givers.
The Journey Church pastors suggested that churches send thank you notes to first time givers and quarterly giving statements to all givers. They also acknowledge unusual gifts with a special response including a gift and a hand-written note.
Each method communicates to the givers that their gifts are important, as do the following ways:
To gain regular givers: Searcy related what pastor and national speaker, Bob Roberts, once said, “People will rise to the level of commitment you ask. For every 100 people who participate in a giving small group, the church will receive $100,000 a year.”
Searcy said that stewardship should be introduced in the church’s membership class covenant and that the language of the class should answer newcomers’ questions.
“Ask them ‘which way’ they plan to give, not ‘if’ they will give,” he urged.
Likewise, “if people have not given at all in a year, we look at the list together as a staff and ask people to follow up with them; it’s an accountability issue for you as a leader.
To secure tithers: “Tithing shows that God has first place in your life; it’s the first ten percent of your gross income,” shared Thomas.
Searcy added, “This is the first place principle in all areas of life: if you want God to bless you in anything, give Him first place in that area of your life.” Thomas agreed, “It’s not a tithe if it comes last or if it’s leftovers…He comes first.”
They suggest that churches challenge members to consider a four-month “Tithe Challenge” to accept God’s test regarding the tithe (based on Mal. 3:10). They acknowledged, “…unbelievers have no problem with this, but people that come to you from other churches do!”
To develop extravagant givers: Searcy said, “God calls on us to give sacrificially from time to time; this can be the beginning of an extravagant giving lifestyle. People need to be educated that the tithe is the minimum of what God expects. Offerings are above this amount.”
On their website, the Journey Church offers financial tools to help their church members manage their money wisely. Included are a personal financial profile and plan as well as a monthly budget ledger form. Also included are former financial messages preached at The Journey, books about financial management, as well as several articles about how to make financial decisions.
Acknowledging that many churches are beginning to feel the crunch of the current financial recession, Searcy also offers a practical podcast on how to turn this tough time into the church’s finest hour online at www.churchleaderinsights.com.