Last week YALT, the young adult wing of the CRC, announced their “40 Under 40” - young leaders who are influential beyond their home church. Browsing it, we couldn’t help noticing some familiar names who just happen to be FaithStreet customers. Let’s give a round of applause to:

Peter Armstrong & Ben Spalink:

Peter is the church planter and lead pastor of Dwell Church in New York City’s Bowery district. Originally from Washington state, Peter planted Dwell just a few years ago with a Mumford-and-Sons-like atmosphere and band. Along with Ben Spalink (on our honorable mention list), he is active in the New York City Cluster and Kingdom Enterprise Zone, which teams up with local RCA leaders to pursue mission in the most influential city in the world. He also mentors lots of young up-and-coming leaders.

Also on the list? Honorable mention winner Eric Dirksen (Pastor at Christ Church of Davis), and some guy named Sean Coughlin, who we understand to be none other than the CEO and co-founder of FaithStreet.

Congrats to all honorees, but a special hat tip to Peter, Ben, Eric and Sean. Thanks for being a part of FaithStreet!

We talk a lot about online giving here at Faithstreet (seriously, we’re the best at it), but churches just as often turn to more “traditional” fundraisers for specific needs in causes. What’s your go-to? A car wash? A bake sale? Sure, those are fun, but just a little extra creative thinking can draw more eyeballs to your needs.

Case in point: One church in Indiana, who lost a bus in an accident that killed three adults (along with an unborn child), had an innovative idea for a fundraiser for a new bus: Trash.

On Saturday, Colonial Hills Baptist Church reached out for help, holding a paper-shredding fundraiser to raise money for a new bus. They processed 825 pounds of material, saving seven trees. After a matching donation from Money Concepts Capital, the church will have raised just over $5,000 for the Colonial Hills Chad/Courtney Bus Replacement Fund.

What a great idea! The average American has no shortage of paper refuse lying around. More importantly, many people are neglectful when it comes to sensitive documents, which is a good way to fall victim to identity theft.

A good fundraiser does three things:

1) It meets a need of the giver

2) It avoids being burdensome for both the church and the giver

3) It clearly compels givers to take action.

This one did all three - people need paper shredded, arguably more so than they need a clean car or sugary snacks. All things considered, shredding paper is a relatively easy task. Finally, they clearly articulated their need and paired it with an innovative fundraising idea that stood out.

The next time you plan a fundraiser, keep those three keys in mind.

For a church leader, attendance is everything. Sure, a lot more goes into a healthy, thriving church, but it all depends on how many butts you have in the pews. With a recent Pew poll finding that people are definitely, maybe, sort of falling out of touch with religion, it’s not surprising to see pastors languishing over declining attendance rates.

But wait - what if your congregation isn’t actually shrinking at all? Thom Rainer over at Patheos has an interesting theory: Are your numbers really declining, or just your frequency?

If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week, average attendance is 200. But if one-half of those members miss one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.

Did you catch that? No members left the church. Everyone is still relatively active. But attendance declined more than 12 percent because half the members slightly changed their pattern.

Is it possible that this is all wishful thinking? Of course, and even Thom notes that this is just speculation - he hasn’t looked at any numbers. Even if he’s right, does it matter? Fewer people on average are still fewer people on average after all.

Anecdotally, at least, it makes sense. People’s lives are increasingly over-scheduled, particularly the families churches rely on to fill the pews. The takeaway is that when evaluating your acquisition strategy, don’t immediately look at declining numbers and say “GAHHH WE NEED TO GROW!” Instead, maybe it’s an issue of engagement.

In the workforce, an engaged employee is a productive one. It’s the same in a church. When evaluating declining participation rates, ask yourself what your church provides as an incentive for people to carve out some of their ever-decreasing free time to stay involved (beyond divine obligation, of course). The more engaged people feel, the more likely they are to see church as not just somewhere they go, but something they do, part of who they are.

