It’s July, halfway through the year, and it is time to ask, “how is giving going?” Very few pastors will respond by saying great! Most are feeling the summer slump in giving by now, with many struggling. Some churches are living offering to offering at a time when most of their activities happen like VBS, summer camps, and mission trips. Every July, churches are faced with a giving gap that endangers their future. One of my goals is to help you avoid that.
For the past few years in July, I have been writing about closing your giving gap, the percentage behind your giving is compared to your budget needs. The next few issues of the Coach will focus on closing that gap with what I call a come-from-behind giving strategy. To start off this series, this Coach is entitled Making the Case for a Come-From-Behind Strategy.
“You write the best stuff on stewardship. The problem is no one cares.” My friend and top blogger, Brian Dodd, once told me that. So, I realize every issue is a challenge for me to get and keep your attention. Typically, pastors and church leaders only call me when they are in trouble. Remember, my goal is to help you avoid trouble. Here is what I can tell you. If you are right now experiencing a giving gap, you could be in trouble if…
- Your giving is behind by more than two weeks offering.
- Your 4th quarter giving historically is not enough to make up your current deficit.
The time to close a giving gap is now before it becomes a Grand Canyon-type gap that you will never close. Given that nearly every church experiences a challenging time of giving in the summer it is imperative that we devise a plan of action to close any giving gap as quickly as possible. Before I share with you a plan of action for closing the gap, let’s start by understanding why this happens every year. I believe there are three basic reasons why we experience this giving gap.
First, every summer your people are busy and away. The obvious reason for a decline in summer giving is that our members are engaged in many activities that take them away from attendance or engagement with their church. The old saying, out of sight, out of mind comes to mind. Many of your members will conveniently forget their gift to your church, spending that money instead on visiting Mickey Mouse. This is why I harp on you about having a summer plan to head off this yearly decline in giving. It is also why I push for signing up as many people as possible to set their giving up to be recurring.
The X-Factor. X stands for anything that disrupts giving. I recently wrote a blog post about this at https://www.onlinegiving.org/blog. I stated the following:
Here are some common reasons why churches fall behind budget…
- Decline in attendance and engagement. From Covid to weather closings, when attendance and engagement are down, typically so is the offering.
- Economic instability. If the major employer in your town just laid off huge amounts of employees, your giving could be impacted. The same happens during times of recession.
- Internal crisis. If your worship leader felt led to start a mission church across the street from you, that will cause a decline. Seriously, any internal issues left unresolved can and will impact giving.
These factors are often out of your control and are things we must anticipate and deal with. The final reason is different. It’s a self-inflicted wound that typically happens months before the giving gap shows up.
Poor budget planning. Budgets are all too often set based upon need and desire not giving capacity. Churches tend to operate with an overly optimistic view of their giving capacity. Finance teams seem to think that if they set the budget high, then people will rise to the occasion. Telling people, you need a certain dollar amount doesn’t move many people’s hearts to increase giving. Need doesn’t drive dollars, vision does. I couldn’t explain it any better than how I wrote about this last year. Here is what I wrote:
Giving Gap versus Budget Inflation – Your Giving Gap is the percentage you currently are behind the budget. Budget Inflation is the percentage beyond realistic expectations you are currently attempting to run your church by. Let’s start by looking at closing out, or narrowing, your Giving Gaps. Here are the rules of thumb I work with:
- 5% to 10% behind now can be made up with good planning. This depends upon a lot of things such as your past trends and if your attendance/engagement has held steady. With consistent work now and a good end-of-year strategy, you can close that gap.
- Greater than 10% makes it doubtful you will close that gap. This doesn’t mean you give up, but it does mean you might face some difficult decisions.
Budget Inflation – Again, this is the percentage beyond realistic expectations. When it comes to budget planning, I advise using a standard increase of 2% to 3% beyond last year’s revenue. If your past giving numbers don’t support that kind of increase, any increase above last year’s giving is your budget inflation. Budget inflation is the number one reason why churches get so far behind. It’s also the number one reason for burning out your donors.
That was good advice last year and it is good advice for any year. The bottom line is your budget must not grow beyond your congregation’s giving capacity.
I recommend keeping your eye on the ball and keep working your plan. I recommend what I call the 3 Rs.
Review – Constantly review where your giving is and how your plan is working or not.
Revise – Change your plan as needed.
Reapply – Like sunscreen, which you need to reapply continually, the same is true for a plan to reverse any decline in giving. If you don’t have a plan, you are planning on failing!
The 3 Rs are crucial in your planning as the longer you delay acting upon your giving gap the greater that gap will grow. If that gap grows too much it will be impossible to close. What missions and ministry will suffer in the 4th quarter because you failed to act? Keep your eye on the giving ball!
I have a plan for you! I write playbooks for every season in a church’s life. I just released this year’s come-from-behind playbook entitled Recovering Your Lost Offerings: 2022 Close the Gap Playbook. I will be sharing pieces from that playbook over the next few weeks. While this strategy can be used any time of the year, I specifically use Labor Day as my focal point to rally the congregation to close the giving gap. As always, I do all the work for you; giving you strategy but also sample emails, letters, and offering talks. Using my playbook, you will close your giving gap. Drop me an email and I will make sure you get your copy. firstname.lastname@example.org
How does this make the case for a come-from-behind strategy? Closing the giving gap assures the second half of ministry. Keep reading over the next few weeks as I share with you the basic elements that go into a close-the-gap strategy.
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach