Q&A with Stewardship Leaders Program Director Grace (Duddy) Pomroy ’12 M.A.
Congregational giving is changing. That’s not necessarily bad news.
Even before the pandemic, changing demographics and giving trends had affected many church budgets. As churches shut down or moved to social distancing in 2020, giving changed even more. Pastors could no longer rely on the unspoken message signified by passing an offering plate. They had to get creative if they wanted to retain or increase donations.
Grace (Duddy) Pomroy ’12 M.A., director of the Stewardship Leaders Program at Luther Seminary, is all about creative funding opportunities. As churches are less able to rely on tithes and offerings to provide a sustainable budget, they need to turn to other sources of income. The Stewardship Leaders Program’s Funding Forward project, which has been offered as a seminary course and as a year-long learning opportunity for congregational representatives—such as pastors or lay leaders—encourages congregations to explore innovative solutions to this problem. Pomroy believes that this may help churches better understand both their missions and their neighborhoods while remaining relevant and financially sustainable in a changing world.
Q: What inspired Funding Forward?
A: Funding Forward was started by my predecessor, Adam Copeland, and it was part of what attracted me to this role. Policy analyst Michele Wucker likes to talk about the “gray rhino”—the obvious danger that will trample you unless you manage to dodge or use it as an opportunity by jumping on its back. For many congregations, their gray rhino is a decrease in tithes and offerings. Funding Forward is about seeing this as an opportunity to reconnect with your mission and neighborhood.
Q: You’ve defined Funding Forward as “Finding more sustainable economic models for ministry that emerge organically from the organization’s mission.” What is your favorite example of that?
A: One example is SpringHouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis. Three congregations that were struggling with building expenses—First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lyndale United Church of Christ, and Salem English Lutheran Church—moved into one building together. Rather than merging, they operate as three partner congregations that share resources. This allowed these congregations to live more deeply into their missions and engage their neighborhood together by offering space to the community.
Q: The first Funding Forward course for Luther Seminary students was last summer, and a year-long learning opportunity for congregations started earlier this year. Is there anything that you’ve seen so far from the class or the congregational learning community that gives you hope?
A: When the winter session of the class began, students were nervous, but they left with excitement and a sense of hope. The students were required to share an idea for a meaningful, sustainable Funding Forward project. Ryan Cordle ’22 M.Div. designed a project for a congregation in Ohio that owns 166 acres of farmland. He suggested that the church repurpose some of this land to use as a pumpkin patch. This idea would help the congregation both generate revenue and connect with families in the community.
Q: What’s next for Funding Forward?
A: This fall we’ll be offering the Funding Forward course again for up to 60 Luther Seminary students. We’re also hoping to translate the course materials into a course for Faith+Lead Academy, a collection of Luther Seminary’s just-in-time learning experiences for Christian leaders.
Q: How can congregational leaders who are not part of this year’s learning community get involved in Funding Forward?
A: One of our best resources is the Stewardship Leaders newsletter. You can sign up on the Stewardship Leaders Program webpage. In addition, congregational leaders can benefit from our free Stewardship 101 resource, which includes topics such as online giving and talking about money when not asking for it.
Q: If you could say one thing to congregational leaders about church funding, what would that be?
A: Get to know your why. In just a few sentences, you should be able to articulate why your church matters to people both inside and outside of the congregation and why people should support its work.
Learn more at faithlead.luthersem.edu/stewardship.