Just Getting Started

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andrew Kukla

In his writings and teaching, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh often tells an old Zen story about a man riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. Another man, standing alongside the road, yells at him, “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse yells back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”

He uses this to talk about the dangers of habit-energy that keeps us dong the same things over and over again, often spinning our wheels in the process; the dangers of inner turmoil and busy-ness; and the dangers of forgetfulness. He stresses the need to stop. Calm. Rest. Heal.

Our own tradition gives us these same resources in the practice of Sabbath. The need, not the luxury, to stop. The need, not the luxury, to let the world turn without you. The need, not the luxury, of realizing our worth doesn’t lie in production. The need, not the luxury, to be idle and rest and abide in the presence of God’s good creation, free of agenda.

We have been over a lot in the last month that I hope is helpful for you as you prepare to become, or continue to be, an officer of the church. And this final post is supposed to be the most practical and give you further resources to equip you and your community on the ongoing journey of fulfilling God’s calling as a community of faith. But first I want us to stop and remember that if we are simply riding more horses, in more directions, with greater speed… we are helping no one.

More church does not make better disciples.

Sabbath remains a foundational resource of faithfulness — so lead in sabbath for God’s sake, for your sake, and to the benefit of your whole community. Let these ideas percolate in you, let them inspire in you, let them settle in you…and then take a big deep breath. Pray. Remember. Listen. Abide.

God has called you to the most monumental of tasks: being nothing more and nothing less than the Body of Christ in this time and your place. And yet… God already sees in you the gifts and abilities to accomplish this task well. Trust God by trusting yourself. And enjoy the ride. Your joy in leadership may just be the greatest gift of all, and to that end I leave you with these words that Eugene Peterson quotes from Phyllis McGinley in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:

“I have read that during the process of canonization the Catholic Church demands proof of joy in the candidate, and although I have not been able to track down chapter and verse I like the suggestion that dourness is not a sacred attribute.”

Further Resources for Officer Training
The following resources were collected through various crowd-sourcing efforts. This list is barely scratching the surface of available options but will, I hope, help you make the next step in digging deeper into the transformative work of being a church leader.

The Book of Order
As a whole, even with the new form of government, the Book of Order is a long and winding document; but it holds great treasures and perhaps none better as a starting point than The Foundation of Presbyterian Polity. Once you collapse white space it’s only a dozen pages and a rich foundation of why we do what we do the way we do — and you could design an entire course around this section of the Book of Order itself.

The Book of Confessions
As with the Book of Order, we often neglect the richness of The Book of Confessions because taken as a whole it’s an overwhelming resource. But there are many ways to engage our confessional documents to feed our leadership. Two strategies: using excerpts of confessional statements to start discussion at the beginning of each meeting, and assigning different confessions to each officer and having them report back to the whole with a summary of context, primary message, and take-aways.

Ordination Questions
We hope everyone gets a chance to engage our ordination questions (found in the Book of Order) beyond answering them publicly during their ordination. Some congregations have found them a helpful way to engage training, doing a deep dive into them: “We always discover something we hadn’t heard in them before, and it often leads to very fruitful conversation. Especially around the confessions.”

Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers by Joan Gray
This is an old favorite. One church leader adds, “We read this every year. We love it for how she encourages officers to nurture their own spiritual life as a way to grow their gifts for leadership. It helps us to frame the work of the church with prayer and study. Her image of a sailboat church (one led by the Holy Spirit) as opposed to a rowboat church (one whose members decide on their own where they want to go and work themselves to exhaustion to get there) has been so helpful for our discernment.”

Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
Friedman’s work is important, and multiple churches report using the book. The book as a whole can be too much to digest as one part of a larger training, so some recommend using this short video introduction: “It has helped the leaders I’ve worked with lead with more courage, make principled decisions even when it might stir conflict, and be better prepared to absorb anxiety in the church rather than fuel it.”

Making Disciples, Making Leaders by Steven Eason (author) and E. Von Clemans (lesson plans)
A very appreciated and well-worn book for many, specifically geared for the PC(USA); it has a ready-made leader copy for a four-session training course.

God, Improv, and the Art of Living by MaryAnn McKibben Dana
I’m pushing this one, and it has nothing to do with having gone to seminary with MaryAnn…it has everything to do with the power of “yes, and….” Pick this one up, soak it up, and share it profusely.

The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on its Gifts by Luther Snow
A good application of asset-based community development theory to the congregational visioning process.

Cultivated Ministry (NEXT Church Resource)
Cultivated Ministry was developed to move away from old metrics of ministry (like membership numbers) without losing any sense of accountability or measurement of how we are progressing, and fulfilling’s the mission has God for us in the world.

Theoacademy
A project of the Synod of Mid-America. There are a growing number of great video resources for the life of the church including a thirteen-video series available on-line on ordered ministry that is great for the training of elders and deacons.

PCUSA Ruling Elder articles
An ongoing procession of articles put out through the Office of the General Assembly to nurture the leadership of Ruling Elders in our churches.

And lastly…let us never be done. Training for everything in life is never really over. We are in the constant play of practice-reflection-learning-new practice. Consider, if you do not already, adding a training aspect to every session meeting. We do so at FPC Boise under the name: Theological Imagination Session. And there are always new resources to continue to feed our imagination, our playful faithfulness, and our fearless failure to be the Body of Christ in this time and this place.

So what resources did we miss? What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments as we feed each other in the process of being fed by God’s Spirit that is alive and well and coaxing us onward every day.


andrewAndrew Kukla has lived in Illinois, Virginia, the Philippines, Georgia, Florida, and now Idaho – which he calls home along with his wife, Caroline, and four children. He is Pastor / Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho.

When We Are In The Sermon

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Pete Peery

Being now a person of senior status, I remember being taught in seminary to avoid using personal examples in sermons. It was not appropriate. It would divert attention from the Word to the preacher. The sermon was to be about God’s Good News, not about us.

Frankly, it was not a bad teaching. Yet in practice striving to avoid the personal sometimes led me to preaching some pretty sound theological treatises but not proclamations well connected to life. This meant, of course, that those sermons were more often than not boring! And what is the worst thing you can say about a sermon?

As a corrective to emptying pews with boring sermons, the personal vignette has worked its way into acceptability in preaching. This is a good thing. Yet, danger still lurks. Crafting sermons using “our stuff” may well be a way we preachers subtly feed our own narcissistic appetites. Attention indeed can get turned from the Living Word to our desperate egos.

On the NEXT Church website there is a tab noted “Resources.” Clicking on that tab brings up var-ious icons, one of which is “Video.” Clicking on that icon another page emerges showing an icon labeled “Sermons.” Clicking that will bring you to this sermon by Kathryn Johnston delivered at the close of the last NEXT Church National Gathering.

Kathryn is very personal in this sermon. You will discover it is far from boring! I believe she demonstrates a wonderful way to be personal and avoid drawing attention away from the Gospel.

I invite you to try the following:

  • Watch Kathryn’s sermon.
  • Note the way she uses her personal story. How does she avoid making herself the focus of the sermon?
  • Review several of your sermons in which you have used personal vignettes. In light of Kathryn’s approach, would you revise the way you used yourself in the sermons? If so, what changes would you make?
  • What nuggets from Kathryn’s sermon will you keep in your head as you consider using personal examples in your sermons going forward?

I thank God for Kathryn pointing a way for us to preach in this “next church” breaking forth in this very present era.


Pete Peery is the relationship developer for NEXT Church. He formerly served as president of Montreat Conference Center and pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC.

Turning Intentions into Action

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

When I was in the early months of a new call, I worked with a ministry coach on a process of structured goal-setting. I’d never heard of coaching, but after meeting him for a preliminary session and hearing about the process, I decided I could use all the support I could get. We met over the phone for six sessions over a period of 4-5 months, in which I shared what I was learning and experiencing in this new context, and thought through ways to move forward faithfully. My coach asked good questions and, in some cases, made concrete suggestions, but the beauty of coaching is that the bulk of the wisdom emanates from the client. I made commitments to my coach, but most importantly, to myself: to make the phone call I found every excuse not to make. To establish good habits and boundaries. To turn my good intentions into concrete action.

