November and December are two of the busiest months of the year for churches. The Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas seasons add numerous activities to the typical congregational calendar that require lots of energy and focus.
With so many events, worship services and holiday gatherings to juggle, it is easy to let stewardship matters fade to the background. Yet, the end of the calendar year is a critical time for giving, budgets and church finances. In turn, here are seven holiday questions to ask yourself that will help you and your church keep financial focus amid this year’s seasonal excitement and exhaustion.
#1: How Will We Promote Missions Giving During the Holidays?
Most churches focus on giving to missions during November and December. Yet, without planning, the promotion of a church’s missions offering can easily fade to the background and just get lost in all the other activities. If your church makes a major missions giving appeal during this season, making sure that the offering gets the deserved attention and energy are critical to success. A post-holiday question that may also be worth consideration is whether the holidays remain the best time for such an emphasis in your church.
#2: How Will We Show Appreciation to Our Staff?
Generous churches are generous with their staffs. The holiday season is a critical time of the year to express love, support and affirmation for your ministerial, office and building staffs. If you do not have concrete plans already in place to honor your staff at the holidays, please think long and hard about the best ways to show your gratitude. A monetary gift, of course, is always appreciated. But there are many other ways a church can express appreciation if a monetary gift is not possible. A nice holiday lunch or night out at a favorite restaurant for the staff, treats in the office breakroom throughout December or an extra day off during the week between Christmas and New Years’ Day can all be clear expressions of gratitude for those who serve your church.
#3: Have We Clearly Communicated Year End Schedules to Accommodate Last Minute Giving?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is often a very slow and relaxed week in churches, except in the finance office. Even in a world of ever-increasing online giving, many people still want to stop by to make final contributions in person. It is essential that churches clearly communicate office hours for the last week of the year and particularly for New Year’s Eve. This information should include directions and deadlines for ensuring that gifts can be credited toward 2021.
#4: Do We Have a Way for People to Make Stock and IRA Gifts?
More and more people give to the church in ways beyond cash or checks. Among the most common ways people make year-end gifts to their church are the transfer of stocks or by making gifts through IRAs. Churches should encourage these types of gifts. They should also make their members aware of some of the tax advantages that can accompany these ways of giving. Equally important is the need for congregations to make sure that a mechanism is in place for receiving these gifts. The other featured article in this issue of Generous Fellowship explains how the CBF Foundation can partner with churches in this regard.
#5: Will We Collect an Offering at the Christmas Eve Service & Other Special Worship Services?
The question of whether to take an offering at the Christmas Eve service, the Adult Choir Cantata or another special holiday service at a unique time is a common conundrum for churches. There is not a right or wrong way to go here, but there is a need to decide in advance what is best for your church. Many congregations do not take offerings at such services because of the number of visitors, and the sense that they don’t want non-members to feel obligated to make a financial contribution. Other churches recognize the financial potential of such services and explicitly designate gifts received for the local food pantry, women’s shelter or other ministry partner rather than using what is collected for church needs. Still others take a normal offering but clearly communicate that guests should not participate. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but it remains an important item to discuss.
#6: Do We Know Where We Want Extra Holiday Giving to Be Directed?
It is very common for individuals to decide to make extra financial gifts at the end of the year. Often, they want to direct those monies to the areas that church leaders feel would be best. A good practice to implement is that church leaders and finance committees decide in advance where such funds should go. While one may assume that the budget is that obvious place, this isn’t always the case. If your church is well on its way to meeting the budget, this may be a good opportunity to add monies to the capital fund, a fund for a new church bus or the recently created church endowment. Anticipating the question allows everyone to be on the same page as to the best uses of extra funds that might come your way.
#7: How Will We Communicate Financially as December Unfolds?
For most congregations, December is the largest giving month of the year. In many churches, what happens in December makes or breaks the church financial year. So, staying on top of giving as the month unfolds and communicating those numbers to leadership and the congregation on a weekly basis in December is an important way to continue to encourage a strong finish to the year. Transparency is a critical component of strong church finances. Giving updates allows everyone to know where things stand and allows for celebration and final words of encouragement as the last gifts of 2021 are made.
Despite the busyness of November and December, these two months are often the very best financial period of the year for churches. We hope that will be the case in your church this holiday season.