Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Is your church financially healthy?
January 21, 2011, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving

Is your church financially healthy?  – published in Christian Week Ontario, September, 2010

It’s not just about whether your congregation meets its annual budget. A church’s financial health speaks to its vision, whether it recognizes and acts on the spiritual importance of being intentional around money, and if it helps you wrestle with practical financial issues in your life.

Barbara Fullerton, a stewardship educator for the United Church of Canada, investigated congregational financial best practices in her doctor of ministry dissertation at Wesley Theological Seminary.  Fullerton studied giving trends in thousands of United Church congregations over a six year period, from 1998 through 2003.

She found a connection between increased giving levels and a number of intentional stewardship development habits.

“If the congregation is clear about who they are as a community of faith and their reason for being and explains this well, people will be excited about that mission and will more likely commit to it their gifts of time, talent and financial support, if explicitly invited to do so,” Fullerton wrote.

She found strong “links between increased generosity and lifting up stewardship in worship on a regular basis, preferably every Sunday.”

Other research suggests that what Fullerton, who is of Lutheran background, discovered in her United Church study is applicable in other churches, be they mainline or evangelical. A Lilly Endowment study found that denominational differences in individual giving are generated “almost entirely by the giving of the most committed members within each denomination.”

Annual financial response (pledge) campaigns are an important tool that most churches avoid Fullerton’s research shows.  Healthy churches were twice as likely to have annual campaigns as average congregations. Others suggest that people who pledge give twice as much as those who don’t make a commitment.

Sadly, some churches try these and abandon them after a year or two, missing out on positive change that could occur if the effort lasted a few years longer.

Thanking donors is an important strategy used by healthy churches. Something as simple as including thank-you notes with year-end tax receipts can make a big difference, Fullerton writes.

Pre-authorized remittance or electronic transfer programs for giving are also useful. Fullerton found that donations from people who give electronically are higher than from average givers, often half as much again in each calendar year.

A strong focus on personal spirituality is common to the healthiest churches. Fullerton discovered that churches with growing generosity are more likely to offer Bible study opportunities.

And the healthier a church is, the more likely to provide opportunities for personal finance training that can benefit everyone.  Churches that are growing in the numbers of people attending, number of givers and amounts of money coming in are more than twice as likely to offer personal finance or budgeting training as other congregations. Coincidence? Not likely.

Fullerton’s research will be incorporated in a revised edition of U.S. stewardship educator Mark Vincent’s book “A Christian View of Money: celebrating God’s generosity.”

The co-authored and expanded book will be released in early 2011 by Design Group International.


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