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 Chick Lane
Most people recognize the importance of saying thank you. We try to remember these two important words when someone does something for us. Those who have been parents recall trying to help their children get into the habit of saying thank you when they receive a gift. We know saying thank you is important, and yet we struggle, don’t we?
Congregations are no exception to this struggle. It is important for a congregation to say “thank you” appropriately when members and friends give time, talent and treasure to the ministry. And yet, most congregations will acknowledge that they fall short.
My experience is that those congregations who are most effective at thanking are those congregations who have a plan for how they will thank. I’d encourage you to consider developing your own congregational thank you plan. As you do this, you might think in terms of both general thank yous, in which many people are thanked at once, and specific thank yous, in which people are thanked one at a time for their unique contributions to the congregation’s life.
Developing a thank you plan involves three rather simple steps. First, you will want to assess how you are currently thanking people. Gather a group of people together who are familiar with the congregation’s operation and create a list of all the ways people are being thanked now for their gifts of time, talent and money. Take your time with this – you may be thanking in more ways than you think.
Second, consider how you would like to thank people. This might involve two steps. You might want to gather a group of staff and lay leaders for a discussion of the question, “How do you think we ought to be thanking people here at church?” A second strategy might involve a focus group or two of members in which the question is asked, “How would you like to be thanked for your contributions to the life of our congregation?” A word of caution here: you will inevitably hear some people say, “I don’t need to be thanked, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do.” Try to get past this. It is a common response, but you don’t want it to be the last word.
Third, and perhaps most challenging, is to consider what you learned in the first two steps, and then develop a plan. Ideally the plan will be developed by the people who will be implementing it. Depending on your congregation’s size, this might be staff or a mixture of the pastor, a part-time parish office staff person, and some volunteers. Your plan should be specific – exactly what will you do. It should have time parameters – when will you say thanks. It should describe how the thanks will be extended – will it be in a letter or email, or will it be a more general thanks given in the newsletter? It should be clear who is responsible for extending the thank you.
A good thank you plan should not be overwhelming. If you try to do too many new things at one time, you will doom yourself to failure. Keep it simple and manageable at first, knowing that you can add to it as you go. A good thank you plan should include specific thank yous, thanking one person at a time for a specific contribution to the congregation’s life. It might also include thank yous to groups of people like the choir, the ushers, or church school teachers. Finally it should include general thank yous to the entire congregation either in worship, via mail, email, or in the newsletter.
If you would like to see a sample thank you plan, visit this Embracing Stewardship web page. If you are interested in more information about thanking, you might explore Chapter 9 in Ask, Thank, Tell and Chapter 8 in Embracing Stewardship.
Pastor Chick Lane is Pastor of Stewardship and Generosity at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota, the author of Ask, Thank, Tell, and the co-author with Grace Duddy Pomroy of Embracing Stewardship. Chick has served as an assistant an assistant to the bishop in the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, director for Stewardship Key Leaders in the ELCA, and director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.