She Didn’t Give to Your Congregation – Why?

A life-long, faithful member is facing the end of life. The pastor is there at the bedside. Friends from within the church keep in very close contact. Stephens’ Ministers from her congregation visit her and sit with her family. The call eventually comes: “Pastor, she’s gone.” Rushed and somber meetings with the family, a funeral, complete with bereavement meal. The entire church turns out for the service.

Several months later an announcement is made in the local newspaper: “Martha Davis leaves $1,000,000 bequest to local university.” Without a thought for her beloved congregation.

Martha isn’t alone.

Dr. Russell James of the University of Georgia released a study in 2013 entitled “American Charitable Bequest Demographics.” In that report, he noted that among the U.S. population aged 55 and older who have a will or trust, more than 10% of them have included a charitable bequest. The “National Survey on Planned Giving” also states that one in ten households has named a charity in their will.

When it comes to leaving a bequest to their church, however, Americans are far less likely to do so. Estimates range from less than 2% to a high of 7% of Christians leave a deferred gift to their congregation.

Why is that true? The simple answer: Leadership.

Pastors do not take the time to recognize planned gift opportunities in their congregations. Perhaps that’s because they can’t imagine what a planned giver looks like. Or, fearing accusations of “favoritism,” they are unwilling to engage planned gift prospects with conversations about giving. Perhaps they feel guilt or are just plain lazy. The bottom line is this: pastors don’t ask their members to consider planned gifts, such as wills or bequests. That hurts the congregation’s ministry.

A ministry of helping members make planned gifts is not difficult. Leaders must educate themselves first. Look at my new resource, Understanding Planned Giving and Bequests, as a first start in learning.