Building an Abundant Spirit

The Giving Speaks blog is pleased to share another guest post by K. Peter Henrickson of the Pacific Northwest*

We all want to be generous people, and most of us want that quality to be present in those we hang out with — particularly in our churches.  But what does that mean?  What observable differences will we see around us when a spirit of abundance abounds?  To bring focus to how an abundant attitude might shape congregational behavior let’s consider three specific examples in church life:  the worship service, the coffee hour, and our special programs.

What happens in your church when the collection plate gets passed each Sunday morning?  In many Unitarian Universalist congregations it sails along without so much as a stutter stop until it reaches the end of the row, and then after some twisting and reaching starts again and gathers speed as it scoots back, seemingly with a life of its own.  Each week a large portion of those present contribute neither cash nor check, particularly as more and more make their pledge payments online.

Why is that?  Put differently, what are we telling ourselves about this weekly request for money?  I think for many the internal monologue is that this plate routine is irrelevant since we already pledge to support our church; it is a somewhat bothersome distraction from our worship therefore.  But we tolerate The Plate Thing because, after all, there are visitors among us, or perhaps “those who should be pledging more.”  We tell ourselves that passing the plate is just another way the church has of reaching into our pockets.  But, we continue, our pledge is already quite fair, even Quite Good — and anyway we’ve decided already what we will give annually and want to be respected in our judgment about what is right for us.

Further, there are ccongregation leaders who announce before the plate is passed “If you’re a visitor, this is not for you.  You’re our guest; just send it on.”  This reinforces the subliminal sense that the Sunday offering is a tax imposed to punish the members who didn’t cough up enough during the budget drive, apparently all of us who attend regularly.

Finally, all Unitarian Universalist congregations budget some level of support from fund-raisers and other gifts above and beyond pledge income, most frequently including an increment from Sunday plate collections.  This can confirm our self-talk narrative that “Folks around here are not very generous.  They don’t pledge nearly enough to support our programs — but I’m not about to do it all myself.”

All our self-talk on the subject slips past the most important aspect of the Sunday collection:  It’s Not About the Money.  Well, it is.  But more so, it isn’t.

So, what’s it all about?

When we worship together we are learning, remembering again what about our life is important. Much of our worship learning comes out of our sacraments and rituals.  We are practicing being “in the present” and taking personal oaths.  We are aspiring to be even more the kind of person we think we can be, and learning that that person is right there before us, within our reach.  We worship to practice reaching.  (And no one, I daresay, visits a new congregation hoping to be told they are excused this morning from reaching for their better selves.)

We include a request for gifts in worship because all of us, back into the Mists of Time, have felt the impulse to be helpful to others.  But we balance that against the need/desire to take care of ourselves.  And, for most of us, the Self comes first.  Part of the worship practice is simply to remember that others need to be cared for just as we sometimes need to be cared for, and the taking of a collection is the community’s vehicle for delivering that reminder.

Passing the plate is *just* a ritual.  The ritual reminds us that we always have the ability, even with pocket change, to help others.  It’s not about the church needing more money.  It is not particularly about an amount of money.  But the ritual is emphatically about putting money in the plate.  Passing the plate is about what we need — affirming that we live an abundant life.  And for those who have been unresponsive in the past we want to promote new self-talk as the plate comes nearer.  How can we do this?

Many churches have taken up a Share the Plate program, deciding that some portion of the collection will be designated specifically for causes and people outside the immediate church community.  The church decides that part of every worship collection will be given away: say, one-quarter, one half, or even all.  In some churches the gift is limited to one Sunday each month, but is the entire collection.  In any case the self-talk previously described loses traction.  We are asked to respond to a cause beyond our own congregation, its woes and our story about our place in them.

