Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Question of Childhood Curiosity

By David S. Bell

When I was a young child, I would often ask "Why?" Even before my parents could answer this question, I was ready to ask my second question. Do you know the second question? If you have raised children or spent much time with them, then I am certain that you do know it. The second question was: "Why?" Whatever my parents' answer, my follow-up question was always, "Why?" My own children have blessed me with this same level of curiosity.

"Daddy, I have a question for you. . . Why are there clouds in the sky?"

"Clouds are in the sky because today is a partly cloudy day," I respond.

"Why?" says the young child.

"Today is partly cloudy because of the changing weather. This changing weather is called a 'weather front.'"

"Why?" says the child routinely.

"When the winds blow, water molecules form together and make clouds. There are different types of cloud formations. . ."

"Why?"

This sequence continues until eventually the adult ends exasperated with frustration exclaiming, "Because that's the way it is!" or pronouncing with theological delight "Because God made the Heavens and the Earth!"

Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, has taken this basic childhood question of curiosity and leveraged it as a powerful method for achieving the essence of an organization's purpose. The method can be practiced at its elemental level. Start with the descriptive statement of what your church does. Perhaps your descriptive statement would be the mission statement of The United Methodist Church. We "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Why is that important? Ask leaders the why question five times. As one repeats the question and digs deeper into the reasoning for doing what the church does, one approaches the fundamental purpose of a particular local church. The five whys can enable the church to frame its tasks and activities in a more meaningful way.

I was privileged a while back to spend time with a few of the current great thinkers and strong leaders of The United Methodist Church – Bishop Robert Schnase, Bishop Scott Jones, Gil Rendle, and Lovett Weems. While others would certainly need to be added to this group to be representative of our denomination, they have all contributed significantly to the movement of today's Church. Their books are widely acclaimed. They represent multiple generations of the Church. They hold different roles within the Church. Yet, as I listened and talked with each of them, each one began at the same place. They started with the mission of the Church. In order to have a meaningful conversation about the Church, we needed to be clear about its purpose, core values, and mission. They encouraged persons, like me, who consult regularly with local church leaders, like you, to ask you again and again, "Why do you exist? What is the purpose of your local church? Who would miss your local church if it closed? Who is excited that your church is open? How does your local church connect to the mission of The United Methodist Church?"

Your answers to these questions and to the five whys have more to do with the stewardship of our prayers, presence, gifts, witness, and service than we may first think. It may seem clichéŽ – but it is true – money follows mission. May God be with you as you reengage your childhood curiosity.


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, May 13, 2014

Perspectives on Being Old Fashioned

By David S. Bell

During a recent presentation at a national conference, I was approached by a young adult who was interested in additional information about the generosity trends among different generations. She provided me with a few ways to deliver the information to her, one of which was "old fashioned e-mail." For me, postal mail, often termed "snail mail," is bordering on old fashioned. She did not even mention this option. I spend hours each day communicating through e-mail to pastors and church leaders. While I know that younger generations consider e-mail pass, I was quite struck during this conversation with a young adult when she associated e-mail with a rather archaic form of communication.

The conversation was so fitting for the moment – a workshop on differences in generational giving. I had talked all the way through the various differences, but this brief post workshop conversation and my startled response were clear indicators to me that I, too, am from a different generation than Generation X or Y. A natural sense of discomfort exists between some generational practices. Thus, it is not surprising that the perspective of one generation may be viewed with an anxious, or perhaps even critical, eye by another generation.

Do you notice some of these generational differences in your church? They may appear in conversations over worship, music, facility usage, communication, evangelism – in fact, just about any area of ministry. And, yes, giving! I admire those persons who can at least understand and maybe practice the trends of other generations. Certainly, I am not implying that these trends are so well-established that fluidity does not occur between generations. For instance, multi-generations may be found in most contemporary worship services. Yet, generations do have their preferences or leanings.

In the area of giving, younger generations have strong preference for electronic giving. We are experiencing a great transition from a cash society to a cash-less society. More and more financial transactions are being completed electronically. Electronic banking and purchasing are the vastly preferred methods for adults among the youngest of baby boomers and younger. It is only natural that their preferred method of giving is also electronic. Electronic fund transfer (EFT,) giving kiosks, online giving, all meet the needs of these younger generations. Interestingly, as churches have launched these electronic methods of giving, another generation has been among the early adopters – those between 62 and 70 years old. Why might these people sign-up? Answer – Social Security. Social Security payments are deposited electronically. These newly retired adults are learning to trust and to use electronic banking more than those sandwiched between them and the younger generations.

One common objection to electronic giving is the lack of involvement with the worshipful act of placing a gift in the offering plate and presenting it to God. I completely concur that giving is an act of worship. A logical solution might be to create a giving card that indicates a gift has been made through another means of giving. A worshipper may place this reusable card in the offering plate. Several people may be able to place this card in the plate – not just those people signed-up for EFT. For instance, the monthly check writer or the annual stock transferee may also benefit from using this card as a means to participate in the offering.

Here are some practical suggestions for material to be included on a giving card:
  • "I/We generously support the ministry of [name] Church. [OR] I/We practice the spiritual discipline of giving. [OR] I/We believe that all we have is a gift from God. We are called to give proportionately to God through this ministry. [OR] We practice tithing or are working toward tithing. [AND INCLUDE] Our financial gift for this ministry is given electronically [You could also include: "by a monthly check or another means"]
  • Include a scripture statement about giving
  • Include the basics, like church name, etc.
For more information about electronic giving, I encourage you to visit www.GCFA.org. The General Council on Finance and Administration has partnered with Vanco Services to provide a very user-friendly and value-priced method for all types of electronic giving. This service is provided to any United Methodist Church. If you would like to have a post-article reading conversation with me about generations and generosity, feel free to use any "old fashioned" method of communication that you prefer! I'll respond accordingly!


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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