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Students at commencement

Vibrant Stewardship

Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church

Location: Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: 718 average worship attendance

 Download Ascension Lutheran's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context

We are located in the middle of Conejo Valley in Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles, with the blessing of California Lutheran University a few miles away. Our ministry has three parts: congregation with four distinct weekend worship services and many local and global outreach ministries; our weekday school of 275 infant through eighth graders; and our Foundation with $600k that provides scholarships, grants and seed money for local and global ministries.

Pre-existing practices

1. Joy of Giving Team

Our teaching, motivating, encouraging of faithful stewardship practices is not only 12-months, but weekly, with a weekly “Joy of Giving” article in our newsletter. If “stewardship is everything after we say ‘I believe,’” then it is not just a once-a-year emphasis or a once-a-month emphasis, but weekly. And for each person, daily and hourly!
Many of these weekly articles come from the good resources of the Luther Seminary stewardship website as well as ELCA churchwide, synodical and congregational stories.

2. Ascension Lutheran Foundation

The mission of the Foundation is to provide special, ongoing financial support for the congregational, community and global/synodical needs of Ascension Lutheran Church. There are eight scholarship funds and nine endowment funds.
The trustees have worked hard a managing the funds and making distributions, but now this year we will promote legacy giving for all families. (See “paths of engagement” below.)

3. Simply Giving and Online Giving

The Simply Giving Program is a convenient, safe and simple way for individuals to make automatic payments through electronic funds transfer (EFT) directly from checking or savings accounts. The Simply Giving Program is operated by Vanco Services, LLC. In 2010 Ascension began online giving through our website.
23% of offerings are received by these methods and we expect this to grow. Over 100 families use Simply Giving. It has made our month-to-month offerings more consistent. Thanks to Thrivent for the ministry of Simply Giving!

4. Gifts of Hope

This is our alternative Christmas giving program that raises money for ELCA global ministries (a different project each year, usually in Africa) as well as a local ministry. We have a two-weekend emphasis in November but Gifts of Hope continues through December.
Between $50k and $80k is raised each year.

5. Monthly Benevolences

Each month people are encouraged to give to a special benevolence of the month. They are either very local ministries or synod and global ministries, the newest being the ELCA Malaria Campaign.
The offering envelopes with these designations are always in the pews and the monthly benevolence is highlighted on the second weekend of each month.

6. “Caring Ones”

In every worship service all loose one dollar bills are designated as “caring ones” that are then used only for the unemployed, underemployed and homeless.
This generates about $800 a month for those in need, with gas and grocery gifts cards and help with rent or utilities.

Discoveries from listening process

1. No Discussions of Stewardship as a Faith Practice

According to our survey, 40% of our congregation answered that they did not have any discussions of stewardship as a faith practice growing up in their households.
This is important because we want stewardship to be freely discussed and understood by our members, young and old. This is a concept we want people to be familiar with at a young age.

2. Need to Expand Joy of Giving Team

We need to expand our Joy of Giving Team to help spread duties and bring in new talents to assist with the planning of future stewardship projects.

3. Desire to Improve the Connection between the Congregation’s Giving and the Vision of the Pastors

We want to improve the connection between our congregations' giving and the vision of the pastors. It is important for the congregation to understand the vision for the church, to have input, and to appreciate why specific stewardship projects are planned.

Opportunities for growth

1. Promoting Legacy Giving with and for our Foundation

2. Nurturing Children and Families in Faithful Stewardship

3. Encouraging Other Congregations in our Synod in Faithful Stewardship as We Learn and Grow Together

Experiments undertaken

1. “Let Your Light Shine… and Shine!”

Based on Matthew 5:14-16 and our baptismal identity and purpose, we will promote legacy giving among every family in our congregation. Gifts given to our Foundation (or the ELCA Foundation or the Lutheran Community Foundation) would be gifts that would perpetually “let our light shine.”

Our team will work with our Foundation as well as with Pastor Keith Nelson of the ELCA Foundation (who will be here Nov.5-6) and Greg Shepherd in our region. We will identify and train key leaders who would then do home visits or home dinner gatherings in “telling the story” of how our legacy gifts will continue “to shine” for the work of God’s mission near and far.

Our Foundation has been strong in managing funds and faithful in distribution of grants and scholarships, but this “path” will help us better promote legacy giving for all families. Families need to “be asked.” We dream that we could have total future commitments of $10 million dollars. What a blessing and joy this would be for future local and global ministries! As our team travels down this path, we will evaluate our methods effectiveness and make adjustments as we proceed, to accomplish these goals for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

One question that we will continue to explore is, if in the asking, we need to provide people with alternatives with the receiving fund, that is, with our Foundation, or the other two mentioned above? One reason for asking this question is that our Foundation is managed by our own trustees. Would some families feel more secure with their gifts with a foundation that was managed outside, professionally? How best do we attract large legacy gifts?

Also, as we develop this “path,” this model, we ask how often this could be repeated in our congregation, so that more people, future families, will continue to be asked to participate in legacy giving, to “let their light shine… and shine!”

