The Power of Small Steps for Increased Giving

Stewardship Articles

The Power of Small Steps for Increased Giving

Ruben Swint, Senior Strategist, Generis Partners, Atlanta, GA

Two new books contain principles that can shape effective strategies for increased giving in congregations.  Small Change, by Larry Terkel and Susan Neiburg Terkel, provides a process for creating significant life changes by making small changes over time.  Small changes are easier than huge transformations.  Small changes make a big impact over time.  And, small changes are more realistic, given human nature.

The second book is One Small Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer.  Dr. Maurer explains how kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous incremental improvements, can change one’s life.  Kaizen principles have been used to create world-class quality results from Japanese manufacturers.  Kaizen fits change situations that require long-term transformation.

Many congregations struggle today to fund their mission.  Many congregational leaders shudder to think about the state of congregational giving 10 to 15 years from now when most members of the Builder generation will have passed away.

And few leaders have the will, skills and energy to bring about the massive change in giving that will be needed from younger members.  A generational tsunami threatens to wash away the funding support for future ministries.

Congregational leaders also suspect that current stewardship development and fundraising strategies have run their course.  The old stewardship programs are carried on as a tradition of the church.  They do not impact young adult involvement and giving in a significant way.  To keep doing the same things and expecting different results is unrealistic.  What is needed is large change.

Congregations are among the most change-resistant organizations.  Congre- gational leaders that seek to bring about large change are often wounded in the process, and leadership suffers.  Members often feel threatened by significant change.  Perhaps what is needed is not immediate large change, but rather the continuity of small steps that, over time, can lead to the desired large change.

Small steps for increased giving contain power because they are small.  Small steps do not appear threatening.  Small steps do not harm leadership.  Small steps are easily implemented.  Small steps are not costly.  Small steps do not seem to be significant changes.  Small steps do not initially challenge the status quo.  The power of small steps is found in the following STEPS:

S peak another language.  Congregations often employ the words “budget”, “expenses”, “income” and “needs”.  This is the language of an institution.  People are rarely excited about meeting institutional needs.  Instead of using these words, employ the language of mission.  A congregation’s mission is carried out by a ministry plan, not a budget.  Congregations have solutions, not needs.  To carry out its ministry plan of solutions, a congregation must count the costs of discipleship and pay the costs of being on mission, not just cover its expenses.  Selling goods and services provides income.  Funding mission comes from the contributions of fully devoted disciples.  Speak the language of mission and discipleship to explain how people are helped and changed by the ministry solutions your congregation provides in the name of Christ.

T alk about success.  Most newsletters mailed by churches to their members are elaborate calendars for future events and activities.  Rarely do these regular mailings communicate ministry competencies or mission successes.  Using the paper and postage already planned, congregations should regularly publish the success stories of ministry that are occurring.  Use photos and personal accounts from members involved in ministry, or from participants benefiting from ministry.  Remind congregants that their faithful contributions make a difference through the ministries they fund.  Consider an annual report that sums up the huge impact that the church’s ministries have on people.

E xplain numbers with pictures.   Many people have a hard time understanding the relationship of numbers to one another.  Depict numbers in visual formats in congregation-wide publications.  A simple chart of four bars can be included in each regular newsletter and potentially inform all members, not just those who attend official meetings.  The first bar represents the ministry plan (budget) to date.  The second bar represents ministry costs to date.  The third bar represents contributions to date.  The fourth bar represents last year’s contributions to date.

Consider changing the monthly expectation of contributions from 1/12 of the annual ministry plan.  Instead, calculate the historical percentage of annual contributions received for each month in past years and apply it to each month in the current plan.  The first bar then represents the anticipated contributions to date.  This will provide another opportunity to “talk about success” since more  monthly bar charts will demonstrate that contributions are at anticipated levels.

P reach mission and vision.   Christians live in a world overloaded with distractions.  Sophisticated communication industries send mesmerizing messages of pleasure, materialism and status.  Faith, grace and compassion often slip away.  Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of WillowCreekCommunityChurch, said that his congregation leaks!  So, he preaches mission and vision on a regular basis.  Remind your congregation repeatedly and in differing ways of their identity, their values, and their direction (ultimately and in ministry this year).

Stewardship is our faithful service towards Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God as reflected in our particular faith communities.  The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 4:1 that he is a “steward of the mysteries of God.”  Do not let stewardship become a synonym for annual fundraising.  Rather, embrace stewardship as the Christian’s daily responsibility to embody and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

S tick with it!   The power of these small steps resides not only in their “smallness,” but in their continuous application as well.  Not much will be different after one or even two years of small changes.  By the third year, however, these small steps should result in informed giving, inspired giving and increased giving.  Continuous small changes, compounding year after year, will add up to the big change that is desired.  The funding of future and expanded ministries begins now, with small steps, easily enacted, low in cost, and rigorously applied year after year after year.


Ruben Swint is a Senior Strategist with Generis Partners, LLC of Atlanta, Georgia. Over the past 19 years, Ruben has directed 120 capital campaigns, helping churches expand and enhance their mission. For six of those 19 years, Ruben also served as President of the CBF Foundation. Other consulting has included annual stewardship program leadership, stewardship committee training and endowment and planned giving guidance. A professional speaker and published author, Ruben often leads stewardship conferences and is an active member of the National Association of Church Business Administration. You may contact Ruben Swint by email or calling 1-800-849-2896, ext. 236.

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