Stories that Create a Giving Culture

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Who among us is not drawn in by a good story?

Stories are the best way we share our experiences and the lessons we learn in life.  Families and communities pass along their traditions, beliefs, and moral values through storytelling.  For centuries, stories and wisdom tales have been shared around campfires and dining room tables, out under the stars, and in temples, mosques, and cathedrals all over the world.  We tell stories to explain the origins of the universe and to explain the mysteries of life and death.

Storytelling, at its best, conveys the rich diversity and texture of humanity, creating a safe and sometimes therapeutic space for challenging assumptions and fostering  tolerance of differences among people.   Well told stories touch our spirits, warm our hearts, and leave lasting images in our minds.   Sharing our soul-filled stories is another way of expressing gratitude and demonstrating generosity.

It should be no surprise to us that storytelling is a very effective tool in nurturing generosity and teaching stewardship in our faith communities.  Sacred texts around the world are a testimony to the power of the story in teaching and learning religious values.  One way to promote generous behavior is to tell the stories of how giving made a difference in your life or others’ lives.  For example, as part of a year-round stewardship program, you can invite people to share their stories in the context of worship, small group ministry, religious education, in digital or print form.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you plan your stewardship activities for the coming year:

  • Share stories in worship–this may be a testimony about how the congregation or faith has touched their life in positive ways, a wisdom tale for all ages to enjoy, or a guest whose organization has been the recipient of your congregation’s generosity.
  • Host a storytelling event–hold a potluck dinner or picnic at your facility, open to the community, and invite participants to come ready to share a story that conveys at least one value of the faith tradition.
  • Design a story display board–invite people to write their generosity stories down, along with their photo and perhaps some art work.
  • Create a video or visual story–convey your faith community’s stewardship values and generosity through the use of technology, posting video stories on YouTube, on your congregation’s website, blog or Facebook page.
  • Offer a story prompt–Give your constituents a theme or first line of a story, and let them create a community story.  This could be a part of a small group activity, religious education class, or just a big graffiti board people can write on as they enter the building or enjoy fellowship hour.

The summertime is a great time of year for stewardship leaders to polish their storytelling skills–around the campfire while toasting marshmallows, on the riverbank while fishing, or at an informal gathering of friends.  Share your story and invite others to share theirs; this is how the bonds of family and society are strengthened.  This is a wonderful way to include children, youth, and elders in multi-generational community!

Here are some tips for enhancing your storytelling:

  • Reflect on a memorable experience from which you learned and grew as a person–
    if it holds meaning for you, it can be meaningful to others.
  • Stick to the heart of the message you want to convey and avoid too much detail.
  • Lift up a unique angle or unusual perspective that will pique the listeners’ interest.
  • Engage as many of your listeners’ five senses as possible1507 Hands Sm 123rf to bring the story alive
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s diversity using inclusive language so that all feel a part of it.
  • Use the opportunity of telling your story to connect your experience with your faith teachings and values in ways that others can relate to personally.
  • Tell the story without reading it whenever possible–practice, practice, practice to feel more confident, but realize storytelling does not demand perfection.
  • Engage your audience with movement, song, sounds, or repeated phrases that makes them part of the story.
  • Have fun!  Your enthusiasm and enjoyment are contagious.

 If you have a story or link to share, please leave a comment for the blog host with your contact info.

Resources for Storytelling:


Learn to Give:

National Storytelling Network:

Recommended Stories for All Ages:

Resources for Multigenerational Stewardship & Generosity

Unitarian Universalist Stories of Generosity & Multigenerational Worship Resources:

Pearmain, Elisa Davy, editor.  Doorways to the Soul  1998.  The Pilgrim Press.

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Celebrating Generosity in Worship Services


How does my giving shape what is of greatest worth?”  

What level of giving would be most meaningful and powerful to me?”  

These are two of the questions that Rev. Thomas Perchlik, minister of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, uses in crafting worship services that celebrate generosity and abundance.

“I have enjoyed using the New Consecration Sunday model as the inspiration for planning services,” Rev. Perchlik reports. “The people love it.  After almost a decade of struggling to get a complicated Canvass process together each year, this seems easy, fun and deeply meaningful.”

The New Consecration Sunday celebration model that Thomas refers to is an integral part of the Christian stewardship program described by Herb Miller, a prolific author and recognized authority in realms of congregational health and effectiveness.

In a nutshell, Miller’s New Consecration Sunday stewardship program design addresses several key issues that some congregations find challenging:

  • Lay volunteer involvement in asking fellow congregants for pledges.
  • Lax organization and planning of stewardship campaigns.
  • Anxiety and stress about raising enough money to fund the congregation’s budget.
  • Negative feelings and reactions to annual stewardship campaigns.
  • Lack of clarity about the teachings and expectations about stewardship within a particular faith community.
  • The minister’s role as stewardship leader in the congregation.

The New Consecration Sunday stewardship program focus is on the religious beliefs, mission, and values of the faith community as a source of inspiration for giving rather than the obligation of funding the budget to pay the bills. Miller’s question to the giver is, What is God calling me to do?

The Rev. Keith Goheen, a member of the UU Church of Mill Creek and JPD Board of Trustees, offers an alternative theological perspective for effective stewardship in other religious communities:

Unitarian theologian Henry Nelson Wieman was keenly interested in ‘The Good.’ His theological/ philosophical imperative involved bringing more (an abundance) of the Good into the self, the congregation, and the world.


What then is the congregation’s relationship to The Good?

Said another way,

What is its vision and mission, or raison d’tre?

If the principle relationship is best expressed as a haven defined in opposition to the prevailing culture (such as being defined by what we are not: a church, theistic, etc.), then The Good lies in the maintenance of strong boundaries. These boundaries protect the sanctity of the philosophical center while deepening its sense of differentiation.

If the principle relationship is to bring more Good into the world (in which we are a resource for ethical, non-theistic living to our community), The Good is expressed in relationships with community and the perceived need for Good in its culture.

This identity provides an interface through the idea of mission. The campaign is then designed to build enthusiasm for fully funding and potentially expanding the ethical mission of the congregation. This is accomplished by creating a pool of financial resources supporting the activities that bring more of the envisioned Good into being. Individuals giving from personal abundance generate congregational abundance enabling an abundant expression of mission.

The choice about fundraising approaches must be in sync with the members’ relationship to the congregation and their shared sense of purpose.

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Money becomes a tool to empower mission. The focus of the campaign is on impact, not costs.



May it be so~


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Laurel Amabile, CFRE


(This post goes back to late winter 2015. Appreciation goes to the Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, M.Div., Interim Minister, First Unitarian Church of Alton, IL, for bringing the topic of the New Consecration Sunday concept to the UU-Money Leaders for an energetic discussion.)

Related Resources:

Miller, Herb. New Consecration Sunday Stewardship Program (with Guest Leader Guide & CD-ROM). 2007. Abingdon Press. Nashville.

Crossman, Bob. Effective Stewardship is Not Budget Driven. 2012. Ministry Matters website:

Multigenerational Stewardship & Worship Resources on Giving


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

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


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

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
  • 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:

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:


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