Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

 Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

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When posing the question to an audience of predominantly Unitarian Universalist professional and lay leaders, the majority of the comments assert that ministers should have knowledge of their congregants’ giving.

To date, one two hundred and eleven people responded to the Giving Speaks poll on the topic, with nearly sixty-seven percent (66.8%) of respondents said yes, affirming the value and importance of ministers having knowledge about congregant giving.  Seventeen percent (17.1%) responding to the poll took an opposing view, believing that ministers having knowledge of their congregants’ giving would have a negative or inhibiting effect on the congregation. The remaining sixteen percent (16.1%) fall in the categories of maybe, not sure, or other.

It’s not too late to participate in this poll!  If you would like to add your opinions and experience, respond to the poll questions. You can add comments by clicking the “view results” link, then the “comments” link, scroll to the bottom and add your comment in the box. OR, you can email comments to givingspeaks@gmail.com.

The following comments and responses reflect the themes, concerns, and approaches commonly expressed by ministers, lay leaders, and congregants:

  • Everyone should know.The cult of secrecy must end.
  • Absolutely. Stewardship is a very important part of ministry, and really a part of spiritual health.
  • Ministers  should know pretty much everything about their congregation, including pledging…
  • How can you entrust your soul to your minister if you won’t be candid about your commitment to the faith? I never set out to know people’s giving, but a savvy minister knows nonetheless. Openness about giving is a faith issue, not a
    management issue. 
  • The knowledge of giving levels will somehow contaminate the fairness and quality of  our ministry implies that we see money and generosity as unrelated to the  spiritual life, or worse, actively destructive to spiritual community.
  • When I  started my ministry 10 years ago, I didn’t think it was necessary.  Now I do.  Maybe it’s because my role has changed… Maybe I have changed,  believing now that my understanding of how people give to their church (in time, spirit, and money) is an important barometer of its health (and their health)…  
  • I refuse to know unless I have to go to meet with someone about their pledge or if they are giving a special amount.  My reasoning is that I would treat people ever so subtly differently if I knew they were giving a lot…I insist to my interim congregations that they are all equal partners when it comes to pastoral care and companionship
  • I always wait at least one year to develop a pastoral relationship first before getting info on personal giving.  Seldom am I  surprised to find that the most invested “doers” are also some of the most invested financially.  However, I am also pleased to find that many not able to pledge find ways to support by volunteering.  Best practice:  show gratitude for all giving and set the pace by example!
  • In the session of the New UU [curriculum] that deals with membership and giving, I tell potential members that I and the staff are committed to handling their giving information respectfully, but not confidentially.  The only members who complain about transparency are the ones who are upper-middle class and relatively minor pledgers, but want to be able to exert undue influence by threatening to withdraw their pledge… 
  • Who benefits by keeping this information from ministers, and what does this say about a congregation’s view on pastoral impartiality?  Why shouldn’t ministers know about giving levels, particularly when they’ll have something to say about how resources are allocated?  When they make decisions about how the money is spent, they should be held accountable for the resulting impact on programs.  Lastly, everyone in a congregation gets to weigh in, at the annual meeting at least, on the minister’s salary and benefits package.  Everyone—from the “skeptically parsimonious” to the cheerful and generous giver—gets this information.  The clergy, UU circles at least, should have a similar balance of
    information. 
  • In a previous congregation, I witnessed the evolution of our Minister’s approach to pledge information.  When he first arrived and for some time, he did not want to know what members pledged, fearing that in some way it would contaminate his relationship with congregants.  Over time his thinking changed, and he actually became involved in fundraising.  Ultimately, he was instrumental in raising some of the largest contributions ever made to the church, without in any way changing his capacity to attend to all in need of his care . . . something that had always been one of his strengths.  As a result, he made a significant contribution to that church’s financial as well as spiritual well-being.

The writings and research of a growing number of congregational stewardship consultants, religious leaders, and experts serving a wide range of faith traditions and religious organizations clearly affirms the value and importance of senior ministers, staff and lay leaders having knowledge of and access to the pledging and giving data of those they serve.

One experienced consultant and author of the popular books Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008) and Whose Offering Plate Is it? (2010), J. Clif Christopher, is a strong advocate for ministers taking an active leadership role in congregational stewardship and fundraising.   Christopher offers the following assertion to his colleagues in ministry,

Our job as pastors is not to know about money for money’s sake.  Our job is to know about money so we can help our people  have life and have it abundantly.

What we cannot fully determine through this poll is how these attitudes play out with regard to the congregations’ financial health and overall well-being. We can imagine the practices around sharing information among key stewardship leaders is an influential factor in the congregation’s culture of generosity (or lack thereof).

Thank you for your interest and participation!

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Recommended Resources:

Why Ministers Should Know What People Give, a stewardship leader training document by Larry Wheeler, a long-time UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant:

https://givingspeaks.wordpress.com/why-ministers-should-know-what-people-give/

Central East Regional Group (CERG) UUA Stewardship
Resources, featuring a study guide for the book Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate and workshop video series Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: New Ideas in Stewardship:    http://www.cerguua.org/stewardshipres.html

Books:

Christopher, J. Clif.
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008)
and Whose Offering Plate Is It? (2010).  Abingdon Press.

3 thoughts on “Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

  1. I would be interested to see how the majority of members of the congregations, the people who are the donors and are the lifeblood of the church, would respond to such a poll as opposed to the professionals and lay leaders who were polled.
    I would also be interested in seeing a more detailed analysis of the results as I think that both Sean and Jeff raise interesting questions.

  2. Another interesting posting! Very helpful info.

    If you ever repeat such a poll, it would be very interesting to analyze the responses by categories like whether or not they are flourishing churches (as opposed to stagnant or declining churches). I suspect that we would find a strong correlation between those who are uncomfortable with money and those that are declining.

  3. Was there a way to tell whether the respondents were ministers or not. I would be useful to see how ministers think about this issue.

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