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Stewardship Trends and Their Impact on Your Development Strategy

The article identifies changes and trends that are taking place in relationship regarding the practices and perceptions of stewardship.

Stewardship Trends and Their Impact on Your Development Strategy

A time of change, a time of emerging, a time of trends: so many things to consider when we are trying to build relationships with our donors. In our world of development and relationships, we must always be watching trends, learning about people, and responding when appropriate. Our world is one of constant response to the world of our donors.

While working on my Doctor of Ministry degree with a specialization in Leadership in the Emerging Culture, I studied many books and research on church and culture trends. Many changes are taking place in our world about which we as development professionals must stay informed. This does not mean that we will like every one of these trends; however, we must be aware of the world in which our donors live.

In one of the first books I read in my program, The Organic Church by Neil Cole, the author showed how many pastors after viewing the movie, The Passion of the Christ excitedly expected new people would be checking out their churches. Research showed that church attendance was not affected. The author came to this conclusion: the world is seeking the spirituality of this Jesus, but they do not believe they will find it/him in the religion of the church.

Stop and think of what this means for our local churches and missions. On one hand, the good news is that people still seek God. The bad news is it may not be in the "manner" in which we always thought it might be. The conclusion is, as ministries, our main calling is to share the gospel, and to connect God's people to God's work.

The following are some key trends I identified in my studies that have a direct impact on our development efforts in seminaries and in all types of ministries.

Trend 1: Changing Definitions of Stewardship

The Builder generation lived in a world where stewardship was taught in their churches and Sunday schools using words such as tithes and offerings. The tithe was to be the first 10% of income to be given to the local church. Offerings were given beyond the tithe for special projects in the church or to support parachurch ministries.

Unfortunately, the term stewardship today means the annual tithe talk, the annual church budget talk, or just how to get money for the church.

I wish to reintroduce the concept that stewardship is a lifestyle. I say reintroduce because my research found that many before me have written of this same perspective. Douglas John Hall in his great book, The Steward also presents stewardship as a lifestyle and a part of our walk with Christ. A stewardship lifestyle looks comprehensively at stewardship not only time, talent, and treasure but also relationships, knowledge, health, and the environment.  

Another definition of stewardship that is being written about is transformational stewardship versus transaction stewardship. Today many pastors entice giving by offering a great transaction to the person in the pew. "If you give today we will paint the nursery". "If you give today we will meet our budget." More and more donors want something in return. While that is not altogether wrong, (ex. wanting accountability in return for giving), it can lead givers and receives down a potentially negative path.

Being transformed to be more like Jesus is our desire as a Christian. Therefore, to be a transformational giver means you can give as part of your relationship with God, because you know it will please him, we draw closer and desire the things of God. When we desire the things of God, we are transformed.

It's about the Journey

This definition of stewardship as a lifestyle has more to do with our journey as stewards than it does with fundraising. God is more concerned with the journey of the steward that he is with our budgets or fund raising goals. My career in ministry has been focused on development and leadership. I have served as a worship leader, nursery volunteer and elder. But for the majority of my life, my gifts and talents have been used in the area of stewardship and development. In my twenty-eight years of working in ministry I have never seen God run out of resources. I have seen God bless many organizations with donors and million-dollar gifts. He has not said, "Take it easy on the campaigns, I am running out of cattle on the hillside."  But it seems we are obsessed with "our" goals. We see our front-line ministry is from God, but we have viewed the steward as a "resource."

There are many directions, discussions, and laws regarding the steward as the follower of Jesus. His word directs us to excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7) and he instructs us to seek every opportunity to be generous. (2 Corinthians 9)

Our 501(c)'s are Not in the Bible

To my leadership friends in churches and parachurch ministries I have a challenge for you: Your organizations are not in scripture. What you do is. To feed the hungry, care for the widow and the orphan, share the good news and so forth are clearly in scripture. But your organization, denomination, or local church structure is not defined in the bible. Along with your front-line ministry, the steward on the other side of your organization is clearly defined in scripture.

What we see in scripture is that God is very concerned with how we live our lives. He is also concerned with how we, as stewards, invest ourselves in front-line ministry. We will be held accountable for our stewardship generosity as it relates to God's people and our care for them. (Philippians 4:17)  Conclusion: Our churches and ministries are conduits for stewards to exercise their stewardship priorities and callings.

Trend 2: The Lack of Stewardship Education

Through my research of theological schools and also involvement with the Development and Institutional Advancement Program of the Association of Theological Schools, I did not find any schools that offered programs, courses, or even classes in stewardship as a ministry. If there were any classes touching on this subject, it was in a church business administration class. In this approach it referred only to the financial aspect of church finances and the pastor.

What a disappointment it is that after all these years of Christian Stewardship Association, Christian Management Association and other organizations working on the topic, still no organization of higher learning has seen the need to offer a degree in this field.

