Stewardship in December

This is a guest post by Chick Lane, director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary. He will be my teleconference guest this Thursday — registration information is here.

Stewardship in December is always a challenge. For eleven months, many congregations work diligently to connect giving to the mission of the congregation. In the twelfth month, faced with a glaring gap between budget and giving to date, the temptation to revert to the language of “we need you to give so we can get all the bills paid” is strong indeed. This temptation is made even stronger by the members who say, “Just tell us where we stand.”

My concern is that if every year December becomes the “pay the bills” month, we can undo in that one month all the good focus on mission that has happened the rest of the year. Unintentionally, the message can be, “We will talk about mission when we have the luxury of doing that, but when crunch time comes, it really is all about getting enough money to pay the bills.”

I’d like to suggest that the language of mission is important, even in December.

What if the December stewardship message is something like this:

“Last January, we as a congregation decided on our mission plan for the year. We call that mission plan our budget. In our mission plan, we laid out how we wanted to do ministry in our congregation, in our community, through our synod, across the country and around the world.

“Together we have done so much since last January. [Fill in some specific examples.] We have much more to do. Over the next month, we can make a significant difference in Jesus’ name when we complete our mission plan by [give some specific examples of work still to be done].

“Just as we together have a mission plan, so each of us individually has a giving plan. The two are connected. For us together to accomplish our mission plan, each of us individually needs to accomplish our giving plan. In this last month of the year, please review your giving plan and your actual giving for the year. Use December to accomplish your giving plan so, together, we can accomplish our mission plan. Thanks for all you have made possible through your giving, and thanks for helping us do even more in the month ahead.”

Many congregations send out a record of giving at the end of November to help people assess their giving compared to their giving plan. If you do that, the above message could form the basis for a letter that accompanies that record of giving.

I’m very aware of the pressure to get all the bills paid by year end. I’m also quite convinced that the language of mission is still to be preferred to the language of paying the bills, even in December.

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