At Normandale Lutheran Church, they are looking at ways to change their ideas of stewardship from a yearly talk or sermon to a daily life understanding. This articles gives insight into the process that Normandale went through and resources that they were able to use. The article gives some insight to the future plans and outcome of the ideas thus far within Normandale.
Changing Stewardship at Normandale Lutheran Church
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:8-9
This is not a typical stewardship scriptural passage, and we're not dealing with a typical stewardship issue. As congregations and as denominations, we all are being challenged with stagnant or declining levels of tithing, envelope contributions and annual giving. This article is a snapshot of how one congregation has approached changing the focus of stewardship: "How do we get from what we are doing now - that we all agree isn't working - to a point where what we do does work?"
Normandale Lutheran Church is located in Edina, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Normandale has been blessed with a growing and generationally diverse congregation. Our membership demographics are reflective of our community: 26 percent of members are age 60 or greater, 26 percent are younger than 20. We also have a small foundation that was created in 1974. It has grown to just over $1 million in total assets, a relatively small growth in assets for a foundation that is 34 years old.
Despite our growth and changing demographics, our approach to stewardship has remained widely unchanged since the congregation was founded more than 55 years ago. Like many congregations, both urban and rural, our rhythms and rituals of stewardship have been highly predictable over the past decades. September brings the start of school, the start of the annual stewardship process, the creation and communication of the current "one message for all," and the delivery of great sermons and temple talks on giving and tithing. In October comes the ingathering, accompanied by a collective congregational and pastoral sigh of great relief that stewardship is over for another year. Assuming that the ingathering provides sufficient pledges to develop a budget for the coming year, there will not be a sermon on tithing, or a temple talk or stewardship presentation read or heard, until the following September when the cycle starts again.
The general giving level - think operations budget and Sunday envelope giving - at Normandale over the past decade has remained stagnant against the background of a major capital campaign from 1998-2003 and Marching Off the Maps, a major benevolence fund appeal for 2005-2010 where 75 percent of the funds raised will go towards mission and ministry and only 25 percent to bricks and mortar.
More significant, over the past decade total annual pledging units declined by 16 percent and total pledged dollars increased by 15 percent, an average of 1.4 percent annually, resulting in budgeting stress and increasing pressure to hold down costs, particularly in the largest expense category, salaries and benefits. Mission and ministry were being held back by a lack of resources.
Against this backdrop, in late 2006 a Task Force for Stewardship was formed to discuss a new approach to stewardship at Normandale. The task force had representation from a broad cross section of church members including church council; stewardship, benevolence, and finance committees; foundation board; and other key lay leaders.
Having a broad spectrum of participants helped ensure strong and spirited discussions. Discussion, however, is useful only to a point. Like any successful organization, we needed to better understand the congregation's members - in business terms, our customers. During early 2007 a series of stewardship focus groups was held with members of the congregation. These focus groups were created using the five prevalent demographic age groups within the congregation: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, Veterans, and Saints, whom we defined as those Veterans over age 84.
We learned through our focus groups that the "one message fits MI" and the "once a year and we're done" stewardship model is not effective. There is a disconnect in members' understanding of the link between envelope giving and operations. During separate focus groups conducted concurrently by the foundation, it was confirmed that the foundation is largely unknown by the congregation and is unsupported by the majority of its members.
Those findings helped form the initial base for a new model for stewardship that we call Adaptive Stewardship. It is a model that is scripturally based, with messages and intentional communications designed to engage and excite members of the congregation, meeting them at the age and place they are in life, just as the Risen Christ meets us. This program introduces two concepts that are new to many church stewardship models: a life cycle (cradle to grave) approach to stewardship; and an integration of the different giving opportunities (tithing, annual giving, major gifts, and lifetime and testamentary gifts) within the congregation into one cohesive message. Adaptive Stewardship involves engagement and integration, not competition.
