Moving From A Dues System To Stewardship
By Fr. John Dresko
Additional Resources: Sample Financial Pledge Form
DEVELOPING A DESIRE FOR STEWARDSHIP
History/Older Parishes Every parish has an historical perspective about stewardship. If it is an older, established parish, its history may be such that stewardship was never taught. It may be that the “dues system” is the only system known in an older parish. In conjunction with that, perhaps the parish has always paid everyone for everything that had to be donecleaning the church, directing the choir, caring for the grounds, etc. Any time someone challenges the status quo, there may be resistance. Nonetheless, even a parish still on the dues system and paying for everything done at the church can be motivated to move towards a complete stewardship program.
The financial aspect of stewardship may be the last thing tackled in the program. In an older parish, perhaps the first principles of stewardship taught by a pastor or leader in the parish are those of time and talents. It is not unusual, for example, for a parish that still uses dues to struggle over paying bills. A first step towards complete stewardship may be to show the people how they can offer some of their time in cleaning, repairing, etc. which saves the parish money and offers something tangible from themselves to God. Once the desire to offer something to God is instilled, it is a logical next step to build a desire for other offerings. If a parish fights year after year to raise the dues to a level adequate to fund its budgetary needs, what happens in that the budget eventually takes hits in the very places it shouldn’tsalaries, education and outreach programsbecause those are the easiest to cut.
History/Newer Parishes Even a brand new parish comes to a stewardship program with some perspective about it. Many new parishes more easily accept a pledging program because it is different from what was experienced in prior, older parishes. If the parish is begun with pledging and proportional giving principles, it is much easier to instill other basic Christian stewardship principles.
A true stewardship program is truly in place in a parish when the members give of their time, treasure and talent because they see the abundance they have been given as a gift from God. That gift is given back to God in gratitude and love. They are simply caring for that abundance while here on earth.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
Once a basic desire for stewardship is there, it is important that a proper foundation and time frame be laid. A successful stewardship program cannot “click” into place just because it is a new fiscal year. It is recommended that a program be phased in over a few years in an older parish.
A basic system of voluntary, proportional pledging can be instituted over three years. Encourage those at a parish meeting to vote for the implementation of a three-year plan. If that is not feasible, use the first year for education and then try to pass a “two-year” plan at the following annual meeting.
The first year should be spent in simple education. Preach about stewardship. Write about stewardship. Talk about stewardship. Never, however, preach, write and talk only about money. There are times, of course, that money must be a particular focus of a lesson or sermon. Compare and contrast today’s (or even better, yesterday’s) parish with tomorrow’s under stewardship. The first year can create a real thirst and anticipation among the people.
The second year can be an “either/or” year. The people in the parish that are ready to move to voluntary pledging can be given that option. The people that like the “old way” can remain with dues for another year. This will necessitate two things: first, it may be necessary to change your parish bylaws. If your bylaws are very detailed and state even the amount of dues required in order to maintain membership, it will be necessary to change them to something a little more generic, with wording such as “to be a voting member, one must fulfill his/her financial obligations as set by the parish” or “...must have a signed pledge card on file with the parish council.” Changing bylaws may be even more difficult than planning the entire stewardship program. But if adequate stewardship education has already taken place, that small change can easily occur. It is at the pastor’s discretion.
A second step would be a special mailing to parishioners with a form enabling them to choose either dues or pledging, and a place to fill in a pledge amount on the card. On this form there can also be an area where they can volunteer in writing for various duties, offices and chores around the church, and a simple table of proportional giving where a parishioner can glance down and easily calculate what 5% or 10% of his income would be as a church offering. (See Sample at end of article.)
The third year of the program would be to make the voluntary pledge system the financial system for everyone in the parish. Pledge cards or forms would be sent to every parishioner, along with the parish budget, and a letter from the pastor and council president, reminding people about the change. This letter should be educational and reinforce what had been taught during the previous two years. It is very important to be realistic but bold in forecasting what people should be pledging.
Avoid the temptation to have a “hybrid” systempreaching and teaching stewardship and voluntary pledging, while demanding a “minimum” pledge. A minimum pledge is nothing more than the former dues with a different name. It also encourages the parishioner to continue to give the minimum. Moving to a stewardship system takes a great leap of faith. Trust God.