2. Healthy Habits

We would like to utilize the time between our first Sunday worship and Sunday School (8:30am - 9:20am) to have breakfast and work with families and children. We will be putting together a program based on existing workshops - maybe from or We need to put together an announcement and verify interest. This will probably take place in January/February and we would like to make it an annual event.

We want to improve discussions of stewardship as a faith practice in our households and hope this will be a spark for our families on how to have these conversations at home. Hopefully this will lead to an annual series going forward. Open discussions about stewardship outside of this event will be a great indicator of its success.

Our plan is to build this into the church calendar and that people will know that January/February is family planning time. We might move onto other topics besides stewardship, but think this is the best place to start. We are open to using existing workshops/ideas and will customize for our congregation.

3. "Let the River Flow!" and "Ventures in Growing Stewards"

These are two parts of one path that seek to encourage all congregations in our synod in faithful stewardship, even as we grow in our own.

“Let the River Flow” – this was a past stewardship emphasis at Ascension, based on Ezekiel 47 and the artwork of John August Swanson, that our team will share with each of the nine conferences of our synod at the bishop’s leadership events throughout our synod in September and October 2011. We will lead the Bible study at each event and be part of the panel discussion on faithful stewardship.

“Ventures in Growing Stewards” is the ELCA ministry that our congregation will participate in and our team share in the leadership in our synod. Ventures in Growing Stewards is a four-part workshop series that develops a vision and plan for growing stewards through a year-round stewardship ministry. The process is organic in that each congregation develops an approach to fit their context and culture. For many congregations this experience has included moving from a “paying the bills” approach to stewardship to a healthier response of “living the mission.”

As part of this workshop series, participants will receive tools to grow in their personal stewardship and resources to teach others. Each participant will receive online access to assessment tools, education materials, communication elements, and response methods. These will be helpful in completing the assignments between workshops and in implementing a year-round plan. Workshops in our congregation and synod will begin in the spring of 2012.

Our congregation, as we continue to learn and grow, seeks to be a resource to other congregations in our synod. With strong lay leadership and the ability to emphasize stewardship ministries in our budget and with staffing, we can “learn as we teach” others, as we learn from them too and grow together. We need to be using the good resources of our ELCA in the Ventures ministry. We seek stronger partnerships with our sister congregations and with God’s mission around the world. We will measure its fruitfulness in the numbers of leaders who are trained in our congregation in Ventures, as well as the number of congregations and leaders in our synod who are trained with the Ventures workshops.

To request a copy of the CD “Let the River Flow” with its stewardship resources, email It is possible to learn more about Ventures from the website of the ELCA or contacting Keith Mundy at

Discoveries from experiments (July 2014)

Filed July 2014 by Steve Herder

We are very thankful to Luther Seminary, the Lilly Endowment, and colleagues from other VCP congregations. The six experiments that Ascension reported at the September 2012 gathering, at Luther Seminary, continue to bear fruit locally and globally. Also, because of our learning from other participating congregations, we have added new stewardship ministries that have proved to be a blessing.

  1. Joy of Giving: Last year for our Lenten book study, we read Adam Hamilton's book, Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity (250 copies of this book were sold). FY14 that just finished: net operating income was $123k better than budget. Every weekend in our newsletter we have some stewardship info or inspirational piece.
  2. Legacy Giving: In the past two years our Foundation received $70k in gifts, gave $23k in grants and the total fund is now $714k. We have worked with our ELCA Foundation rep. This past year we gave away three hundred copies of the book Provide and Protect.
  3. Caring Ones: These are all loose one-dollar bills in the offerings. All of this money goes to people who are unemployed, underemployed or homeless. For FY14 the total was $14,712.
  4. Gifts of Hope: Our alternative Christmas gift giving. In 2013, $104k, with $72k for building Lutheran churches in Zambia, and other monies for ELCA Malaria, and Hunger, and $13k for a local low-income housing ministry.
  5. Let the River Flow: This was the work with our Southwest CA Synod Table, with each conference. We led "Ventures in Growing Stewards" workshops and are now involved with the Macedonia Project.
  6. Listen, Learn, Love: Accompaniment trips to Peru (usually) every other year, last year with the ELCA Malaria Campaign to Zimbabwe, and this year with the ELCA Campaign, to Tanzania and Zambia, to strengthen these global partnerships and the financial support for them.

In addition, because of the advice from other congregations, this past year we did start Financial Peace University with forty people in the first class. Our director of finance, Jeff Oldt, "discovered his calling" in leading this group. It was very well received. We will start another class in January. This fall he will lead a nine-week class adapted for high school students.

Another motivating learning from other congregations was discovering ways of thanking our most generous givers. In our recent stewardship letter to the top twenty-eight givers, we invited them to a breakfast or lunch with me, as a way thank them and talk together about the mission of the church.

One very important financial advocacy ministry that we have grown is Jubilee, the cancellation of the odious debts of the world's poorest countries. Since the late 90's, with global partners, $130 billion has been cancelled! I serve as secretary of Jubilee USA and was thrilled to be at the Vatican in May for Jubilee meetings.

After our VCP work, also with some of you, we've been able to be part of two ELCA stewardship publications, contributing quotations to Stories of Faith in Action (an ELCA annual publication) and our story, “Gifts of Hope, for Africa,” in the book Stewards of God's Love.