Giving is on the rise, just not to churches. This is a trend reported in an excellent discussion (http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/09/10/churches-need-a-new-giving-model/34017) on the failure of churches to keep up with cultural changes and the consequences it has on carrying out their missions. The author poses some explanations for this trend. It may be in part due to church leadership struggling to communicate the missions of the church and the benefits they provide. In some cases it may be due to antiquated practices, e.g., annual pledge drives (although I still think pledge drives provide value and more on that later). This discussion focuses on the merits of giving to the church and participating in our annual pledge drive. If you are not already pledging, hopefully the discussion points here will help you to reconsider its merits. If you are pledging, hopefully this will highlight the benefits that you’re providing HTELC by doing so.
Generosity comes from a desire to make the world a better place. We all want to know that our generosity is having the maximum impact, and we all have many options for how to direct our generosity. I suspect that for many, making a charitable donation often seems like the more attractive option compared to “giving to the church”. This may be because many charities have clear, narrowly-scoped missions that are easy to understand, e.g., Doctors Without Borders or the SPCA. Alternatively, “the church” might get conceptualized as a removed institution with unknown overhead and vague or muddled missions.
The institution image is not a good look for a church, especially when you ask younger people. Younger people are distrusting of institutions. But it’s not just younger people, there is a society-wide erosion of institutional trust. Interestingly though, religious organizations rank highly among institutions that have kept their trust relatively intact (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/04/30/millennials-dont-trust-anyone-what-else-is-new/). Still, this effect surely can compound when the church asks not only for money but for its members to pledge their giving. Few people like to be obliged, and requesting a pledge risks making the church seem overbearing.
The church is of course an institution, but we all know that the church is really the congregation of people inside the building. And we’ve chosen to be a congregation in part because we have a similar vision of what God’s Kingdom on Earth looks like and how we should direct our efforts toward establishing it. So “giving to the church” is really like giving to ourselves in that we are pooling our resources as a congregation to have a greater impact on the world than we each could individually.
Like-mindedness is one benefit of giving to the church, and so how does annual pledging fit in? HTELC isn’t requesting your pledge to be overbearing. It’s simply that it’s much easier to give in certain times. This is as true for HTELC as it is for a household. Recently, our financial secretary compiled a quarterly report, which showed that two thirds of the general fund was contributed by those who made a pledge to do so. Imagine if your employer guaranteed 66% of your pay, but the remaining third was discretionary, that is, the portion not guaranteed might fluctuate depending any number of factors. Of course, you would try to develop an accurate expectation based on prior years. But still, in this scenario, the uncertainty might incline you to be reserved in your generosity. In the same way, pledges help reduce uncertainty, which helps our congregation give generously while ensuring that we’re able to keep the church lights on.
Speaking of keeping the lights on, the majority of the general fund finances (about 93%) go toward facilities, staff salaries, and things of that nature. This brings up two thoughts. First, I think it’s worth recognizing and celebrating that HTELC has been able to send 7% of the general fund outside of our walls to make the world a better place. And this doesn’t even include special offerings or untracked giving like the food bags our members prepare for Raleigh Urban Ministries, which HTELC has achieved the one ton mark multiple times (http://www.urbanmin.org/crisis-history/), or the hundreds of quilts that Sisters in Service have made for Lutheran World Relief (https://lwr.org/get-involved/quilts). Second, the physical structure is of course important as a place to worship and congregate, but the building is also critically important for carrying out our missions. It serves as the place where many of our members gather to carry out God’s work, as well as non-member organizations, e.g., organizations that serve incarcerated individuals or those dealing with substance abuse.
HTELC is an extraordinary, outward-facing congregation that is dedicated to improving the world we live in. We rely on time, talent, and treasure to carry out our missions. If you are not already pledging, please consider it. If you are pledging, it does not go unnoticed and we thank you for the benefit that it provides.