Realistic expectations must be encouraged. Stewardship, and particularly financial stewardship, is not a “magic answer” to financial problems in a parish. Financial shortfalls can definitely be eliminated, but it is only through a real sense of sacrifice on the part of parishioners. The pastor and parish leaders must constantly keep part of the focus on this fact. They themselves must be totally committed to the stewardship program in word and deed, and must be examples to others who are still doubtful about Christian stewardship.
Part of the educational focus must be on the fact that a dues system and the resulting mentality is truly, in all objective measures, a losing system. It is not Christian, it is not effective, and it encourages the exact opposite in results than that which we would hope and expect. Parish dues are simply another bill to be paid, a tax that is to be as painless as possible: “What do I have to do to be a parishioner, Father?”
The parish budget, if there is one, is constantly under siege because to have a mission-oriented, growth budget costs money. When a realistic budget is formulated, the “dues” based on that budget may be $500, $1,000, or even more, per person. It is not fair, because there are people of genuinely modest means who struggle to pay their $250 or whatever dues the parish has asked. But it also is not fair because there are people of genuinely exceptional means who could contribute $5,000 or even $10,000 per year.
Don’t be afraid to use financial, scientific and logical arguments in the educational process. For example, even the person giving $5 to the parish each week is giving less each week as inflation erodes it. The bills of the parish go up, but giving does not necessarily match it.
Educational focus should also stress that the dues system contributes to the “smorgasbord” mentality prevalent in today’s church. A minimum budget does not include special projects, so the parish must go beg for funds to do special things. This places very special and important projects at the whim of parishioners.
Finally, educational focus must also stress that the whole dues system and its mentality create a vacuum in the other areas of stewardship. People who give little of anything freely, especially money, give very little freely of anything else they might offer. A person who is content to pay his/her dues at the last moment in order to remain eligible for the annual meeting is not likely to be a big donor of time and talent around the church. But when stewardship and freewill proportional giving take hold, it is a logical next step that time and talents will follow. We don’t want our people to pay a bill to the Church; we want them to love and care for it. We also don’t want people to be forced into unwillingly donating time and talent. The offering of time, talent and treasure should be a free offering of love from the heart.
PREACHING AND BIBLE STUDY
The Annual Parish Meeting is an Opportunity to Set the Stage for a Stewardship Program In general, the pastor’s report and the council chairman’s report can be one of two things. It can be a simple rehash of the past year’s events together with a look forward at some upcoming events on the calendar, or it can be a small rehash together with a vision for the parish. Long-term, medium-term and short-term goals are very important for any organization, but they are especially important for the organism that is the Church. The pastor’s report is the ideal place to begin setting the agenda in both time and vision for the movement into a stewardship program. The pastor can set forth a brief vision of what stewardship is, of where the parish is in regard to that vision, and where the parish should go from there. The council chairman and also the stewardship chairmanand there should be onecan do the same thing.
These reports should also be reproduced and circulated to all the parishioners in a newsletter or bulletin.
Sermons on Stewardship can be Preached throughout the Year There are particular Scripture selections that lend themselves well to these topics. In general, three rules for preaching about stewardship should be observed.
- Do not just preach about money. Preach about the positive aspects of giving. Preach about the positive aspects of sacrifice. Preach about the positive aspects of loving and caring for your parish. Preach about how God loves you so much that He gave you certain talents to share with His creation and the Church.
- Don’t be afraid to go outside of the Sunday lectionary to find good Scriptural lessons about stewardship. Many lessons can be found in the daily lectionary or from your own personal reading. When you find a particularly good passage for preaching, and especially if you actually preach a good sermon, record it on paper for further use. Publish it in a newsletter for everyone to read. Send it to your diocesan newspaper. The editor is always looking for good material. Contact the Orthodox Christian Publications Center and the Orthodox Church in America for its its use in educational material about stewardship.
- Don’t beat people with the topic week after week. Preach a good sermon about stewardship and then wait until God provides another opportunity, as He will. People resent having the pastor or a parish leader constantly harping on any topic, but especially stewardship. Pick and choose.
A Parish Budget Must Be Mission and Growth Oriented It is recommended that spending be budgeted as the first step in the budgeting-forming process. In this way, true priorities and goals can be planned without the “burden” of knowing what income you have to spend. It is easier to challenge parishioners to meet spending and cut some expenses as you go along than to simply find out what the parishioners are willing to give without knowing what spending should be.
It is important to remember that a parish is non-profit. Too often, parish councils want a budget that has padding for a “rainy day,” when in reality that padding is just an excuse not to pay the pastor an adequate salary, or to minimize the kind of commitment each parishioner has to make. Be bold in your spending estimates! Be generous and realistic when setting salaries.
