Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Some new church plant (or old traditional church, or hipster-deep “worship experience”) doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills. So the pastor, or the elders, or the stewardship committee decides it’s high time to start preaching more about money.
And unfortunately, it “works.” At least, it works in the short-term.
The psychology of sales and fundraising are well known, and can be effective in the short-term when we learn to push people’s buttons and pull their triggers.
But when we treat people like the most important thing they have to give is money, we are exploiting them as objects to be used. When we will say or do nearly anything just to get folks to write a check, we de-humanize them. And eventually, because of that, we will burn them out.
This, by the way, is a sure-fire sign that we have slipped into the trap of working to preserve the institution rather than advance the mission. Why? Because institutions are built by resources, but a mission can only be advanced by people.
Why we don’t like talking about money
This is one reason most of us in ministry find selling and fundraising distasteful. We know how gross it makes us feel when someone treats us this way. As pastors who are trained to be sensitive to a person’s spiritual well-being, we are repulsed by anything that feels like manipulation.
And we should be.
The problem is, when faced with the discomfort of asking for money, we tend to shrink back and ask for less (or, we simply don’t ask at all), when what we should be doing is exactly the opposite. We should be asking for more. Far more.
Here’s what I mean: I’m not suggesting we travel down the well-worn path of over-busying and overwhelming people until they eventually burn out. That’s just another, all-too-familiar way of exploiting people. The solution to exploiting people is obviously not to exploit them more. Rather, the solution is to learn to truly see and relate to people as whole persons who have more to give than merely money.
It’s not about money, it’s about vocation
We all have an innate, whole-hearted purpose or calling in life for which we are gifted and equipped, more or less. But many people (maybe most) haven’t discovered it yet, and this is one reason why many of us are so spiritually broken – because we haven’t yet figured out what we should be sacrificing our lives for.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.
People are looking for where their whole lives fit. Once they find it, they’ll usually give their whole hearts to it. This is their spiritual vocation.
You are doing your people and your mission a disservice by simply asking for money. One key to forming a healthy church or nonprofit is to learn to discover and empower the whole-hearted vocations of those who are genuinely called to work together in a common mission.
That is what true organizational development is about, because in a mission-driven organization like a church, it develops more than the organization; it develops the people, it develops the community, it develops the world.
In the world of nonprofit leadership, this kind of holistic, person-centered approach is often referred to as “humanizing the organization” – and it applies to more than just fund development.
It is the intentional counter-measure to the common and de-humanizing modern management paradigm which sees the organization as a machine and the people in it as the cogs that keep it running.
So really, you need to see fundraising in your church as a part of an entire ministry of making disciples.
How does this relate to giving money?
One of the most important things you can do to develop your church or nonprofit is to stop asking for people to give their money and start asking them to give their hearts. In other words, genuinely treat them as persons who are critically important to the mission. Because they are.
Of course, this is a process, and it is usually a long one because it is relational. It starts with caring enough to pay attention and listen. It means discovering people’s hearts and being honest about whether their vocation really does align with yours.
It also requires making space for people to engage to whatever extent they are willing and able; allowing them to ask difficult questions, make suggestions, participate in decisions, offer a critique, commit mistakes, achieve successes, enjoy a little credit, and so on.
What that begins to click in a community, many of your fellow workers will start to give more of everything, including money. In fact, in my experience, people will seek you out to give you money for the mission.
Of course, giving won’t run that deep for everyone – in fact, it won’t run that deep for hardly anyone – and that’s good and right for all kinds of reasons. But everybody does have something to give, and having permission to give whatever they have, coupled with access to wholeheartedly participate, will make a profound impact for the better on everyone who comes into contact with your organization.
Caring for people by asking for money
In this way, asking for support from someone who is whole-heartedly invested is actually an expression of deep care for them as a person. Yes, even asking for money, when it’s appropriate.
There is nothing quite so life-giving as giving deeply into the vocation of your gifts and passion. By appropriately asking for the gift of a person’s heart in all if its expressions, and by creating a meaningful way for them to give it, you are offering them a powerful gift as well. The gift of being truly human.
For obvious reasons, no organizations on the planet should be better at this than communities of faith.
Church Fundraising in Post-Christendom
There are all kinds of effective ways to do this. Ways to lead and govern well, ways to ask well, and ways to engage people as whole persons.
(That’s why I’m offering my training course Church Fundraising in Post-Christendom through Gravity Leadership every summer, by the way.)
In my experience, what pastors need is all the skills of the best nonprofit development departments, filtered through the holistic lens of the gospel.
The good news is, all of that can be learned. Check out the course if you’re interested in how fundraising can become an expression of discipleship in your church.