I have to admit that in the early days of this coaching relationship, I would sometimes feel bad about myself for even needing a coach at all. Talking to other coach clients, I know this is common. Self-sufficiency is a strong cultural value, and coaching is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it all ourselves. We load ourselves down with “should”: I should be able to manage this on my own. I should be able to set a goal and just do it. I should be able to figure out what’s keeping me stuck. More power to those who have that kind of personal discipline, but most of us need a little something more. Coaching isn’t the only place we can find that perspective, but it’s a powerful one.

A few years ago, I heard Carla Pratt Keyes address a NEXT Church gathering and she shared some startling statistics. When we set goals for ourselves, there’s about a 6-8% chance that we will achieve it. The chance increases to 30% when we write the goal down, and it increases to 60% when we tell someone about it.

What helps move that stat from 60% toward 100%? I suspect it’s a lot of what we find in the coaching relationship, in which each conversation ends with a series of commitments: What will you do in the next few weeks? When will you do it? Where will your accountability be? (Knowing that the coach will ask about it next time was always a big help to me.)

For this reason, NEXT Church has created NEXT Steps Coaching, an initiative to help ministry leaders be more fruitful in their ministries. Right now we have two primary means for people to take advantage of these resources:

  • a directory of coaches, vetted for training/certification and familiar with NEXT, whom church leaders can contact directly and contract with on their own.
  • pro-bono coaching for leaders who could not afford it, provided through a generous gift from National Capital Presbytery.

Of all the initiatives currently on tap through NEXT Church — the Cultivated Ministry field guide, the community organizing training and certificate, our stellar National Gatherings — NEXT Steps Coaching is the one nearest to my heart. I have seen a pastor’s eyes light up as they finally figure out how to streamline some cumbersome administrative process. I have heard the relief in the voice of a leader who said, “Of course… I never thought about it that way.” And I have witnessed individuals and groups who felt utterly stuck and dispirited find new vitality and purpose.

For the past several months, a NEXT Church coach has been working with a team of leaders from South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church as they make some major changes to how they worship, connect, learn, and serve on Sunday morning. Their story is theirs to tell, and I hope they will, for the sake of countless congregations experiencing similar challenges. But here’s what’s struck me about their process. Among other things, the church made the difficult decision to move from two worship services to one. It’s a painful issue that many churches are facing right now, and it can come with a lot of emotional baggage, even grief, over letting go of the way things used to be. It can lead to a real defeated, deficit mentality.

But the team at South Jax realized that with this challenge came tremendous opportunity. After attending the NEXT Church gathering together in Baltimore, they re-branded themselves the “NEXT team,” charged with helping the congregation take the best from their past as they stepped into a new chapter. They designed a church-wide campaign of listening sessions, synthesized the stories they heard, and made recommendations to session. Most importantly, perhaps, they framed the changes with genuine excitement: One of the things we value here is relationship… with this change, we will all be worshiping together, at the same time, as one community. This change allows us to live our values more deeply than before. When I chatted recently with the chair of the team, he said, “We still have a ways to go, and lots to tweak. But one of our members that had expressed great concern about the changes came up to me recently and said, ‘I see nothing but smiles since the change.’”

This endorsement speaks to the leadership of the team shepherding this work. But it also speaks to the power of coaching — of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in one another, discerning the next right thing, and holding one another accountable in love to do it.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, free-range pastor, speaker, and leadership coach living in Virginia. She is author of God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and 2012’s Sabbath in the Suburbs. She is a former chair of NEXT Church’s strategy team, and was recognized by the Presbyterian Writers Guild with the 2015-2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

Welcoming the Refugee, Loving Our Neighbor

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Linda Kurtz

At the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, Tom Charles, a ruling elder from Nassau Presbyterian Church, gave a testimony presentation about the church’s ministry resettling refugee families. You see, Nassau has been welcoming refugee families to New Jersey for almost 60 years, giving them — and Tom — a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Less than 20 minutes later, when he was done speaking, Tom had the entire room on its feet in applause. His testimony was inspiring — so inspiring, in fact, that some folks who heard Tom in Kansas City went home and asked their churches whether or not they might be called to refugee resettlement ministry themselves.

Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA — in partnership with Union Presbyterian Seminary — is one such church. In the last year, they’ve discerned whether God might be calling them to sponsor a refugee family and ultimately decided the answer was yes. In fact, the family Ginter Park and Union Presbyterian Seminary are supporting arrived in the United States two weeks ago!

As a student at the seminary, I gathered several of my classmates and other members of our seminary community to discuss the extent to which we could partner with Ginter Park in this ministry. To facilitate that conversation, I turned to Tom’s testimony.

Here’s a reflection exercise appropriate for any faith community who might be engaging in similar discernment.

First, watch the entire testimony yourself. Since it’s just over 18 minutes long, I suggest selecting the most pertinent clips for your community to show others. I showed the video from 2:03-3:05 and 4:53-7:27.

Then, discuss:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • What do our scriptures and confessions say about the refugee and immigrant? [See Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, I Peter 1:1-2; BoC 9.45 for starters.]
  • How might refugee resettlement fit into our broader mission and ministry?
  • If not sponsoring a refugee family, what are ways we can live out our call to care for refugees and immigrants?
  • How might our faith be impacted by this work?

Tom also helpfully provided a comprehensive guide for churches, individuals, and organizations looking to start such a program in their own context that assist with some of the more practical details.

But this isn’t the only way this testimony might be used. Sponsoring a family might not be feasible for your faith community for any number of reasons, but I find Tom’s heartfelt commitment to loving his neighbor — even his newly-arrived-from-another-country neighbor — inspiring. This video could also prompt a good discussion about how faith can be changed by encounters with people outside of our faith community or be used to facilitate conversation amongst a mission committee discerning where God is calling them next.

That discussion might be prompted by:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • When have been some of the most faithful moments of your life?
  • How are we called more generally to love our neighbor in this community?
  • How do the people we interact with outside this faith community impact our faith?
  • How might we provide opportunities for members of our faith community to live out and experience their faith as Tom has?

Has your church discussed the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family? What was your discernment process like? How else might you use Tom’s testimony to spark conversation in your ministry context? Share with us in the comments!


Linda Kurtz is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a final level student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. 

What is No Longer So?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

In Blair Monie’s short video “What Isn’t Helpful Anymore?” for “The NEXT Few Minutes,” he identifies the reality that as people and systems evolve, practices need to change with them and yet we often keep practices the same beyond their usefulness.

This reflection exercise could be incorporated in many ways in ministry settings:

  • A reflection exercise by a session, staff, or any leadership team, thinking about a particular area of ministry.
  • A reflection for the congregation as a whole in a period of discernment or as a moment of taking stock.
  • An invitation within a small group for self-reflection and deepened relationships as responses are shared.

First, watch the video:

Then answer the following three questions that he raises in the short clip:

  1. Can you think of things in your own congregation/ministry history that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  2. Can you think of things in your own journey that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  3. What were once means to an end of spiritual growth, but are no longer so?

If you would like to take it even further, invite participants to ask these questions of others in the ministry context and learn from their answers:

Name three other people you’d like to hear answer these questions. Maybe someone who has been at the church for only a couple of years. Maybe someone you consider a leader. Maybe someone who has been at the church for his/her whole life. Maybe someone who you see only a couple times a month.


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

Resources for Postliberal Preaching

These resources were provided by Dan Lewis and Pen Peery at the conclusion of their August 2017 online roundtable: “Toward the Purple Church.”

