Funding the Ministry of the Church

March 08, 2016

By Rev. Josh Sherfey

Add it to the long list of things they don’t teach you in seminary: funding the ministry of the church.

We all know we are called to be good stewards of the resources God has gifted us and our congregations with and we do our best to cultivate faithful giving practices, but seeing the financial health and possibilities of the church as a whole is more than just the pledge cards that are passed out and taken up every fall during a stewardship emphasis. While stewardship and financing the ministries of the church are integrally connected, they are not one and the same.

Over the last few years at my appointment at First UMC in Taylorsville, we have had a tremendous shift in church life. We outgrew our historic downtown facility and needed more space with more handicap-accessibility that would be better suited to the ministry needs of the congregation. Anticipating the need to relocate at some point, the church had bought 9 acres outside of town for a new campus. As the decision making moment came, another church member had a vision of repurposing a vacant car dealership as our new campus and turning our downtown building into a mission campus with a soup kitchen and low cost non-profit office space. This was a great idea but the question loomed - how would we fund such a massive endeavor? Below I share with you just a few suggestions I have gleaned from this experience.

First I want to remind us of something that Bishop Goodpaster has emphasized over and over again during his episcopal term – It’s all about the mission!! Whether it is in the fall stewardship campaign or the other 11 months of the year, it should be a priority to keep the vision of the church’s mission to make disciples and transform the world foremost in people’s minds, hearts, and imaginations. People are much more likely to give when they are passionate about the work being done. While this may seem obvious, it is incredibly easy to just go through the motions and assume that people will give because they are supposed to. This strategy may be partially effective but giving because one WANTS to give is always more fruitful. Also, while the church should not do anything out of desire for praise, celebrating successes and faithfulness tends to multiply a healthy pride and desire to make things prosperous. By constantly reminding FUMCT that it was about the mission and not about the building and giving them something to be proud of (the ministry that can take place in both old and new locations) the funding has in a sense taken care of itself.

Often times, we think we have to do it all on our own. We think that the money and resources that are available for our projects are only to be found through the generosity of the people in our pews (or our chairs as it were). But a greatly underutilized resource is grants. Most North Carolina Methodists know about the Duke Endowment and their construction grants but those are not the only grants easily available. The Duke Endowment and many districts also give program grants. And the Conference Vitality Team has grants for exciting new ministry ideas. There are so many grants from so many sources; you just have to look for them. The remarkable part is that churches will not receive funding for maintaining the ministry status quo but only for stepping out of the box on faith to try something bold for the kingdom. Be that church!

Capital campaigns are, of course, another avenue for funding ministry. While capital campaigns are usually and understandably synonymous with building projects, they do not have to be limited to bricks and mortar. I know of several churches that have included new ministry initiatives in capital campaigns. Again, this gives folks something to get excited about rather than simple bricks and mortar. I advise folks to hire someone experienced and passionate to help kick start such a campaign – this made a tremendous difference for our church family. The key leaders in the church were involved in this process from the beginning and truly bought into the vision. They could share stories of how they had chosen to step out on faith and give above & beyond their usual pledge by making specific sacrifices and they were able to articulate to the other members that it was truly about sacrificial giving, not just about the amount. If everyone gave sacrificially, even though the amounts varied widely, we would be blessed beyond measure.

Finally one untapped resource that can be a true financial blessing to churches is planned giving. FUMCT has been blessed twice over the last number of years by such giving. Just as we were realizing we were over budget in our building project, we received a large unexpected gift from a member that had not even been a Taylorsville resident for three decades but cared so deeply for the church that she made sure the ministry of First UMC was included in her will. Amazingly, this gift was in the exact amount that we were over budget. God works in mysterious ways. Another endowment set up by a church member in years past has made all the difference in our ability to be bold in our vision and ministry. There are so many resources out there to share with your churches to help educate members on planned giving. As pastors, you must not be afraid to offer these resources and to suggest this avenue. To paraphrase the wise Royce Reynolds, “Do not tell me where to give my money but tell me about all the opportunities and let me decide where to give.”

Stewardship is important, no doubt, but funding the ministries of the church does not have to be limited to the myopic world of fall stewardship campaigns. My prayer for you and your congregation is that you can muster all the resources available to do the life-giving work of the Kingdom!

Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.