This program is designed to educate our members on charitable and annual giving, creating coordinated annual campaigns covering both stewardship (operating funds) and annual giving to the foundation. It seeks to create resources and activities that are proven, scalable, and replicable through:
- Focused and personalized communications to each demographic group;
- Partnerships with professional fund raising and charitable giving advisors, including financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys; and
- Creation of a director of stewardship and development position to lead both the stewardship activities of the congregation and the development activities of the foundation.
What We Learned
Changing established and comfortable stewardship habits takes the commitment and participation of pastors, church staff, and congregation leadership. Simply changing a brochure will not deliver the desired change or results. New programs are not without cost, and changing the established rhythms and practices of any church is challenging. New communication materials need to be developed, new giving programs created, communications more focused, new tracking and monitoring systems acquired and installed, and a new staff position funded. At Normandale, all this needed to happen in light of marginal increases in annual giving and decreases in pledge units. In 2007, to begin the process of changing the rhythm of stewardship, separate programs were designed and held for each of the demographic groups. The content delivered to each group was consistent. The message was tailored to the respective demographic group using what we learned through the focus groups. Based on the initial feedback, these programs were well-received. These programs were funded by restructuring the existing stewardship budget.
To fund the giving programs, staff salaries, and other related costs, we had to find sources outside of the annual operating budgets of the congregation and foundation. We had a two-pronged approach to finding the funding. The first was to write an application for a Charitable Gifting Initiative grant through the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation. This is a grant program designed to support Lutheran organizations' growth efforts by educating and motivating donors about the role charitable gifts play in supporting congregations' work. The second was to take a page from the business world. Equity funding is one way companies obtain the resources needed to develop new products and expand. We called our equity funding, Angel Funding. We developed a case statement, executive summary, budget, timetable, and a detailed outline of the Adaptive Stewardship program. Presentations were made to two groups of "investors" and the funds needed to launch the Adaptive Stewardship were raised.
The vision for the foundation was updated. New goals and strategies were adopted to support and help make the vision of the foundation a reality. One of those goals is to increase its total assets by 250 percent over the next two years. This may seem aggressive. We feel that with clear and intentional communication of the goals and vision, and the work of a dedicated director of stewardship and development, this goal will be achievable. As the foundation's assets grow, so will the funds available for existing and new missions and ministries.
We have completed the first year of Adaptive Stewardship. We feel that we have been successful in engaging the congregation; this year's ingathering saw an 8 percent increase in pledges. Also, 55 percent of the way through Marching Off the Maps, we have collected 75 percent of pledges (usually these percentages are reversed at best).
In a short period of time we completed a dozen focus group sessions, adopted a new vision and strategic plan for the foundation, wrote and received a Thrivent Financial Foundation Charitable Giving Initiative Grant, held events for each of the five demographic groups, and completed the Angel Funding. It has taken many committee meetings, council meetings, executive committee meetings, board meetings - so many that we've lost count - and the combined efforts of the pastors, lay ministry staff, church council, and foundation board members to accomplish all this. This is a good start and more is being done and planned.
As you read this, you may be thinking, "How does my congregation get from where we are now to where we need to be?" Every congregation has unique needs, challenges, resources, and gifts. As we developed our program, we felt that the concepts could be replicated in any size congregation in any setting.
Adaptive Stewardship is not a four-week program, rather, it is a year-round, holistic approach to stewardship. Our current rhythms of stewardship and charitable giving had become ingrained over time, and it will take time to change those rhythms. Based on the results that we've seen this past year and the feedback of our members, the program seems to be well-accepted.
Posted by permission to use this manuscript on Stewardship for the 21st Century. The author, Bob Sannerud, retains rights. Mr. Sannerud is a member of Normandale Lutheran Church, a member of the Task Force for Stewardship and is the past president of the Normandale Lutheran Church Foundation. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Bob Sannerud is a member of Normandale Lutheran Church, a member of the Task Force for Stewardship, and is the past president of the Normandale Lutheran Church.