CHECK OUT THE GIVING SPEAKS POLL ON THE TOPIC–at the link below**

My own preference is to give away a smaller portion if necessary, but out of every collection; this seems to me a surer way of limiting the opportunities to dwell in scarcity while we worship.  In any case most churches that have tried sharing their plate collection have not stopped.  They report no diminishment in their own income, and frequently an increase.  This is the experience reported by Rev. Neal Jones in this space last month (http://wp.me/p1xUUk-iU ) in support of his contention that congregations which practice abundance experience abundance.

Another possible way your congregation can manifest a generous countenance is, for example, during social hour after the service.  Is there a basket near the coffee urn where people are expected to place a donation for their coffee?  Get rid of it.  If your church is like mine you pick up a tenth of one percent of the total church revenue for the year from that basket.  One additional pledge would equal three or four years of take from the coffee basket.  Instead, try putting up a little sign saying something like:

WE’RE GLAD TO SEE YOU.

COFFEE IS ON US.

We happily cover the costs of our Social Hour out of your generous contributions during worship.  Thank you.

This is a way for the congregation to openly celebrate its generous, attractive spirit.  It undercuts the story, above, that this church “always wants more of my money.”  At the same time it suggests yet another reason for all worshipers to think about dropping something into the plate every week while also taking away a reason for holding back (“for the coffee basket”).

Third, consider the attitude your congregation manifests when charging members for programs and services.  While I am sympathetic to the reality that churches need to raise enough money to cover their costs, I am less inclined to the notion that every cost which can be separately identified and assigned to a sub-group should be.  I was once a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation which decided that people could pick up their own newsletter copies in the church lobby on Sunday morning; if they wanted them mailed there would be a fee to cover postage.  The same office administrator proposed that members pay for the church directory — “enough to cover copying costs”.

These are extreme examples I hope, but they highlight the point.  When we join a church we expect to enjoy core services in return for our fair pledge.  The problem is in agreeing what the core consists of.  A church thriving with an attitude of abundance will look for ways to expand its definition of core programs and services; the congregation dwelling in scarcity finds it necessary to charge extra fees.  It’s simply not worth giving up an abundant spirit to chase even a few hundred dollars.[i]   A church with a countenance of abundance holds itself freely open to all — while openly displaying its desire to have all fully embrace its abundant life, including, of course, embracing abundant financial support.


[i] Alternatively, some churches find that by charging a modest fee for programs they induce a higher commitment to attendance; I suspect there is truth in this observation and recognize that some programs by their nature are more successful when attendance and participation are highly predictable.

**FIND OUT WHAT OTHER CONGREGATIONS ARE DOING ABOUT SHARED OFFERING PROGRAMS!

Participate in this Giving Speaks poll:   

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*K. Peter Henrickson lives in Vancouver, WA has served the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its Pacific Northwest District for over 30 years.  Peter served two separate terms as district treasurer for a total of 15 years.  During that period, he began consulting with congregations on general financial management issues.  With the learnings from those consulting jobs, Peter put together several presentations for both district meetings and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly.  And the material from those workshops grew into a book, Church Financial Management, which is now available through Amazon.   Peter has served on the Board of Eliot Institute and was Treasurer for a total of about ten years and has served as the UUA’s District Compensation Consultant since 2005.  Peter can be contact directly at:   kphenrickson@gmail.com    (360) 608-8571

A Mindset of Abundance

Giving Speaks  is pleased to share this guest blog post by the Rev. Neal Jones* ~

People can be funny about money.  I know some people with lots of money who act like they’re barely scraping by, and I know some people who are barely scraping by who are as generous as kings and queens.  When it comes to money, perception can have little to do with reality.

How much we save and spend has more to do with our mindset than our bank account.  Some people have a mindset of scarcity, a “glass half empty” outlook.  They expect money, time, and love to be hard to come by.  These resources could run out at any time, leaving you high and dry.  You need to grab them and cling to them to make sure they don’t slip away.  It’s hard to be generous with a clenched fist.

