Everyone loves to receive a letter. Even at a time when fewer people send letters and e-mail and text are the preferred vehicles of communication, receiving a letter – especially a personal one – is always appreciated.
When you look at your Christmas card list, who do you usually include? We often think of people we haven’t seen in some time – those who are hundreds of miles away or across the ocean in a far-off land. These people tend to be at the top of our family’s list.
It would never occur to anyone by looking at, or trying to pronounce, my surname that I would include Wales as part of my family heritage, but it is indeed the case. My mother was born and raised in north Wales and immigrated to Canada in 1964. As a result, I have an extended family some five time zones away. Though we are in regular contact through Facebook, I still make a habit of sending a card and a photograph of our children every Christmas.
Many churches in our diocese stay connected with parishioners throughout the year via newsletters, email and invitations to events. But how often is our communication limited to regular attendees or donors? If we dig a little deeper into our membership rolls, we can find many people who don’t fall into the “regulars” category, including shut-ins, infrequent attenders, those who have moved or fallen away, seniors, singles, families that participated in sacramental preparation, and so on. The list of “others” can be lengthy.
It’s the “others” that I am most interested in connecting with. In our diocese’s donor database, we have a record of more than 30,000 individuals, stretching back to the 1990s. Often, we use language like “renewals” or “lapsed” to organize our mailing list; these tend to be the people that we focus our attention on retaining or increasing their gift amount. But the “others” – the people who are part of the myriad of connections that we have acquired over the years – shouldn’t be neglected.
There is a school of thought in fundraising that says if a donor hasn’t given in the last three years, they may as well be considered brand new – as if they had never connected with us before. A competing viewpoint is that all donors – even the ones that are dated – should be retained. I am more inclined to embrace the latter, not only because they are people who know us and thought enough of us at one time to donate, but it is more in line with our Christian attitude that all are welcome and none are forsaken, even when they have fallen away. Think of the prodigal son or the lost sheep as examples in scripture.
The stewardship office is applying these principles to our Advent mailings this year. We are reconnecting with, and inviting, donors who have fallen off the radar screen in recent years. That means we are inviting friends who may have given to the Bishop’s Company or FaithWorks some five to seven years back who we’ve lost contact with, or they may have forgotten to include us in their annual giving to charity.
This pattern can be applied to our parishes as well. With Christmas just a few weeks away, perhaps we should consider inviting everyone on our membership lists and the immediate neighbourhood to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I think we can take for granted that people know that services are offered at Christmas time. Consider how it might be received, however, if everyone on our list – even those we have lost contact with – received an invitation to celebrate in this joyous event. It might even open the door to renewed friendships, connections and church participation.
In fundraising parlance, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So many have fallen away and simply stopped coming. Some will never return. But some want to come back and are looking for an opening. Let’s personally invite them.
I don’t believe it is enough for a church to simply be present. Just because it’s Christmas and our church has a big sign on it with service times, that’s not enough to incline many to grace our doors; they need more of a prompting. How about a personal invitation? Now that’s a big deal. Everyone loves to get a letter. Why not personally invite everyone to experience Jesus’ birthday party this year? And do it up fancy – for some, it’s the most anticipated day of the year.