Our congregation is in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. We had a well attended kick-off dinner, in fact it was the best attended kick-off dinner in recent history. One would think such attendance would bode well for this year’s budget. Those who consistently pledge annually have turned in their pledges for this next year. We are now at the stage of follow-up calls for this year’s pledges.
The presentation at the dinner was powerful. We spoke to the four pillars** that enables our congregation to live our mission of being an open, nurturing community of Unitarian Universalists made visible by our actions to create a better world. We spoke to the fact that last year 25% of our pledges were made by two members. And that 20 of our potential 71 pledging units did not make any pledge last year. These two statistics point to an unhealthy fiscal picture. Our push this year is to have every member turn in a pledge form with some level of support.
One of the things I did not want to do this year was to promise all the things we would be able to do with increased resources only to then discover we have to cut our budget because the pledges simply did not meet the promise. We have received most of the pledges that we normally receive without prodding. We are now in the reminding stage of calling our members to turn in their pledges so we can create our budget.
I am already seeing that we have made a tactical mistake in our stewardship campaign this year. I am hoping to offer a corrective.
Two true stories to illustrate that mistake.
There was a small congregation of under a 100 members who had a part time minister whose salary was covered by one member. The other members pledged minimal amounts if at all. The message that the minister received by this was that the congregation really did not want a minister. They liked the idea of a minister. But they did not want a minister because if they had they would pledge the funds needed to support a minister. So the minister suggested to the member to donate the funds instead to the congregation’s building fund and not to the operating budget. When the congregation was told they would not be able to keep the minister the following year because they had no money, they were stunned. They exclaimed, but we have always been able to afford a minister with our level of pledging. The minister replied, they had a minister because they allowed one member to carry all of their obligations. If they want a minister, they each must support that ministry with a pledge that reflects that support.
There was another congregation, even smaller than the first who rented their meeting space for about $200 a month. Their annual budget was about $5,000. The members stated they wanted to grow their congregation in order to have a minister but could not afford one given their budget. Their median pledge was about $15 a month. A consultant told them if they wanted to grow their congregation then they would need to increase their financial pledges to reflect their desire to grow.
Both of these congregations missed the mark. A minister is not what makes a church. It is the ministry of the congregation that makes the church. A minister is only a resource of that ministry. The first chose not to support the ministry that they potentially had at their doorsteps with their minister. Yes, their salary was paid but they did not support any resources to build a ministry that would make a difference in their community. The minister’s hands were tied from doing the necessary things to build that ministry.
The other congregation funded their reality not their vision. Again, it is the ministry that needed support not the rent, not the office supplies. If all that is desired is a social club where people gather for a talk and coffee on Sunday mornings, then a budget of $5,000 serves that need very nicely. But if the congregation wants to be known in the community as a vibrant community of faith where people live their Unitarian Universalist values into the world and make a significant push to create a better world for the people in the neighborhood, then they need to fund the vision of the ministry they are building to help manifest that vision into a new reality. They needed to fund resources to build that vision.
There is a long list of things that our congregation would like to be able to do this next year. We want to increase our leadership development. We want to increase our participation in denominational affairs. We want to increase our infrastructure with an administrator assistant and bookkeeper, thereby freeing up our volunteers to being able to build up the faith. We want to offer more programs to address the spiritual needs of our members.
But it is not this list of things that we seek funding, we are seeking funding for the ability to change the landscape of our society here in Alabama. A landscape where systems of oppression are in full force. Where mean-spirited legislation is passed that maims and cripples the hearts and wills of people. Everyday, some new legislation is passed that causes new suffering in the lives of people in our congregation and in the larger community.
We are seeking funding for the ability to heal those hearts within this community of faith. We gather on Sundays and at other times to listen to the stories of our lives in order to know that we are not alone. We gather to create community by getting to know one another. We gather to be that balm in Gilead to heal and strengthen each other in order for us to go back out into the community to live our values into being.
In order to have this come to pass, we need to fund a ministry. It is not funding a minister. It is not funding a director of religious educator. It is not funding an administrator or custodian or even nursery care worker. Yes, these are important but these are only resources to build the ministry of the church. The ministry transcends the physical reality of brick and mortar and staff. The ministry seeks to build a new way of being in the world.
As a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you committed to help build this new way, therefore the congregation needs you to honor your commitment by making a pledge of financial support to the best of your ability so there are resources to build the ministry. Fund the vision of the ministry not where the congregation is currently, not the immediate need.
Don’t tie the hands of the ministry by withholding your financial pledge. This is your ministry, your work in the world through a community of faith. Not making a financial pledge hurts the congregation in ways perhaps unseen at first, but made visible over time.
** In our congregation we have categorized the work of the church into four pillars: Finance and Operations, Building Community, Spiritual Growth and Development, and Social Justice. There are various teams and work groups that each pillar includes and each pillar requires funding resources. If any one of these pillars were missing, then our ministry would not be able to live our mission. Not being able to fund any one of these pillars sufficiently, hurts our ability to live our mission.