Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Electronic Giving to the Local Church

By David S. Bell

Electronic fund transfer (EFT) is one of the fastest growing services provided by American financial institutions. Industry leaders suggest that this growth trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Recently, church members are following this same trend by choosing to have their contributions automatically withdrawn from their personal checking account or savings account. Indeed, most mainline denominational finance offices have established relationships with companies specializing in EFT services. These relationships enable local churches to implement electronic giving programs with relative ease. The EFT process is remarkably simple for the customer to initiate. Churches with only a few participants can enlist in an EFT program. Moreover, the typical cost to a church is limited to a reasonable fee for enrollment authorizations and transactions.

While some churches have decided to accept credit card contributions, this method may support the dangerous practice of credit card overspending. Many Americans face seemingly insurmountable consumer debt as a result of credit card overspending. Encouraging parishioners to support the church through credit card contributions could add compounding burdens for these already overextended individuals and families. Churches are best to avoid credit card contributions as a means of financially supporting the church.

One of the key benefits to an electronic giving program for both the church and the contributor is convenience. In fact, the convenience factor is the primary reason cited by individuals who have elected to pay recurring bills by EFT. The same rationale is true for parishioners electing to support their church by an EFT contribution. “You are giving members something they want. You are providing a convenient method for members to give,” stated Lynette von Schilling, a church account manager with an EFT company.

However, convenience is just one among many benefits. “Some processors have claimed that churches can increase their [contributions] by 10%-30%, while steadying cash flow and freeing up dozens if not hundreds of volunteer hours,” according to Matt Whitaker, president of a third party administrator. Statistics have shown that persons, who contribute regularly to the church, give more to the church than persons who give sporadically. An electronic giving program will cultivate more regular givers and, thus, increase the church’s income.

Not all church leaders are supportive of electronic giving programs for the church. Some leaders believe that electronic giving programs disregard the offering as an act of worship. Critics of electronic giving claim that an electronic giving program equates church giving to paying personal bills. Some of the most outspoken critics of electronic giving suggest that it may even be a compromise of the tithing principles, may enhance the cultural view that money belongs to individuals, and may further distance the biblical imperative of generous giving.

While church members and leaders alike have raised some level of concern about electronic giving, most mainline denominational leaders consider the benefits of electronic giving to far surpass the potential concerns. In response to the concern that electronic giving inhibits parishioners from participating in the offering, churches have developed special offering cards for electronic giving participants. These cards, similar in size to an offering envelope, state that the church member has given through an EFT. Parishioners are able to be active worship participants in the offering by placing this card in the offering plate.

A growing number of churches are finding electronic giving programs to be one more means of providing parishioners with an opportunity to be Christian stewards and to be generous givers in their local church. As one church member stated, “Thanks to the EFT program at my church, I am able to consistently support the mission and ministry of our church. Before the EFT program, I would contribute just a few dollars whenever I attended worship. Sadly, I spent more money buying coffee in one day than I gave to the church each week! Now, I feel like a full participant in the ministry of the church. The EFT program has helped me develop my financial discipleship. It’s amazing! I am far more involved and interested in the church since I have made a financial investment in the ministry!”

While the church can provide numerous financial tools to accommodate the busy lives and to encourage the consistent giving of its members, none of these services will replace the need to call people to be Christian stewards. We are called to recognize that God is the owner of all that we possess. Our response to God through Jesus Christ, regardless of our method of giving, should be the same – a spiritual discipline of joyful, generous giving.


Frequently Asked Questions about Electronic Giving

Why would people want to give to the church electronically?
Many people who give regularly find that giving by electronic transfer is a convenient option. Convenience is especially important during times when one cannot attend worship. Electronic giving also helps the church predict its income so that the mission and ministry of the church can be planned adequately.

When would this automatic contribution be withdrawn from a personal account?
Most automatic contributions are withdrawn on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The contributor is informed of the specific numerical date of withdrawal when the EFT is established. Most third party administrators withdraw funds around the 5th or 20th of each month, although the numerical date is selected by the local church.

What does a parishioner need to do in order to set up an EFT with a church that has an established electronic giving program?
In most instances, a parishioner simply completes an enrollment form, attaches a voided check, and submits them to the church office. After approximately three weeks, contributions will start being deducted on a regular basis.

