Last month’s article on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Churches garnered considerable interest, as evidenced by the emails and conversations I have had concerning the topic. It seems that most of us are aware of the changes taking place in the Church and in society. The aging of church membership is paramount – it is evident on Sunday morning and it appears there is more grey hair than any other in our congregations.
Regardless of who is worshipping on any given Sunday, everyone in a church has the capacity to be generous. Let me be clear: the Church needs your financial support. The difference between a parish that is struggling and one that is growing often comes down to the availability of resources.
Struggling parishes suffer from over-extended volunteers, limited ministry opportunities, a shrinking congregation and giving that is well below average. Members of the congregation feel tapped out. They really want to do better because they can remember a time when their church did much better.
Overall, freewill offerings in the diocese in 2016 declined by about one per cent ($312,125) from 2015 to $32,508,379. These gifts do not include special collections, FaithWorks, additional outreach, capital giving or immemorial donations. In the last six years, the number of givers across the diocese has declined by 17.45 per cent – a loss greater than the previous 10 years combined. On a per donor basis, the average annual offertory gift increased to $1,393 in 2016, up from $1,314 a year earlier.
When average household income is adjusted for inflation, the percentage of gross family income designated to offertory increased to 1.71 per cent in 2016. What we lack is the median gift number. This would provide a true indicator of giving, as it eliminates the impact of those who give very little and those who gift a lot.
The diocesan average is only a barometer with respect to how individuals within a parish are performing compared to other parishes. However, aggregate giving is a poor indicator of generosity because many high-income donors give well above the diocesan average but the proportion of their giving is relatively small.
We have found that parishes need to strive for an average annual gift per person of about $1,750 to remain healthy. This figure represents optimum giving – a level of support consistently found in our most successful parishes. Those parishes – both urban and rural – that have a variety of relevant ministry opportunities, experience numeric growth in the number of worshipping members, offer meaningful worship and are present to the missional needs of their communities have a level of giving that is consistently well above average.
Giving that is exceptional is not limited to parishes with very wealthy congregants. Of the 25 per cent of parishes that are growing in the diocese, many are in communities where incomes are ordinary. But members give – and give well – because they have been discipled effectively and schooled in the benefits of generous living.
Optimum giving leads to sustained and innovative ministry that empowers an enthusiastic base of volunteers who are committed to missional outreach and a welcoming spirit of hospitality. This provides the necessary foundation that helps foster numeric growth in the congregation.