Of course, there will always be people with more obligations than there are hours in the day. Need a good outlet for those people to feel involved, even when they physically can’t be? Might we suggest… online giving?

You know non-profit giving has reached the big time when the “paper of record,” the New York Times, has one of its top economic consultants on the case. In this week’s column, Robert J. Shiller examines what motivates people to not only give, but give more. He discusses a recent paper where researchers did a little experiment to see how they could influence giving:

Prospective donors were randomly divided into a control group and an experimental group. The only difference was that those in the experimental group had the option to donate money to a specific academic college, rather than the university as a whole.

Interesting. What do suppose might have happened?

The researchers found that while there was little difference in the probability that the individuals in the two groups would make a donation, the people in the experimental group gave much larger amounts. That was true even for those who ultimately decided to donate to the general fund. Just being given the choice of active involvement, and then not taking it, increased the donation.

Well, fancy that! When people have more autonomy over their giving, when they feel a connection to a specific cause, they’re inclined to give more. Even when they end up donating to the general fund.

Shiller goes on to discuss some, other, more conceptual ideas about where we could go from there, but take a moment to consider how you, as a church leader could act on the aforementioned study’s findings.

As a church, you’re always happy to accept general donations in the offering plate. Also, assuming you’re really a church and not actually a hobo standing on a corner with a steeple-shaped box on your head, you probably also have various ministries and missions operating at any given time, all competing for funds. With so many competing priorities (but only so much time in a service), how do you make clear to your congregation that they have choices?

Simple - online giving

Yes, yes, we are in the business of online giving, but in this instance there really isn’t a more efficient way to a) make sure money goes to where it’s needed and b) capitalize on the benefits of the behavioral economics experiment discussed above. With FaithStreet online giving, you can of course set up a general giving fund, but you don’t need to stop there - set up one for every one of your ministries, if you wish. Best of all, there’s no need to waste time passing around multiple offering plates - just make an announcement, or hand out fliers.

Online giving, through simple implementation alone, has been shown to increase giving anywhere from 10-30 percent. Combine that with options that let the giver know they have some agency in the matter and, well. The sky’s the limit.

You could even afford to buy that hobo a new steeple hat.

Image credit: Doug Chayka/New York Times

A couple of months ago, OnFaith shared a story titled “Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials.” It got considerable social media exposure, likely because anything nodding in the direction of a doomed church is exceptionally shareable. The piece featured a few statistics, including the following:

White Christians make up only a quarter of younger Americans. There are more Nones — those with no religion — than white Christians in this age group.

Yikes. Young white folks, the so-called Future of America, or more likely to have no religion at all than they are Christianity (to say nothing of other religions). The alarm is reasonable. After all, without a young, white, upwardly-mobile congregation, how can any church expect to survive?

Simple: Get with the program, and increase diversity.

That very same week, OnFaith ran a piece called “New Church Growth Strategy: Intentional Ethnic Diversity.” If the first post stated the problem, this was the answer, or at least an answer. And yet, while people (thousands of them) shared the first article, but only a handful shared the second. That’s a shame, because Helen Lee’s expose on intentional diversity is a lot more instructive.

The piece shares several success stories, but what they have in common is this: Churches, faced with aging, dwindling populations, saw the writing on the wall and understood what needed to be done in order to survive. It’s not about tokenism, either - it’s recognizing the ways the community in which you operate has changed, and forging genuine relationships with those people:

On Wednesdays, FCC opens its doors to children and youth in the community for tutoring, rehearsals in one of the many musicals the church produces in conjunction with the local public schools, and a free hot meal. Eighty percent of the people present in these mid-week ministries are non-Anglo.

If your congregation is beginning to look less and less like the community it serves, keep in mind that the primary function of any church is to, y’know, serve its community. While it’s tempting to view change as a hardship or burden, remember that nailing shut the doors of a failed church is likely much harder labor.

