By Rickey Letson
CBF Congregational Stewardship Officer
When I was pastoring, our church embarked on a significant capital campaign to fund much-needed improvements to our facility. In the process, our leadership felt that we should tithe on gifts to the campaign and thus trust that 90 percent of the funds received would be sufficient for our needs. This capital campaign decision was consistent with our overall philosophy regarding our yearly budget in which we also annually pledged to fund our ministries off 90 percent of receipts.
Looking back, I am proud that this decision to tithe on our capital campaign and our annual budget was a guiding principle for our church. I am also convinced it was one of the reasons that our people were generous to the campaign and financially supportive of our annual budget.
This personal experience serves as a reminder to me that one of the ways congregations effectively invite members to give is by constantly being generous themselves. In this season when many churches are working to prepare their annual budget for the next year, I invite you to ask yourself three questions as a way of evaluating whether or not your church budget and financial leadership model generosity.
First, does your budget reflect a desire to give 10 percent away to mission and ministry partners? Many churches give flat figures to partners in ministry through their budget. Further, many congregations give well below 10 percent of receipts collectively to these same ministry partners. The best expression of generosity is for a church to give on a percentage basis just as church members are encouraged to do. The budget can still reflect an estimated amount, assuming budget needs are met. But, the goal should be for the ultimate amount given to ministry partners outside the church to be a percentage and, hopefully, a tithe on receipts.
Second, does your budget clearly demonstrate a desire to be generous with staff? Often, to many members, the treatment of staff is a key indicator of a church’s generosity. This is seen not only in salaries and raises but also in benefits and other expressions of care for employees that is evident in the budget structure. Churches must certainly watch the bottom line, be careful not to overextend themselves and be good stewards. At the same time, if the desire is to honor God and to love people through how we use our financial resources, then how we treat those who are employed by the church is a clear example that speaks volumes to many.
Third, do your financial leaders talk openly and clearly about their own generosity? Churches must be led by clergy and lay leaders who demonstrate personal stewardship. Of course, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to talk about one’s own giving. But, leaders must be transparent about their own desire and efforts to support the church and its ministries. These testimonies should always be couched in a call to recognize that we do so not to keep the lights on but, rather, out of recognition that properly stewarding our money is a key and critical spiritual discipline.
Of course, churches, like individuals, need grace to grow in their generosity. In the end, though, if our budget does not reflect the idea of tithing and our church leaders don’t exemplify the importance of stewardship, how can we expect the congregation at large to see generosity as a key tenant of our faith?