A basic budgeting process would include:
Salaries and Benefits
OCA Pension Plan
Continuing Education Allowance
Similar categories for others paid by the parish
Utilities Property Maintenance
Gas (Oil) Maintenance Expenses
Telephone Loan Obligations
Water/Sewer Capital Improvements
Church Expenses Other Expenses
Candles OCA/Diocesan Assessments
Envelope System Parish Stewardship to Others
Wine/Incense Charitable Commitments (e.g., FOS, etc.)
Church School Discretionary
Kitchen/Office Expenses Miscellaneous
Challenge the Parishioners in Their Stewardship When the spending estimates are generous and set, challenge the parishioners to meet that expense budget with their giving. Use the budget process to show the people that each expense is important. Rational people, when confronted with a realistic budget and sound arguments for the expenses listed, will see the importance of funding it. Use the “proportional giving” charts and figures to show people that, for the most part, they are giving very little of their income to God. Rational people, when they are educated to the fact that they have been giving less than 1% of their income to the Church, generally try to increase their support.
Sell Your Budget Mail the budget to each and every home in the parish along with the pledge forms. Show the people that the parish is responsibly planning and caring for itself and now needs their help to complete the process. Have as open a forum as possible. Ask for suggestions on improving the budget. Don’t be “defensive” in supporting the budget. Be matter-of-fact. These are the figures required to accomplish what we need to do as the Body of Christ.
Consider an Every-Member Canvas Appoint a committee to arrange a schedule and take the budget and pledge forms to each and every home. In those homes, discuss and explain the budget and the pledging system. Leave the pledge forms and assure the parishioners that you know the parish can depend on their support. The committee size can be based on the size of the parish. Members of the committee (which probably should not include the pastor) must be pledging proportionally themselves and must be enthusiastic supporters of the budgeting process.
The Parish as an Organization Must Have Good Stewardship Principles Any sound stewardship program has to include a realistic support package in the budget for the priest. He is the one person responsible before God (and the bishop) for that parish and for the lives of everyone he shepherds. When it comes to the priest’s compensation, be fair and be guided by good will.
AFTER THE SYSTEM IS ESTABLISHED
Broaden the Vision A true steward offers the three “T”‘s (time, treasure, talents) to others. The ultimate stewardship to the Church is to offer oneself. Encourage church vocations as part of the stewardship process. Young men should be encouraged to study for the priesthood; everyone should be encouraged to study their faith and consider teaching, singing, reading, directing, etc. It is relatively easy to sign a check to the parish. It is much harder, in true stewardship, to give our lives to God in the Church.
There are also jobs that need to be done in the deanery, diocese, central church, and indeed, in the world-at-large. Offer some time as a delegate to an assembly. Serve on the Parish Council, Diocesan Council or Metropolitan Council. Attend faith study sessions at any levelparish, deanery, diocesan or national. Offer financial support outside of the local community to the seminaries, the national and diocesan appeals, international mission and outreach organizations such as Orthodox Christian Mission Center and the International Orthodox Christian Charities.
Broaden the Program A steward reaches a point of understanding when there is a realization that the church also must be a steward. Budgeting begins to include part of the parish income (ideally a tithe or 10%) for outside purposes. Following are some of the most common examples.
Community Outreach This can take many forms: visitation of the sick, the elderly, prisoners; a soup kitchen, a day care center; any type of outreach that begins to make the parish a steward to the community. The gospel reading of the Great Judgment (Matthew 25) is our scriptural inspiration for this. Set a percentage of the parish budget for this purpose.
Bequests Begin to educate parishioners to remember the parish in their wills. Wills are common now, but bequests to the Church are not so common. Materials are available from the Office of Planned Giving of the Orthodox Church in America to help educate parishioners in this matter. The parish, the seminaries, the institutions of the Church, the Central Church, scholarships, all can be remembered in wills. There are also very inventive ways to bequeath something before you die. Materials are also available for this.
Endowments An endowment is a fund set up that would simply build to a specified goal of capital. Once that goal is met, only the interest generated would be available for use. These endowments can be funded in many ways. People can will funds, the parish can budget an amount, contributions can be given. Some churches in this country have substantial endowments, some with capital of over $1,000,000. The interest generated allows more of the current donations to be used for other purposes such as outreach.
