A Newbie's Guide to Pledging


If you are new to the church, or have never made a pledge to the church before, this column is for you. Because the church “stewardship campaign” can be intimidating. You might wonder why we spend a couple of weeks talking about money so much.

You should think of it like a public radio pledge drive. It can be annoying to have NPR’s Morning Edition interrupted by pledge requests; and I don’t like hearing about pledges in the middle of This American Life, either. But it’s better than the alternative!

Like public radio, we aren’t a market enterprise. Thus, you’ll never hear commercials in the middle of a worship service. (And no, we’re not going to ever consider it. Even if you’re looking to promote your new pop-up goat yoga studio …)

And we’re not selling anything. If you haven’t heard me say it before, the grace of God is free. That’s the whole point — God’s love is freely given, freely received. We have nothing to sell, and we’re not planning to operate as if we do!

So the primary way the church funds its ministries is through asking people to pledge, just like the radio station. You could call it “crowdfunding.” In other words, we ask our members, friends, and visitors to help us do what we do. We always go through a budget process to plan for the coming calendar year, and attempt to finalize it before the end of the preceding year. The budget includes all the necessary items, such as property maintenance, utilities, office supplies, program materials, and, of course, personnel. Plus, we include strategic pieces and new missions that we would like to initiate.

A key part of the budget process is assessing how much income we can expect to generate in the coming year. That’s why we ask members to pledge. We need to know how much you all expect to give, so that we can plan our ministries and pass our budget.

Every year around the month of October, then, we spend a few weeks asking you to make your pledge. We accumulate the pledges and fine-tune our budget based on the total pledged amount. This is why pledging is important to the church; it is the way in which church leadership assesses how to proceed.

But a church pledge is only that — a pledge. It’s a matter between you and God ultimately. It’s not a contractual agreement. And we’re not going to send a bill collector after you.  We will send you a quarterly giving statement, which will let you know how much you have paid on your pledge year-to-date. But we won’t keep bugging you about it, like a public radio station might.

We can also make giving to the church an easy matter. On our website, you can make your pledge an automatic monthly or weekly payment. Just follow this link to automate your giving.

So far, I’ve described the pledge campaign in a purely functional and practical fashion — we’ve got to pay the bills, and this is how we do it.

As your pastor, I need to let you know that giving is about far more than just making financial donations. When you give to your church, you are not merely helping pay bills, pay the pastor, or even fund a particular mission of the church; you are literally performing an act of service to God. When you give to the church, you are giving to God, and you are giving to God’s mission in the world.

One of the most common images found in the Bible to describe the church is “the body of Christ.” Christ is still present in the world, but he is incarnated in the church; he lives and moves and has his being, in us! That’s not mere hyperbole, either. There is something very real about the concept that Jesus is alive and working through us.

It’s not really like making a pledge to a public radio station at all, in the end. For one, we don't give away tote bags ... I love public radio, and I think everyone should support it. But Kessler Park UMC has a greater mission to undertake, and a greater God to serve.

So I hope you will consider making a pledge for the first time. Let’s kickstart God’s work by Kickstarting KPUMC!

Crowdfunding is for Crowds


On Sunday, I preached about the first crowdfunding project in the Bible — the story of Moses asking the Israelites to bring their goods and gifts to help build the tabernacle. 

My favorite part of the story is the fact that the people gave so much that Moses finally had to tell them to stop! 

But there’s something else about that story that makes me happy. Did you notice that from the very beginning God wants everybody to participate, not just the wealthy few?

That’s the interesting thing about crowdfunding a project — it’s so much more rewarding and fun to have 250 people giving $100 each for something they care about, than it is to have one person plop down $25,000, just because they can. 

I suppose Moses could have gone to just the richest Israelites and asked them to fund the entire tabernacle. He could have gone to the richest one or two folks and asked them if they would pay for everything. Maybe he would have succeeded in such a fundraising approach. 

But he didn’t. Instead he asked everyone to consider what they could contribute to the whole. He didn’t demand; he invited people to consider in their hearts what they might be able to give.