Some people have a mindset of abundance—a belief, a faith, really, that money, time, and love are plentiful and accessible.  It’s an attitude of gratitude.  Sure, we have to earn our keep, but the real bottom-line is that these things are primarily gifts from God, Life, or the Universe (choose your own term).  When we focus on what we’re getting from life instead of what we’re not getting, it’s easy to feel generous and to be generous.

Congregations can operate from a mindset of scarcity or abundance, too.  Healthy congregations have cultivated a culture of abundance, regardless of the net worth of the people involved.  As individuals we may not be wealthy, but sense that we have been blessed with enough—enough to meet our needs and to fulfill the needs of our congregations.

In keeping with a culture and mindset of abundance, it helps for the congregation to begin with our shared aspirations in mind.

We ask ourselves and one another:

What do we value most about our community of faith and the meaning it brings to our lives?

What vision do we hold for our future and what we could accomplish together?

What can we pledge financially that reflects the level of our commitment to our community and our shared vision?

These are the questions and financial commitment we build our annual budget upon.  We build on our mindset of abundance by providing other opportunities to give generously.  An example of our abundance and generosity is our monthly shared offering program which has grown steadily each month, with more money given to benefit both the congregation and the other charitable and social justice organizations that receive our gifts.

It’s a strange arithmetic—the more we give away, the more we give.  But it makes perfect sense…when you have a mindset of abundance.

(adapted with permission by the author)

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The Rev. Neal Jones, Psy. D., serves as the Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, SC  http://www.uucolumbia.org/ .

The UU Congregation of Columbia is one the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Honor Congregations, a recognition of their generosity and annual financial support of their wider faith community.  (www.uua.org/giving/apf )

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RESOURCES to Nurture Generosity & Abundance in Congregations:  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml

Congregational Stewardship Services and Forward Through the Ages Program (FORTH): http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/forth/index.shtml

Giving–the sacred art by Lauren Tyler Wright:  http://www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978-1-59473-224-9, and six-session study guide for use by UU groups, www.uua.org/documents/stew-dev/study_guide_giving.pdf

Inspired Philanthropy by Tracy Gary:  http://inspiredphilanthropy.com/

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist:  http://www.soulofmoney.org/

What’s the Budget For Anyway? Part Three

The third and final installment of the “What’s the Budget For Anyway?” article by K. Peter Henrickson*~

Presenting the Budget

By whatever planning process is appropriate in your congregation, the Finance Committee needs to showcase a set of targets for congregational services three or four years into the future.  The presentation of such plans and their longer term financial implications shifts the congregation’s attention from considering the spending request for next year vis-a-vis last year to considering where the congregation is heading.  The stewardship drive is an opportunity to meld the conversation about congregational direction with the conversation about individual dreams.  So, here are some guidelines for presenting a vision budget stimulating such conversations.

Summarize and focus expenses into the major areas of energy for your congregation.  We want the membership to “own” the vision — to believe it is good and to love it passionately.  Suppose we organize a vision budget around the major growth needs driving the church.[1]  Consider these examples:

  • Worship, Spiritual Growth and Exploration
  • Organizational Services and Leadership Development
  • Community Outreach and Denominational Support
  • Pastoral Support and Shared Ministry

These categories represent what is sometimes referred to as a “mission budget”.  They virtually scream out the necessity to describe why we are in community. The minister and board need to provide inspiring leadership in each of these areas — to show in greater detail the aspirations for your congregation.  “Worship, Spiritual Growth, and Exploration”, for example, might mean a year around ministry for children or additional emphasis on laity ministry.  It might mean developing two or three regular services each week (or more), each targeted to the needs of particular groups of people.

  •  Include a multi-year forecast, three or four years beyond the budget year.  The purpose of a forecast is to show that the leadership has heard what the members want and that such a church is available in the future — although not next year.  Members understand that programs take time to launch; they need to see movement toward objectives.  They will support growth with a vision that fits their own, that enhances lives in the community today as it moves toward tomorrow.
  • In the vision budget keep the focus on the future and away from the past.  Consider using only the following column headings congregational meeting budget:  current year budget, current year projected, budget year, first vision year, second vision year, third vision year, etc.  That is, strip last year’s spending out of the budget presentation. The data are 12 months old or more and contributes virtually nothing to the discussion about future years.  If someone wants to reference a particular number from last year, the treasurer can look it up quickly enough.  But do not presume that the entire congregation needs or wants to review the historical perspective.  That entire extra column  of numbers increases potential confusion without bringing much benefit.
  • Give committees a way to talk about why they do what they do, and how they want to do it better.  Most of what your membership envisions will be championed by the various committees.  Listen to what the committees want in the future and recognize its priority in the budget presentation.  The role of the board is to defer committee requests, not cut them.
  • Present a vision budget which is adequate to the community.  Too often churches limp along without the ministerial or other staff support they need, without an annual installment on the building repair fund, or without sufficient religious education supplies.  Good leadership presents a budget to focus attention away from the discouraging present and toward the place we want to be within the foreseeable future.  The vision budget should highlight the opportunities facing the congregation.  Develop the vision budget to get both the board and the committees to share their observations and their dreams.  They are the core of the congregation and their common purpose for the future is building community.
  • Show what can be done with modest pledge increases over the next few years.  I do not believe that any congregation can say with integrity that it enjoys a fullness of spiritual meaning in all of the four areas of energy suggested above if the average giving level is below $120/family/month. This is a commitment of about 2% where congregational monthly incomes average $5,-$6,000/month.  The vision budget needs to show what the church could be with a growth of gifts to a 3% – 5% level over the course of a few years.
  • Show the number of members or giving units currently and into the future.  Growth is important in most congregations, and the vision budget should elevate this discussion.  This is also a way to focus attention on growing average stewardship levels.  One might show average commitments separately for “members” and for all other contributors as a way of communicating the higher giving levels expected of membership.
  • Do not show the congregation numbers with more than four digits.  The membership will not absorb numbers with length, or at least not an entire page of them.   A budget totaling $150,000 – $250,000 can express $435 as “.4” — at least in the years out beyond the budget year while a budget of $500,000 should round to even thousands.
  • Put the entire budget on a single page.   Leave lots of white space on the paper and do not reduce the type size.  When you have done this, you have a budget that is comprehensible to those not familiar with it.  Again, the sole purpose of the vision budget is to increase the level of giving.  We who are church treasurers often lose sight of this objective.  We default to thinking the purpose of the budget is to present numbers, and more is better.  In the vision budget, fewer is better.

In summary, “This is not your father’s budget!”  Look forward.

Use the annual budget process to continually revisit the congregation’s dreams for where it wants to go and how fast it wants to get there.  The budget process is repeated every year.    It brings focus and detail to the discussion.  When done as described above it shows clearly what the leadership sees as priorities and focuses discussion on them.  It shows that those programs and needs which are not this year’s priorities are still important and are viable in the future.  It is public enough to generate discussion among many who are interested but not directly involved.  It can be a terrific vehicle for inspiring a congregation.

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*K. Peter Henrickson lives in Vancouver, WA has served the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its Pacific Northwest District for over 30 years.  Peter served two separate terms as district treasurer for a total of 15 years.  During that period, he began consulting with congregations on general financial management issues.  With the learnings from those consulting jobs, Peter put together several presentations for both district meetings and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly.  And the material from those workshops grew into a book, Church Financial Management, which is now available through Amazon.   Peter has served on the Board of Eliot Institute and was Treasurer for a total of about ten years and has served as the UUA’s District Compensation Consultant since 2005.  Peter can be contact directly at:   kphenrickson@gmail.com    (360) 608-8571


            [1] See Loren B Meade’s “More Than Numbers, The Way Churches Grow” referenced in the bibliography.  I recommend it for further development of these notions.