Can you stomach this topic?

In the workplace, it’s generally a good idea not to discuss politics and religion. In the church that’s a different story – the topic we avoid the most is money.

Churches and pastors get squeamish when it comes to money. Especially when it comes to the issue of whether the pastor is knowledgeable about contributions received. Is it a good idea for the pastor to know who is giving and what they are giving?

In one church I am working with, the church has no policy against the pastor knowing their giving history. The pastor doesn’t want to know, thought, because she believes it is inappropriate. As we progress in the legacy giving initiative (the primary reason they contacted me), she is beginning to see the whole picture, and is beginning to question her own policy.

In a second church, it is a non-issue – the church has no culture or policy against it, and the pastor, coming from a successful business background before entering ministry, understands how money operates in the church and in a family’s life. He is on the ball in inspiring great things in his congregation, including an endowment that generates tens of thousands of dollars annually for what they call “new ministries,” because their offering plate covers their operating expenses.

The Congregational Economic Impact Study addresses this issue explicitly (full report here):

Congregations in which clergy are actively aware of the giving trends within their congregation were more likely to see positive fundraising results between the first half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. In addition, congregations in which respondents reported that clergy are not aware of how much their congregation gives, or who gives, were less likely to report having an endowment than those whose clergy were aware of this information.

What do practitioners recommend? Here is a sample from some of the best:

J. Clif Christopher – The Pastor Must Know (fast-forward to 32m 53s)

Generis – Why Major Donors Don’t Give – all 10 of these touch on this, but I find #10 the most poignant.

But for me, the issue is more about pastoral care. Richard Clark is an adjunct instructor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. He writes:

I will offer my own experience (37-years as an associate or senior pastor). We tended to protect the privacy of donors at the expense of pastoral care. And toward the end of my pastoral tenure, that is the way I understood it. Changes in giving patterns are generally early warning signs of something amiss in a congregant’s life. It may be dissatisfaction with leadership or it may be an employment issue, or a physical ailment, or a relational problem, or something else. Being made aware of these early warnings of trouble, enables a pastor to offer care that is not primarily about finances but about the well-being of members.