And because everyone participated, everyone felt connected to what was being built. The tabernacle belonged to everyone, not just a wealthy few.

I once served a small country church where there was precisely one wealthy family in the church. This family was probably the wealthiest family in the entire county. And they were generous to the church.

However, this created an unhealthy dynamic for the church. For one, everybody knew that if we got in a bind, this wealthy family would step in and get us out of our hole. This happened at the end of every year, when it was time to pay apportionments. The matron of the family would come into the church, ask “How much left on apportionments do we owe?” and then write out a check for that amount. The problem is that the members of the church knew this happened, and let this be an excuse to refrain from giving too generously.

Furthermore, this wealthy family never pledged or even gave regularly. They simply gave when they saw a problem or discerned that the church needed something in particular. As you can imagine, the church was never in a very healthy financial state.

I have also heard horror stories about churches where a single wealthy donor created havoc. For example, I heard once that Ross Perot made a huge donation to his mother’s small East Texas church, which was in danger of closing. He wanted to help keep it open. Instead, the gift was the source of much conflict, and the church closed more quickly than if it had never received the money. 

The crowdfunding model is a much healthier pattern of financial giving for an organization. Instead of leaning heavily on a handful of donors, whose interests and motivations for giving might or might not be pure, we ask for everyone to participate financially by giving what they are able. Some are able to give more, and others less, but when we all do our part, then the whole benefits.

As your pastor, I want you to be excited about what the church is doing. I want you to be fully invested in our vision and purpose, and thus I want you to give what you feel God is calling you to do. 

When you help Kickstart KPUMC, you’re not just helping the church, you’re also giving your own faith a kickstart. And so, if you haven’t already, make your 2018 pledge today. Just click here to make your pledge.

Kickstart KPUMC

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Eight years ago, a couple of young guys in Brooklyn were trying to answer a simple question: How can a struggling artist with a great idea or a prospective project or a creative inspiration find money to pursue his or her dreams?

The guys wondered how they could quickly and efficiently connect people with money with people with big ideas. They created a very simple website called Kickstarter in which artists pitched their projects, asked for funding, and then waited for people on the internet to agree to donate.

The concept was simple: every project had a funding goal and a deadline. If the goal wasn’t met by the deadline, then no funds were collected at all.

The first fully-funded project was little more than a joke — “Drawing for Dollars” collected $35 from three people to draw a couple of simple sketches. But the concept caught on. 

The idea went “viral,” as they say. In 2012, the site celebrated its first million-dollar project, and kickstarter.com has never looked back. 

I bring this up because I’d like to suggest that “crowdfunding” is not all that original. Local churches have been “crowdfunding” since the day of Pentecost. In fact, every time any church anywhere has an annual pledge campaign, they are “crowdfunding” — we are asking people to make a financial commitment to the church so that we can together accomplish our mission and reach the goals which God has given us.

That’s why we’ve decided to call the church’s 2018 pledge campaign, Kickstart KPUMC. Over the next three weeks, I’ll be preaching on three different stories about crowdfunding in the Bible (can you guess what they are?). Next week, you’ll receive a mailing in which we propose an ambitious 2018 budget.

I asked each of our staff department heads to propose at least one new programming initiative in order to “kickstart” their ministry. That means the proposed budget is a little higher than last year’s, but it also ensures that we will have some energy going into 2018.

And we will unveil a new page on our website which will keep a live, running total of the amount of money pledged. It will only be live for 21 days, during which time I hope that we will receive at least $385,000 in pledges — that’s our goal! Last year, we had $361,000 pledged, and I am convinced that we can easily reach this goal. I am so certain that I am ready to initiate a “stretch goal,” which is a term used when Kickstarter projects surpass their funding goal, and their creative team decides to raise the bar and go for more, offering new incentives to backers to reach an expanded, “stretched” goal. 

There’s a kind of joy and excitement that comes when a group coalesces around a common purpose, and works together to accomplish that goal. I hope that happens in this year’s pledge campaign. 

I hope we all get “kickstarted” to become better disciples of Jesus, and better stewards of God’s gifts.