Is there a minimal amount that a parishioner needs to give in order to establish an EFT transaction?
Most churches do not have a minimum contribution requirement.

Is an EFT transaction risky?
No. Actually, an EFT transaction is considered to be safer than writing a check or giving cash. An EFT is governed by strict regulations and guidelines. Nearly 10 billion EFT transactions are processed annually in the United States and Canada.

How can one keep a record of one’s contributions?
Each bank statement will include an itemized list of automatic withdrawals from the account. The EFT contribution to the church will be included in this list. Most churches will continue to send members a year-end giving statement.

What if the church member changes banks, closes/opens accounts, or desires to make a change in the contribution amount?
A church member can change accounts or the amount contributed by contacting the church office or volunteer in charge of EFT transactions. The change will be effective with the next withdrawal. In the event that notification is not received with enough advance notice, an adjustment will be made within a few business days.

Will church members face any bank charges for EFT transactions?
No. In fact, the church member will actually save money since no check is written to the church.

Can parishioners give to the church by making a credit card contribution?
Although some churches do accept credit cards transactions as contributions, serious concerns may arise from a church accepting credit cards. These concerns include the high service fee assessed to the church in processing credit card contributions and the potential impact that credit card acceptance may have on the escalating consumer debt. Extreme caution should be exercised for both the church and the parishioner before completing credit card transactions.


David S. Bell is the President and Executive Director of the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. David has a keen understanding of current economic and consumer trends impacting charitable giving, which he gained through experience as a pastor, development director, and national church leader. David is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and active member of The Alban Institute, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Christian Leadership Alliance, and the National Association of Church Business Administrators. David graduated from Drew Theological School and holds a BA in Religious Studies and Secondary Education from The College of Wooster. David and his wife, Ethel, have two children and reside in Brighton, Michigan.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Capital Campaigns: Inspiring Generosity
Through Abundant Vision

By David S. Bell

Inspiring generosity through abundant vision
The concept of the capital campaign was first introduced in the Book of Exodus. Interestingly, God reminded the early religious community to use their gifts and talents to achieve God’s goals. Moses was the first religious leader to recognize the need for a capital campaign. This campaign focused on people giving a portion of their assets to support the religious community. They gave independent of any annual budget campaign (Exodus 25:1-9, Exodus 30:11-16.) Despite the success of Moses and his followers, many contemporary church leaders fail to follow his example. As a result, these congregations often experience financial giving patterns reflecting an attitude of scarcity rather than one of abundance.

The purpose of the capital campaign is not to provide a quick-fix solution or a super-sized financial aid package for a struggling congregation. Rather, the capital campaign is an opportunity for the church community to strengthen and to empower life-changing ministries. It is a shared celebration of God’s grace and providence. The capital campaign spiritually compels the congregation to give their assets for future ministry and outreach. The capital campaign may be underwriting the renovation or expansion of a church building. Yet, congregations are far more motivated when the project invites them to rally around its impact on people. A line item budget of building expenses rarely invokes an intrinsic connection to the project. The end result of ministry that will occur in the building draws people’s greatest interest and generosity.

So how do church leaders know if they should commence a capital campaign? First and foremost, the process begins with prayerful contemplation. Seeking God’s guidance in all endeavors helps to assure a connection to God’s direction. The capital campaign is a faith-sharing, spiritual journey, not a mere fundraising effort.

Second, church leaders create a list of the measurable ministry goals based on the church’s strategic plan and vision. What new or repositioned ministries would enable the church to more effectively engage in vital outreach and disciple-making? Once this list has been compiled, church leaders consider if updating the current space or increasing the physical property would add to the probability of reaching or exceeding these ministry goals. Do the church leaders seek to start an endowment fund to support existing and emerging ministries? Do the worship services require enhanced technology to connect more meaningfully to younger generations? Would additional staff facilitate ministry expansion? These questions represent some of the ones to be discussed during the early consideration of a capital campaign.

It is critical to underscore that the capital campaign is connected directly to the church’s mission and vision. If the church has not established its core values, mission, and vision, then leaders might abort any attempt to begin a capital campaign. Church leaders must be able to define the core values, mission, and vision if they seriously desire to gain the spiritual and financial support of the congregation.

Third, once church leaders have established core values, mission, and vision, they clearly define in a brief case statement the connection between the expected outcomes of the campaign and the core values, mission, and vision. Clear communication from the onset will alleviate the possibility of disenfranchising some constituents from the project. Individuals step up to offer their prayers, time, talent and financial resources when they are presented with an articulate, visionary campaign. People’s imaginations are captured with relevant, focused projects.

Are church leaders now ready to launch a capital campaign if they have followed these suggestions? Perhaps. However, leaders often fall short in anticipating the implications of achieving their initial goals. For instance, the annual budget may be significantly impacted by expenses associated with the completion of the project. Will additional staff need to be hired? How much will operating expenses increase with additional space? What will be the increased programmatic cost for these emerging ministries? The strategic plan for these often overlooked areas needs to be developed. Forethought to these critical issues will strengthen the long term impact of the project and all of its related outreach and ministry.

Except in very rare instances, an outside consultant provides the greatest probability of success. The consultant can effectively guide church leaders through the entire capital campaign process, including strategic planning and a feasibility study. A capital campaign consultant is necessary especially for churches that have been unsuccessful with prior campaigns or that are conducting a capital campaign for the first time. The consultant is prepared to detail church strengths and weaknesses without alienating church committees or individuals. The consultant is often able to secure significant lead gifts that the church leaders are unable to attract themselves.

A capital campaign allows one to give from personal assets and to witness to the priority of God in one’s life. A capital campaign offers an incredible opportunity for one to connect joyfully to a God-honoring vision. Moses knew long ago that a capital campaign was a significant method to extend God’s ministry in the world. Church leaders are called to give prayerful consideration to the ways a successful capital campaign will transform ministry and service in God’s honor. Be committed to passionate leadership, share God’s abundant vision, and anticipate the congregation’s inspired generosity!

David S. Bell is the President and Executive Director of the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. David has a keen understanding of current economic and consumer trends impacting charitable giving, which he gained through experience as a pastor, development director, and national church leader. David is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and active member of The Alban Institute, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Christian Leadership Alliance, and the National Association of Church Business Administrators. David graduated from Drew Theological School and holds a BA in Religious Studies and Secondary Education from The College of Wooster. David and his wife, Ethel, have two children and reside in Brighton, Michigan.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Abundance of God's Living Water

By David S. Bell

Imagine a less than full glass of water sitting on the table. If you are particularly thirsty, you may desire a full glass of water or perhaps even a refill after drinking the first glass. If you are not at all thirsty, then it may be a great effort to drink whatever amount of water is in the glass. Is there enough water in the glass? It depends.

Imagine a less than full glass of water sitting on the table. If you are particularly thirsty, you may desire a full glass of water or perhaps even a refill after drinking the first glass. If you are not at all thirsty, then it may be a great effort to drink whatever amount of water is in the glass. Is there enough water in the glass? It depends. The size of the glass, level of thirst, and amount of water all contribute to defining enough. Another major determinate of enough being enough is measured by one's own perspective. Does one first see the empty space or the water in the glass? In fact, both are present in the glass at the same time. This perspective is a metric of scarcity vs. abundance.

Generally, church leaders, staff, and volunteers tend to migrate toward one of these divergent positions. They either focus on their assets or their needs. Yet, both assets and needs, scarcity and abundance, exist at any given time within most organizations. For instance, few organizations have mastered total abundance in all areas of their funding, structure, and mission. Nonetheless, most organizations have some measurable value, even those in decline. Vibrant churches tend to focus predominantly on their abundant assets. Their leaders work hard to build vision from those assets. As this asset-based vision grows, needs become less and less of a systemic driver.

Churches are compelled through the biblical narrative to focus on the positive cycle of abundance. Namely, a few assets when linked together lead to the discovery of more and more assets. In turn, these assets make a greater and greater impact on the community of faith. And, finally, the community grows and provides wider blessings leading to the recognition of even more assets. The potential of concentric growth is virtually limitless. The Bible is filled with witnesses to this asset-based approach. Consider some of these stories:

  • The creation story (Genesis 1)
  • God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:16-17)
  • Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 14:1-28
  • Jesus' healings (Mark 1:29-31 and others)
  • The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32)
  • The fish and loaves story of feeding 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13-21)

How do church leaders focus consistently on assets? How do they determine a realistic vision, yet remain open to possible new discoveries? How do they promote the open-sum abundance of God even when the closed-sum scarcity of resources appears greater?

