Each year First Christian Church in Gibson City, Illinois conducts an annual financial stewardship emphasis. While we are certain there are many reasons not to embark on such an adventure, we do anyway. This emphasis specifically provides an environment for growing our giving to the ministry and mission supported by our operating fund. Our emphasis begins with three foundational affirmations:
Rather than increasing stewardship or increasing giving, the primary focus of our annual emphasis is to grow stewards. R. Scott Rodin, in Stewards in the Kingdom, acknowledges John Calvin’s phrase “framing our lives.” More important than what we have and what we give is who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ engaged in ministry and mission.
A Culture of Generosity
Within and through the congregation we have endeavored to nurture a culture of generosity. Exploring our values as a congregation has given us pause to pay attention to our language, rituals, and practices as they relate to receiving, managing, and giving.
Year-Round Education and Witness
Introducing a four week emphasis on financial giving each year is important enough. However, giving year-round attention to growing stewards has been essential to the annual emphasis. For example, each week a worship leader extends a personal reflective invitation to generous living.
There is a Hindu saying which states, “He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven.” A paraphrase may be that if you don’t want to do something, any reason will do. There are several reasons we have found an annual emphasis meaningful in framing our life as a Christian community. An annual emphasis…
Stewardship can be narrowly defined as “raising money” or broadly defined as “everything a Christian does". An annual emphasis encourages thoughtful reflection on the giving of our personal financial resources in response to what God has done and is doing in the world and in our lives.
When conducted in other seasons of the year, spiritual gift inventories, ministry surveys, personal finance workshops, capital fund drives, mission fairs, and planned-giving seminars are each good companions to an annual emphasis which address the operating fund.
Each congregation can shape an emphasis to reflect their personality and mission. We enjoy a Spring emphasis, responding to the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. A new theme each year offers a frame for understanding our life as stewards and ordering our approach. While some may prefer a cycle of approaches, we have found variations of a “celebration Sunday” to be meaningful.
Worship provides a setting for reflecting and acting upon our resources in light of our relationship with a living God worthy of praise and thanksgiving. Rather than an annual administrative interruption, it is an expression of our discipleship in Jesus Christ. Our covenants of giving are presented in worship
Together we affirm that the ministry we have shared and the ministry we envision is our ministry together in relationship with one another and with God. As each household considers their response, we make our covenants in light of our life together.
The cares, needs, gifts and insights of our members and friends are specifically welcomed throughout the annual emphasis. The format changes from personal visits, response cards, and small group conversations.
Is Educational / Informational
Complementing weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters, the emphasis-related print material, worship materials, and study resources provide additional ways for sharing what we value about our ministry and life together, including an expectation that persons give.
Communicates Expectation and Freedom
Our expectation, shared often through the year, is that “everyone is expected to give – generously, according to ability, and joyfully". There have been times—with great success—when a recommendation for a specific percentage increase (10% one year, 5% another) was suggested. Not everyone makes a specific covenant of giving, but the giving and prayers of each person are honored with gratitude.
Provides an Entry Place
Youth, visitors, and new members are introduced to a culture of generosity through the annual emphasis and weekly invitations. The emphasis encourages responses to FAQs by new and long-term members and friends. It is one way among many to enter into the full fellowship.
We give in response to what God has done and in anticipation of what God is yet to do with us.
While I have left out specific details of “how,” my desire has been to share “why.” If we nurture a cultural of generosity, it is our desire to do so under a canopy of thanksgiving. What it looks like is a congregation in conversation with one another and with God, inviting specific action as servants of Jesus Christ.
– Ed Taylor is pastor of First Christian Church in Gibson City, Illinois, former editor of the Giving: Growing Faithful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine, and former Executive Director of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center.
The Ecumenical Stewardship Center offers 18 different timeless theme options for your congregational stewardship emphasis with the Giving magazine, theme materials, and Companion Resource of worship and study materials. View them all in the ESC web store.