Books

Campbell, Charles L. Preaching Jesus: The New Directions for Homiletics in Hans Frei’s Postliberal Theology

Pape, Lance B. The Scandal of Having Something to Say: Ricoeur and the Possibility of Postliberal Preaching

Eslinger, Richard L. Narrative and Imagination: Preaching the Worlds that Shape Us

 

Quick Thought Pieces

I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.” – Frank Bruni in The New York Times (8/12/17)

The End of Identity Liberalism” – Mark Lilla in The New York Times (11/18/16)

The Tribal Truths that Set the Stage for Trump’s Lies” – Michael Gerson in the Washington Post (3/23/17)

Who Are We?” – Ross Douthat in The New York Times (2/4/17)

What ‘Hamilton’ forgets about Hamilton” – Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick in The New York Times (6/10/16)

Save the Mainline” – Ross Douthat in The New York Times (4/15/17)

Leaving a Legacy: What is Planned Giving?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Olanda Carr

The term “planned giving” is not always easily understood. After all, shouldn’t we always plan when making a gift to someone, especially the church or another charitable organization? How is a planned gift any different from a regular gift? These are just a sample of the questions I often hear when presenting the topic of planned giving to a congregation or gathering.

Whenever I am asked to clarify the concept of planned giving, I often use a tree analogy: think of planned giving as planting seeds for shade trees that you will never sit under.

This analogy generally works well because it helps us to envision the true purpose of a planned gift: a financial gift (or seed) cultivated now that will be fully realized in the future. This analogy often works even better during periods of sweltering heat such as these, as I believe we all appreciate a cooling breeze or shade tree during the warm days of summer!

There are many definitions circulating the internet to define, clarify, and/or describe planned giving.  From a Christian perspective, planned giving is not just about the responsible utilization of our financial assets, it is also a critical component of living out the tenets of our faith. On the Presbyterian Foundation’s website, planned giving is described this way: “[planned giving] is an opportunity for us all to return to God that which God entrusted us with during our lifetime. It is also an opportunity for us all to further strengthen Christ’s church for the future by providing for ministry and mission for those who come after us. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us; let’s be the shoulders for those who come after us” (1). In short, planned giving allows us to use blessings of today to bless those of tomorrow. For one to begin the planned giving process, however, it is imperative for one to take an inventory of assets prior to considering charitable giving opportunities. This estate planning process is a critical first step towards planned giving.

Estate planning is the process of managing accumulated assets for the present and the future. It is a written expression of your intentions for the protection and preservation of your assets during your lifetime and their management and distribution upon your death (2). Many financial advising institutions recommend creating a list of assets, both individual and shared, to assist one with developing a complete picture of one’s financial state. This allows an individual or couple to then enter the discernment process of asset distribution. The Presbyterian Foundation offers an asset recording instrument, the Estate Planning Workbook (3), for individuals to review and complete to capture such information. Inside the workbook, information related to investments, living will directives, retirement accounts, insurance policies and other pieces of related information are addressed.

After an inventory of assets has been developed, it is now time to consider charitable planned giving opportunities. While most immediately think of a named bequest in a will, there are many other options that should be considered when planning to donate to a particular church or charitable organization. Endowment funds, appreciated securities, charitable remainder trusts, life insurance beneficiaries, and retirement accounts are just a few of the many ways one can use accumulated assets to provide for future ministry.

Participating in planned giving allows us to develop an enduring statement of faith. Thus, as one begins to engage in the planned giving process, it is often helpful to reflect on the areas of ministry that have brought us the most joy in life. For some, it may be music. For others, it may be mission and outreach. Regardless of the specific area of ministry, however, a planned gift is an excellent way to provide financial support for the given ministry for many years to come. Thanks be to God! 

References:

  1. Planned Giving Toolbox http://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/Resources/Ministry-Resources/Church-Tool-Box/Planned-Giving-Tool-Box.aspx
  2. “What is Estate Planning”. Page 2.  Composing A Legacy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation
  3. Estate Planning Workbook. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation

Olanda Carr, Jr. is the Ministry Relations Officer (MRO) serving the East Region for the Presbyterian Foundation. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Olanda shares his call to the Foundation — “God calls us each day to do new and exciting things. I believe my service with the Foundation is such a call, as it provides me with an opportunity to further God’s kingdom and the mission of the PC (USA).”

