Stop focusing on giving. Instead, focus on engagement.
I was taught at a very young age that there are a few things we don’t talk about in polite company: religion, politics, and money. Perhaps this is why I flinch every time I bring a visitor to church and find out that the sermon will be on giving that Sunday. That hits on two of the three topics to be avoided! As church leaders, we often are hesitant to talk about money. Perhaps it is this reluctance that is contributing to the decline in giving that many churches are experiencing.
In a recent study by Lifeway, only 13% of churches indicated that giving was improving. That means 87% of churches have either stagnant or declining giving. Giving is not only necessary for churches to continue to extend the Gospel and keep their doors open, it is also a spiritual discipline and a practical way one lives out spiritual maturity. This makes these numbers all the more important.
Reversing these trends is key for churches if they are going to continue advancing their mission. In our most recent e-book, we explore the connection between engagement and giving. In fact, we believe that developing engagement is so important that we titled the ebook, Giving is the Least Important Thing about Your Church. Don’t misunderstand us. Giving matters, but the church exists for fostering connections between people and their Creator. Ensuring that our efforts remain unwaveringly focused on this goal is the key to developing a thriving community of faith. Do this, and giving often resolves itself.
Working with many churches over the years, we have been able to identify a few of the best practices that have successfully helped churches build engagement, and as a result, experience significant growth in giving:
Make Engagement Easy
If your goal is to build engagement, then why would you make it hard on people? Today, engagement happens on mobile devices. Using technology, you can connect visitors and occasional ttenders to the mission of your church. Some people will be willing to visit your connection center or fill out the registration pad as it is passed down the pew. According to research, only 10% of visitors will return and become engaged. But, over 64% of Americans have smartphones. Using technology, you can connect to a much higher percentage of visitors.
The Right Message at the Right Time
We live in a world where messages are customized for the right audience. By tailoring your communication to the interests and context of your audience, you communicate that you know them and that they matter. To do this well, you need to collect important information and use technology such as targeted text messaging and push notification. In fact, one church partner used geotargeting to remind people to bring in school supplies when they were within 500 feet of the local Walmart. This increased engagement by reminding people and saving them an extra trip to the store.
Before people give, they have to trust to whom they are giving. One easy way to be transparent is to show the impact of people’s gifts. This enables people to see in practical ways why giving matters, what your church cares about, and shows the impact of the gift. Not every gift goes to something that is easily shown, but by creating an environment that is welcoming of questions, and transparent about how funds are used, you can quickly establish trust.
Say Please and Thank You
Did you know that one of the major reasons that people don’t give is that they weren’t asked? This gets back to my upbringing and conversation in polite company. It’s OK to talk about money, why it matters, what it enables your church to do, and how you will use it. The goal is to share opportunities for people to engage, not to convince them to give. And when they do engage, the best thing you can do is to ay thank you. To do either (and hopefully both of these) you need tools to let people give in easy ways as well as the ability to track and communicate with people that have given. A simple thank you text message from the pastor or a small gift or handwritten note makes a huge difference.
Churches that have built rust, provided ways for people to connect, and create great experiences for people who engage don’t typically have to worry about giving. Our experience shows that churches leveraging technology and focusing on engagement thrive. For more best practices, download Giving is the Least Important Thing about Your Church.