In which Ruth asks a tricky question about money and the church

Stewardship is dealt with by different churches in many different ways. Some favour the annual letter, signed by the priest, pleading for a much-needed injection of cash for some project and for everyone to consider increasing their giving. Then there are the different schemes which churches buy in to which involve bible study or invitation suppers. Some clergy do annual stewardship sermons either on one named day or over a month. All well and good.

giving envelopesBut something has recently come to my attention and I’d like your advice. Like most clergy I have no idea how much people give to church. Some give by Standing Order through their bank, some have a set of weekly envelopes which they bring to church, (I’ve heard of one person here who does both!) and others pop in a fiver or a tenner – or sometimes a few coins. I’ve noticed that the elderly favour the envelope method. Some even bring a pile of them if they’ve been absent for a few weeks and that’s how it should be.

However, we have noticed that some don’t bring a pile in if they’ve been off for a few weeks. But they’re elderly and so sweet that nothing is said. We are grateful for what we receive and we shouldn’t complain. Then there are those who are housebound. Many of those receive communion monthly and more visits from time to time. A few of them will hand over their envelope when you are there but these are really in the minority. I’ve just assumed that the others give through their Bank. But we have recently found out that they don’t. Many of them don’t give anything at all. Some have had the envelopes for the past few years but have never handed in a single one! (By the way, I’ve no idea who these people are nor do I want to know.)

The thing is… I don’t think people mean to withhold their collection. I think they are just forgetful. I don’t think people deliberately withdraw their giving to the church. I think they just get confused. Now you might all be yelling at your screen just now with fists flying and screaming, “Ruth! They are old. They’ve probably given all their lives! Let them off with it now. Who care if they don’t pop in a fiver every now again?” And I know that. My heart knows that and my heart bleeds. The widow’s mite is ringing in my ears.    But, and it is a big BUT, what if your congregation has more than 50% , or 75%, who are elderly and housebound? What if the future of your little flock relies on everyone giving their fair share? What if your church is at risk because so many givers have either died or just forgotten to give?

Is anyone getting this or am I just being mean? And why are we so polite that we can’t talk about this in church? Has anyone out there dealt with this? I know that some of these elderly people are not hard up. These are not breadline people. But I just don’t know how to improve the giving among those who have just forgotten to give.

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5 thoughts on “In which Ruth asks a tricky question about money and the church

  1. I feel very strongly about this. People don’t get off paying for their supermarket shopping just because they’re old and sweet. We all need to be reminded – quite clearly and forcibly – how much it costs to keep our church going, to pay the nice lady with the purple hair who comes to see us – all that stuff. And then we need someone to set it out in clear terms what that comes down to in terms of individual giving – annually, monthly and weekly. Then we don’t need to do the sums and can’t delude ourselves. I visited a church in a downtrodden area of Alabama at the time of their AGM (joy!) and was shamed by the level of commitment of these very ordinary people. They made it quite clear what a baseline figure ought to be.

  2. I recently joined a political party. On making this commitment, I was told right at the outset what the expected annual giving was, in line with my stated income. The written pledge was duly made. No embarrassment and very upfront. We all knew exactly where we stood. And I bet there’ll be reminders if I default.

    Aren’t we likewise in the business of commitment?

  3. I would say get someone they trust (you or someone else) to encourage them to do DDMs at a reasonable level. I noticed at my church the other week hardly anyone uses envelopes or cash any more because even the real sceptics have been converted to DDM.

    And – harder – but get a younger congregation?

  4. Yes, we are pretty good at getting new people signed up and younger folk see the sense of Direct Debits. Although I am often surprised at how many folk just prefer putting those damn envelopes in the bag.

    My problem is with the housebound who’ve become too bewildered or just forgotten. They are the ones who are tricky and their numbers are not few.

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