Fundamentally, the answer lies within the faith commitment of individual leaders. The answer begins with the Christian discipleship of each leader. In order for a ministry to exude open-sum thinking and asset-based visioning, the leaders must demonstrate this witness in their own personal lives. Certainly, the leaders' faith commitment does not guarantee abundant church growth, but it is very difficult to achieve without leaders demonstrating their faith commitment in very tangible ways.

The Gospel of John consistently refers to the abundance of God as the living water. (John 4:1-26.) Most notably, Jesus spends significant portions of his ministry inviting people to discover this living water in their own lives. He offers hope, grace, peace, healing, and encouragement – all signs of the abundance of God. Living water pours into people's lives as they accept the profound truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Effective Christian leadership is first and foremost centered on one's relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This concept may seem simplistic, yet it is a real challenge to follow. Regardless of how often Jesus pointed to the abundance of the living water, the disciples apparently regressed to their scarcity mindset. Think about their immediate response to any number of Jesus' actions that called for building on the initial assets of the situation. All too often, they saw the glass as half empty! Our response can be very similar to the disciples!

In order to follow the example urged by Jesus and to remain focused on the abundance of God, we need to overcome three fund development myths that persist in too many faith-based ministries. The two subsequent myths stem from the first overarching myth.

Myth #1 – We need more (AKA – We will never have enough!).

REALITY – When we remain focused on God as our primary source, we overcome the compelling urge to desire more and more.

One of the reasons that the disciples faced such difficulty believing in God's abundant provision is because they mistook other water for the living water. Christian leaders are to be centered on drinking from the living water. God provides the sustenance for our lives. God's provision is always enough! When we remain focused on God as our primary source, we overcome the compelling urge to desire more and more. Our daily lives are bombarded with messages suggesting that we need more. Sadly, these messages are not immune from the Church. We can be lured into striving for the higher-paying salary, the more prestigious job title, or the largest name recognition. One cannot be an effective Christian leader and still be hooked on the pretentious path of always wanting more. This unsustainable path is a downward spiral that leads to eventual despair. With Jesus Christ at the core of our leadership principles, we will appreciate the assets, both personal and professional, that enable us to minister to others and to lead our churches.

Myth #2 – We need more donor programs.

REALITY – When we step-back to discover those deeply held beliefs that undergird the church, we are more likely to initiate an effective strategic plan.

Jesus' actions were a direct result of his mission and purpose. He was clear about the reason behind his actions. Frankly, many church leaders are so busy doing that they seldom define why they are doing. Effective leaders step-back to discover those deeply held beliefs that undergird the church. These convictions underlie all programs. They can place parameters on the activities. Leaders may consider four to six core values with scriptural references that set the guiding principles of the overall ministry. Fund development efforts will be greatly enhanced by spending the leader's high energy on the activities that connect strategically to the church's mission and vision.

Myth #3 – We need more fundraising techniques.

REALITY – We have a responsibility to encourage discipleship.

Many church leaders often assume that the latest fundraising technique will generate increased gift levels. Development professionals escalate their cultivation of major donors in hopes of receiving more life income gifts or larger annual contributions. The unique opportunity for the Church is to encourage the joy of generous giving through cultivating donors' faith commitment. We have a responsibility to encourage discipleship. If we encourage donors to examine their relationship with God and their understanding of the connection between faith and money, we will nurture the spiritual gift of generous giving. This spiritual gift will, in turn, help to overflow our glasses.

I invite you take a closer look at the glass sitting on the table. It is filled with the living water. Amazingly, your thirst will be quenched when you drink from it – no matter how thirsty you are! And, as you provide the glass to others, their thirst will be quenched, too. God truly is abundant!


David S. Bell is the President and Executive Director of the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. David has a keen understanding of current economic and consumer trends impacting charitable giving, which he gained through experience as a pastor, development director, and national church leader. David is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and active member of The Alban Institute, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Christian Leadership Alliance, and the National Association of Church Business Administrators. David graduated from Drew Theological School and holds a BA in Religious Studies and Secondary Education from The College of Wooster. David and his wife, Ethel, have two children and reside in Brighton, Michigan.

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