So why as development officers should we are concerned with the lack of stewardship education? Each profession becomes a profession by acquiring a body of knowledge (a library) and then offering education degrees in that profession. The profession of fund raising has been working on this for many years. (see  [Association of Fundraising Professionals]) How can we expect our donors and congregations to see stewardship as an integral part of our lives if our Christian community and society does not see any value in the profession? Our seminaries are not fostering any research nor offering any courses in stewardship. Our pastors have not received any seminary training in stewardship as a part of the Christian life. It's no wonder that churches where generosity is not taught implement the latest fundraising strategy as their model.

As Christian ministries, we must continually be searching for ways to educate our donors in stewardship and the life of a steward. There are many resources to guide us. We as development or stewardship professionals must be advancing our field to bring new and energetic young people into this great ministry of development. Only then will we become a profession that not only trains and equips stewards for kingdom work, but also provides the necessary resources of prayer, volunteers, and finances to fund the work.

Trend 3: Builder-, Boomer-, Buster-, and Bridger-age Views of Stewardship

As each generation moves through their time of biblical training, or lack thereof, the results in giving have been interesting and alarming. Allow me to share my observations of how each generation views stewardship.

Builders were taught to give tithes and offerings. The first 10 percent went to the local church, and any additional giving went to special projects in the local church or to support parachurch ministries. They were faithful and trusted leadership and very legalistic in terms and definitions.
Boomers gave to the local church more by example than pulpit teaching but grew weary of local and denominational mandates on giving. Stewardship then expanded to include parachurch such as Focus on the Family, Youth for Christ, and local rescue mission. They could "see" their giving and it served them, (the start of narcissistic focus).

Busters are weary of all manipulation in church asking for money. Giving to church is OK but so is giving to parachurch organizations. They also believe that social, medical, and educational nonprofits are part of God's work and need their financial support. Busters view word stewardship as synonymous with fundraising.

Bridgers (Mosiacs-Barna) are still developing their view of stewardship, but  indications are the narcissistic, "me-first" attitude will continue, as will a backlash to being more concerned with others rather than just themselves. Stewardship of the environment will be very important to this emerging culture.

Now is the time to recapture biblical stewardship as transformational in the life a Christian and to teach stewardship as a way of life rather than a way to get money from someone.

Trend 4: Boomer-Aged Pastors are in Power

This is a time when a Boomer Age pastors have moved into senior pastor positions. Consequently, we must understand how they have or have not been trained in stewardship as compared to fundraising. We must also understand their models and input. Many pastors have shied away from the abuses of raising money from previous leaders and have taken much input from the "business world experts" who say the local church should operate more like a business. This reinforces the philosophy that the offering is a "revenue stream" and is a part of the budgeting process for the local church.

Trend 5: Emerging Church is Gaining Influence

God is moving in his people. The next generation of the church is making changes as fast as possible, such as throwing out tradition. They are highly skeptical and embrace ideas such as "walk your talk" and "teach the truth." While these trends are to be uncomfortable to some, it is important to begin including young emerging church leaders on boards and in leadership and connecting them to the current and previous generation of leaders.

Trend 6: Relationships are Key

Relationships will be the litmus test for every ministry in the coming years. The emerging culture is asking us to "walk with me, do not just lecture at me." Relationships with our donors will be critical to any success even today.

TREND 7: Vision is Still Vital

People still respond to a call to vision. Vision is seeing the unseen. Vision is stepping out in faith. People still want to follow a leader as they step forward into the future. Donors still want to follow a vision for the ministries they support.

Trend 8:  A strong and clear case is still vital

Stewards still care whether where they give is a strong and focused ministry. The case for support answers the question, "Is this ministry worthy of my support?" The accountability and clearly communicated mission and vision are key to a strong case for support. The wise steward will ask for one.

Trend 9:  The Relationship between the Church and Parachurch Continues to be Unstable

This trend has been impacting development for many years. While there are many situations for churches and parachurch ministries to work well together, the majority still see each other as competition or "taking donors" from one another.

Trend 10:  Huge shift in Leadership and Followership

As the generations continue to age and change, their views of leadership varies greatly. The Builder, Boomer, and Buster leaders are very different in how they make decisions, practice team, and believe in synergy. The remarkable trends worth watching is in followership. It is amazing how obedient and faithful the Builder follower was compared to the skeptical and ambivalent Buster follower.

When We Face Our God

I believe when we face our God he will not say, "Let's see John and Susan. Let's count up the church offerings you gave." I think it will be more like, "I put you in one of the greatest times of history, in a country of great wealth, gave you an education, a wonderful spouse, children, jobs, money, talent, and a beautiful place to live. I gave you the internet, global air travel, talented pastors, and good health. So what did you do with all of that to love my people and impact my Kingdom?" Let us pour our ministry's emphasis where God's is, on the front-line ministry and the steward.


Dr. John R. Frank, CFRE, DMin, and President of the Frank Group, presented this paper at the 2009 Development and Institutional Advancement Program.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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