Choosing to do a Capital Campaign

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Joel Morgan

Built in the mid-1960’s, the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church featured an understated cross in the front, 72 14ft long pews, a 35-foot high ceiling, and a Casavant Freres organ in the back.  From the beginning, nearly every visitor commented on the immensity and simple beauty of the sacred space. The footprint of the sanctuary was 8,000 square feet and the congregation utilized it a little more than one hour a week.

Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. The congregation’s membership had declined significantly and the sanctuary was being used in the same way for the same amount of time each week. Under new pastoral leadership, the congregation initiated a new and different worship service in their fellowship hall while keeping the traditional worship in place. After a number of years, the worship service in the fellowship hall had a larger attendance than the worship held in the much larger sanctuary.

Other things had changed as well. In 2002, the entire church facility, some 36,000 square feet, had been quiet during the weekdays. By 2012, most of the facility was being used 6 days a week by 12-step groups, a Montessori school, neighborhood groups, and other non-profit organizations. The sanctuary was the only space that sat empty, except for that 1 hour on Sunday morning. The session and pastor often commented on how this seemed like poor stewardship–to have been given the gift of this space (the largest in the facility), but to barely use it.

Over that same 10 years, the congregation experienced a significant generational shift. In 2002, the congregation was made up of 70% retirees. In 2012, about 70% of the congregation was 45 years of age and younger. The congregation also moved from a $25,000 – $50,000 yearly deficit to a number of years with a surplus. Many attributed this financial shift to a right-sizing of the staff and a focus on preaching and teaching about stewardship year-round, such as hosting and leading numerous Financial Peace University classes. New members also received teaching about the expectations of members in terms of financial stewardship, instead of simply being handed a pledge card. There were other changes too, modeled on the stewardship practices extolled by J. Clif Christopher and others.

For over a decade, the pastor and session tossed around ideas about how to modify the sanctuary to make it more flexible and useful for all kinds of worship and other events, while keeping some of its character. No one seemed to have a good answer. With the fellowship hall filling to capacity on Sunday mornings, there was more talk about what the next step should be. The session decided it was time to consult an architect.

The architect led the congregation through a process of determining the best use of the entire facility. They worshipped with the congregation and completed some initial designs. A small group from the session worked with the architect to refine those ideas. Once they believed they had the “right” design, a cost estimate was completed.

The next question seemed to be obvious, “Can we raise the money for this project?” The question behind the question was, “Can we pull off a successful capital campaign?”

The congregation had done capital campaigns before, but the most recent one (20 years prior) had not gone well.

The session put together a task force to select a fundraising/capital campaign consultant to complete a feasibility study. This group interviewed 3 firms and chose Horizons Stewardship to complete the study. The task force chose Horizons based on a number of factors, with the most powerful one being that they were the only firm to talk about how a capital campaign should be a spiritual experience.

Horizon’s process for the study was straightforward and inclusive. There were personal interviews and an online survey of the congregation. Ultimately, the report from Horizons was positive. The consultant found the congregation supportive of congregational leadership and found the members were willing to support a capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary. The session voted to move forward.

One of the first tasks was selecting leadership for the capital campaign. Even with the full faith and support of the congregation, the capital campaign would not be successful without energized and committed leaders.

The wheels were set in motion. The congregation eagerly awaits the day when their beautiful 8,000 square foot sanctuary will be used more than one hour a week. Faith in God, generosity, and a successful capital campaign could make it possible.

The story of WPC’s capital campaign is not over.  At the time of publication, WPC is in the final design phase before beginning the renovation, but that is another blog post (or two!).