Stewardship is a way of life. It is the recognition that God has given us all that we have -even our lives. Nothing belongs to us. It all belongs to Him. We are but tenants in this world, entrusted with the care of those things God has given us. As stewards, we give them back to their proper Owner.
PREACHING/BIBLE STUDY SELECTIONS (NOT EXHAUSTIVE)
Proverbs 23:4-5Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Matthew 5-7Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Luke 10:25-37Good Samaritan
Romans 12The consecrated life
Titus 2:1-10Time in relationships as stewardship
James 1:22-27Be doers of the word, and not hearers only
Numbers 18The Lord gives a priesthood to make the offerings for the people (tie this in with the “royal priesthood” of 1-2 Peter)
Proverbs 18:16A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.
Matthew 5-7Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Matthew 25Parable of the Talents (cf. Luke 19:11-27)
Luke 15-16Prodigal Son, Dishonest steward
John 15:1-7The vine must bring forth fruit
Romans 12The consecrated life
1 Corinthians 7:7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
1 Corinthians 12-14Spiritual gifts
Galatians 5:16-6:2Works of the Spirit
Galatians 6:2-10Reaping what we sow
Hebrews 6:1-8Apostasy and dead works
James 1:22-27Be doers of the word, not hearers only
James 2-3Good works and faith
1 Peter 4:10-11As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Genesis 22Story of Abraham and Isaac
Leviticus 25Even the land keeps the Sabbath and makes an offering to the Lord
Deuteronomy 8:17-18Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the light of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as at this day.
Deuteronomy 16:16b-17They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessings of the Lord your God which He has given you.
Matthew 5-7Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Matthew 19:16-26Rich young man (cf. Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)
Matthew 25Great Judgment
Mark 12:41-44The widow’s mite (cf. Luke 21:1-4)
Acts 5:1-11Ananias and Sapphira
Acts 20:35(Paul said) In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Romans 12The consecrated life
Romans 13:6-10Taxes, giving and money
1 Corinthians 16:1-4Contributions
Ephesians 4:28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.
1 Timothy 6:7-11Love of money is the root of all evil
James 2Care for the poor
James 5:1-9Contrast between the cares of the rich and godliness
SPIRITUAL ATTITUDE ABOUT STEWARDSHIP
Genesis 4Story of Cain and Abel
Exodus 35:4-5Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded. Take from among you an offering to the Lord; whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s offering….”
Leviticus 1:1-6:7Types of offerings expected of Israel
1 Kings 18Contest of the offerings on Mount Carmel (“God vs. Baal”)
1 Chronicles (3 Kings) 29:13-14And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious Name. “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given You.”
Proverbs 23:26My son, give Me your heart, and let your eyes observe My ways.
Matthew 21Parables of judgment (read during Holy Week services [cf. Mark 11:11-23; Luke 11-12])
Mark 15:43-16:8Joseph of Arimethea (Caring for the Body of Christ)
Luke 11:9-13God is generous to us (cf. Stories of the “five loaves”)
Luke 14:12-24Attitudes about giving; Great Banquet
Luke 16Dishonest steward; Lazarus and the rich man
Luke 17:11-19Ten lepers cleansed (thanksgiving)
Luke 19:45-46And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (cf. Matt 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; John 2:18-22)
John 6:27-51God gives the Bread from Heaven; Jesus as the bread of life
John 21:15-25Peter’s confession (if you love the Lord, feed His sheep)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20Glorify God in your body
1 Corinthians 9:2-12Apostleship
1 Corinthians 10:28-33Do all that you do to the glory of God
2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15The offering for the Jerusalem church
Ephesians 5:Marriage as a mutual sacrificeimage of our relationship with the Church
1 Thessalonians 5:16-23Give thanks in all circumstances
Hebrews 10:1-10The offering of Christ is the only true offering
1 Peter/2 PeterPastoral exhortations about stewardship; royal priesthood
ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA MATERIALS
Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries
Handbook on Stewardship, Department of Religious Education (1977)
Study Papers, Fifth All-American Council
The Orthodox Church, as well as Diocesan publications.
BOOKS ON STEWARDSHIP (not meant to be exhaustive)
Coniaris, Anthony M. Where Moth and Rust Do Not Consume, Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishers, 1983.
Knudsen, Raymond B. New Models for Creative Giving, Chicago: Follet Publishing, 1976.
Knudsen, Raymond B. New Models for Financing the Local Church, Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1974.
Schaller, Lyle E. Growing Plans, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983.
Schaller, Lyle E. 44 Ways to Expand the Financial Base of Your Congregation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.