First Lutheran’s Vision & Leadership Team is reading a book this fall, recommended by our Stewardship Team, called Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate written by J. Clif Christopher. Allow me the chance to offer a brief book report on the intro and first chapter…
Christopher says that over the course of the last 30-40 years, philanthropy has changed in America. In 2013 Americans gave away $335 billion. 31% of that money was given to religious institutions. This is the lowest percentage ever recorded. Secular charities (education, health, arts, environment, United Way and so on) have all shown increases. Only religion has failed to advance. “Now remember,” Christopher says, “we are talking about a charity market share that at one time was at 60%. Today it is around 30%. Religion receives one-half of the charitable dollars in ratio to what it got thirty years ago.”
I find that to be incredible! and unsurprising. The author goes on to assert that there are numerous reasons people’s giving habits have changed. But one of the most important reasons is that churches do not do a good enough job at explaining how the church’s work changes lives. Instead, churches get into a habit of offering a message that says something like, “Give us money because we need it—NOW!” and then the church wonders why it does not get more. Christopher’s solution is for churches to take on a new mindset: justify your existence, explain how your ministry changes lives, compete for charitable donations, “earn people’s gifts.” Christopher believes we need to move from a mindset of telling people, “you should give” to answer the question our donors are asking us, “Why should I give to YOU?”
I have yet to hear anyone who has read this book disagree with its premise or question the conclusions. Having just completed the ‘ask’ portion of the capital campaign last year, the question donors ask is fresh in my mind. “Why should I give to YOU?” This book is definitely speaking to us! As the YMCA, Humane Society, United Way, UWL and all kinds of other non-profits raise money for their projects, all of us are faced with limited resources with which we can be generous. So, why should I give to my church?
First Lutheran is the best source in the entire area for the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. Nowhere else, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the grace of a loving God told better through words and actions than at First Lutheran. We preach grace: undeserved love from God for ALL. All are welcome to worship. All are welcome to lead. All are welcome to commune. No one judges but God. And no one is said to be closer to God than anyone else. THIS IS RADICAL STUFF! Grace is a concept our kids encounter NOwhere else. “All are welcome” in very few places in this world. If for no other reason, give to First Lutheran because of its extremely important message.
First Lutheran changes lives… by saying, ‘yes’ to outside groups looking for space. Our buildings not only include a house of worship (where all are welcome… did I mention that?) but host grief groups, addiction recovery meetings, parenting support classes, divorce support, early-onset dementia support, cancer survivor support, scouts and so much more. Yes, First Lutheran seeks to serve its own members. But just as important to our membership is that we serve our neighbors by opening our doors to outside groups who simply need a place to meet.
First Lutheran changes lives… by meeting the needs of our neighbors both near and far. Our Teen Clothes Closet at Trinity will serve hundreds of kids in our area, providing dignity and warmth where there wasn’t any before. Our quilters sent off 202 quilts to Lutheran World Relief that will offer a physical reminder to people in need that they are not alone. First Lutheran supports education for elders in our county who are considering how to complete advanced directives. We make significant contributions toward local food banks that feed the hungry. We support Lutheran Social Services, which serves the whole state. We even buy gifts for families unable to celebrate Christmas as we hope their kids can enjoy. First Lutheran may not receive a lot of publicity for it and perhaps our own members take it for granted, but our church changes lives near and far through a variety of Christ-centered ministries.
First Lutheran changes lives… through fellowship, food and fun. Where else do babies, teens, their parents, grandparents, singles, widows, elders, gay & straight, Republican & Democrat, wealthy and poor all meet to do ANYthing? We are intergenerational in ways no other institution can be. We mix people in ways they mix in no other time or place. First Lutheran challenges beliefs, stretches stubborn hearts and, with genuine care, comforts those who are suffering.
I could say more, but maybe you are starting to get the point. First Lutheran is worthy of your generosity. It is a special place. Of course, it is most assuredly imperfect. I know where most of the cracks are and, sadly, I have been one who has done some of the cracking. But none of us pretend First is without blame or blemish. In fact, our willingness to claim our imperfection, to admit we are still becoming hopefully expresses our humility. This is a special time in the life of this particular congregation. As a new program year begins and as the capital campaign continues to receive donations, I pray you have a couple answers to your question, “why should I give to First?”