A few observations from our experience:

  1. WPC had talked about renovating for years. We knew we needed more space for our informal worship service where we sit around tables and not in pews. We knew the chancel area needed to be larger to accommodate some of the worship dramas we did on a regular basis. We knew we needed a welcoming gathering area. It wasn’t until we really began thinking about it from a stewardship perspective (Are we being good stewards of the facility? Are we using it to its full potential for God’s mission? How can this bless the neighborhood?) that the idea grew in importance.
  2. Leadership. This is one of the underemphasized, but most important pieces of deciding to pursue a capital campaign. Does the congregation have full faith in the current leadership? Is there sufficient energy and other potential leaders in the congregation for this endeavor? We had a group of folks who not only committed for the six months of the “active” capital campaign, but said “yes” to three years of shepherding the congregation in the campaign. Amazing! But, without the energy of the Spirit, forget it.
  3. Pastoral leadership is critical. I know this isn’t a popular notion. Yes, all the Elders lead together. I believe this and teach this. I often say in our session meetings, “As the session goes, so goes the congregation.” However, in financial stewardship and capital campaigns, if the pastor(s) are not fully engaged and willing to lead, the efforts will fall short.

Joel Morgan has always been fascinated by the intersection of body, mind and spirit as well as how to sustain creativity, energy and vitality. He seeks to connect others with God’s love, grace and promise in Jesus Christ through preaching, teaching and coaching that marries real life with faith and practice. Joel has been the Pastor/Head of Staff of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA since 2002. He has a BS in Language Arts (English, Literature, and Theater) and a Masters of Divinity.

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Toward a Year-Round Stewardship Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ann Michel

As a child, I would roll my eyes when my mother repeated herself again and again and AGAIN. But as an educator, Mom knew that repetition is the key to learning. As a stewardship professional, I note with some irony the many church leaders who complain that their congregations just don’t seem to get it when it comes to giving and stewardship. And yet they never talk about stewardship outside of a commitment campaign conducted in a perfunctory way over a couple of weeks in the fall – a campaign culminating in “The Stewardship Sermon” – the one-and-only time each year when stewardship is preached from the pulpit.

Spiritual formation for stewardship and giving requires much more than this. It happens over a lifetime, as people grow in faith and discipleship. These days, fewer and fewer people come into our churches having learned the values or giving and tithing at home. And they are bombarded daily with cultural messages contrary to what our Christian faith teaches teaching about money and possessions. We have to constantly invite people into an alternative world view – one that attests to the truth that God really does provide for us abundantly, that we are stewards not owners of the things that God has entrusted to us, and that giving is more important than acquiring.

Creating a culture of generosity within your congregation can’t be done in a single Sunday or even in a month of Sundays. It’s something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

A “stewardship calendar” can be an invaluable instrument in planning a more holistic, year-round approach to stewardship. Some wonderful examples of stewardship calendars can be found online from the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

These planning templates suggest ways that stewardship themes can be tied into scriptural or liturgical themes across the church year and linked with various aspects of congregational life.

When I worked as the stewardship director at a large church in Washington, DC, I would create a yearly timeline to map out the various parts of our stewardship ministry – not just our pledge campaign. I would ask myself, when was the best time of year to focus on planned giving or stewardship of one’s lifetime assets? When would various special appeals be made? How might stewardship education, including training around financial literacy, fit into the overall church calendar? When would we send thank yous and giving statements? How would we help people think about stewardship of their time and talents?

My goal was to make sure that all aspects of stewardship received adequate attention – but at a time of year that made sense given the liturgical season and the church’ programmatic calendar. I also wanted to avoid overlapping appeals or competing messages. Once I knew we were going to be focusing on financial literacy in January, sacrificial giving during Lent, and stewardship of time and talents in the early fall, it was much easier to plan appropriate communication and connect our stewardship efforts with preaching, worship, and Christian education.

The goal of establishing a holistic, year-round stewardship ministry may sound daunting. But the wonderful thing is you can start small. Over the next year, experiment with adding something new. Maybe it’s a sermon series on a stewardship-related theme at a time of year totally apart from when you’re asking people to make pledges. I guarantee people will be more receptive to what you have to say if they don’t think it’s a thinly veiled attempt to get more of their money. Or maybe it’s conducting a “thank-a-thon” to acknowledge the importance of people’s support of the church’s mission and reinforce the connection between generosity and gratitude. And you don’t need to do everything on an annual basis. Classes on budgeting or preparing a will might be needed only every so often. But without planning, these things might easily fall through the cracks.

Our faith teaches that God created different times and seasons. A bit of planning can help us see how God’s call to generosity connects to every time and season, so that we might better reflect the abundant generosity of the God who created us and calls to be partners in God’s divine generosity.


Dr. Ann A. Michel has served as associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since 2005. She is editor of the Lewis Center’s online newsletter, Leading Ideas. She also serves as an adjunct member of the faculty of Wesley Theological Seminary, supporting the Lewis Center’s curricular offerings as a lecturer in church leadership.

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Crowdfunding Your Congregation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Adam Copeland

What if a new technology existed that completely changed the way congregations raised funds for mission? What if there was a tool to make difficult-to-fund projects overflow with supportive donations? What if, by using a simple website, a congregation could discover hundreds of new giving units without any trouble at all? Well, I suppose if such a technology existed, we’d all be using it. As far as I know, no such a miraculous tool exists.

Today’s post is on crowdfunding and while I believe it has great potential, let me be clear: crowdfunding is no silver bullet. It is not the fundraising savior. Crowdfunding is, though, a relatively new way to think and go about funding specific projects that might be of interest for your congregation. It’s also a particular interest of mine and, therefore, the topic of today’s blog.

Around 2008, crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and dozens of others developed a new way to give money to support a particular cause, project, or vision. While there are plenty of ways to raise money online, I define crowdfunding as goal-based fundraising ventures, conducted by groups or individuals using the Internet, that seek small contributions from a large number of people. Beyond that general definition lie several different types of crowdfunding. There are campaigns in which the funder receives rewards or gifts if the project is fully funded. Other campaigns work more like traditional charity fundraisers — people give to the causes they support. Some campaigns are set up in an all-or-nothing way so, if the goal isn’t reached, the project does not go forward. In common, though, is the notion that a good crowdfunding campaign seeks to raise money for a specific goal.

Usually, we think of a church budget as a big, bulky mixture of various missional priorities. We might call funding the budget a “macro goal.” Crowdfunding thrives on “micro goals:” specific, often time-sensitive, visions of something new. As Perry Chen, a Kickstarter co-founder, has explained, potential backers see a pitch and think, “That’s really cool. I want to see it exist in the world.”

Crowdfunding is about bringing vision to life or making dreams a reality. Campaign creators describe their vision — what they think the world needs — and they ask the crowd for help. Together, they create something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I’ve come to think of it this way: crowdfunding supporters don’t give away money; they midwife dreams.

What does all this pie-in-the-sky description actually look like? Well, for a church plant in Wilmington, North Carolina it meant raising $20,000 to launch a new space. St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, New York has conducted several successful campaigns. For a student at Illif School of Theology, it means raising $1,100 to help her go to seminary. And dozens of faith-related music albums now exist thanks to campaigns like this one and this one. In sum, crowdfunding offers congregations and faith-related non-profits opportunities to share their vision with the world, and ask the crowd for support.

Now, I want to be clear: crowdfunding takes work, organization, coordination, some technological savvy and, most of all, a good idea. I’m really drawn to the crowdfunding world because of the possibilities that it might help the church think differently about mission and funding, but it’s no panacea. For that reason, I’ve written a guide booklet titled “Crowdfunding for Congregations and Faith-related Non-profits” that you can download as a resource. Crowdfunding may not be right for your congregation, but I do think it has potential for some. Who knows, maybe God is doing a new thing. Either way, I think the church has much to learn from the invitational language, compelling videos, and inspirational vision on display in many crowdfunding campaigns.


Adam Copeland is Director of Stewardship Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota where he teaches as well as directs the Center for Stewardship Leaders. Having served as a rural pastor, church planter, and college professor, his scholarly interests consider stewardship and generosity, church leadership, rhetoric, and digital culture. His books include Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), and the forthcoming Making Stewardship Whole (Westminster John Knox, 2017). He holds degrees from St. Olaf College, Columbia Theological Seminary, and is a pursing a PhD rhetoric, writing, and culture at North Dakota State University. Find him online at http://adamjcopeland.com or follow his tweets @ajc123.

 

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