It’s important to spread the Word of God, yes. But, you can’t spread the Word to an empty chair.

Think back to college or secondary school sociology class. The instructor would perform an exercise where students would be asked to write down whether they considered their family lower, middle, or upper class. At the end, the instructor would plot out the distribution on the chalk board. Against all laws of probability and distribution, the overwhelming majority of students counted themselves among the middle class.

From what we’ve heard at FaithStreet, as goes socioeconomic self-perception, so goes church size self-assessment.

With the students, even the better off among them were likely raised to believe they were of more humble means, leaving only the truly ostentatiously wealthy to count themselves among the upper crust. With churches, we’ve heard churches with congregations numbering in the teens count themselves as “small,” as you’d expect.

We’ve also heard the same from congregations numbering in the hundreds.

Due to the nature of our business, the conversation is usually about online giving, and we hear the same thing a lot - “I like the idea, but our church is too small for it to make sense.” It’s understandable, to a degree. After all, there’s something distinctly un-pious about boasting of a church’s size. Along the same lines, online giving technology wouldn’t seem to “fit” with a small, humble church. Being “too small,” it seems, is a very en vogue thing for a church to be.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all: That is almost never the case.

With our online giving platform, monthly charges are not only steady, but intelligently calculated so that they make sense based on the size of your church. That means a congregation of 50 won’t pay the same as a congregation of 250 - it just wouldn’t make sense otherwise. When you consider that simply implementing online giving (to say nothing of proper promotion) increases giving anywhere from 10%-30%, can you really afford not to try it out?

No matter who you are, we probably have a plan that will increase your giving. Does your church meet in a school? A rural chapel? A backyard? An edifice the size of the Pentagon? We have you covered. Is your church just five minutes old and consists of you and your two friends at the bar “just talking about, like, God and stuff, man?” Fine, maybe it won’t work for you (but it could soon!)

Is your church on the moon? If so… the government would probably like to have a word with you, actually.

Click here to learn more about FaithStreet’s online giving options.

image

Last week at OnFaith, we featured a story from pastor J.R. Briggs titled "Why Half of All Pastors Want to Quit Their Jobs." Upon further fact checking, we found that titular statistic is… a little spurious, at best a little oversimplified. Still, there’s no denying it: Being a pastor is tough, and no one’s immune to the frustrations and burnout associated with the position.

Briggs sums up the core of the problem as follows:

Why do we believe [lies about the ministry]? Because in our time, the definition of ministry “success” has been professionalized to the point that it mirrors mainstream American culture’s definition of success. We celebrate and perpetuate metrics of success borrowed from the pages of business management textbooks. And these metrics of success are chewing up and spitting out pastors at an alarming rate.

He has a point. Churches are no longer humble friars doting over their flocks. Life is infinitely more complex and expensive than it’s ever been, and running a thriving church requires a lot of skills that many pastors lack when they enter the ministry. Like any other job, pastors are forced to juggle their day-to-day responsibilities (leading their communities) with larger, longer-term goals. As Briggs notes, some people saw this coming:

Thirty years ago, pastor and author Eugene Peterson wrote with prophetic clarity that pastors are expected to “run churches rather than care for souls.” Peterson was already concerned that pastors had become obsessed with keeping the customers happy and luring other customers away from the other religious shops down the street.

Briggs doesn’t really offer much of a solution - he decries this as a bad thing, and then reminds the reader that pastors are people too, susceptible to the same frustrations and insecurities as the rest of us.
Instead, allow us to go ahead and offer a solution:

Why not make church growth a focus, not a burden?

Yes, yes, a pastor’s place is with his people. But, in terms of preserving one’s sanity, what has longer-lasting, more easily achievable benefits? There are hundreds of proven resources out there for growing a church, and the goals and milestones are easily determined and measured. The same can’t be said for the ability to successfully counsel an addict, a criminal, etc.

Consider, too, what a church really is - a community of like-minded people. When you grow communities, you strengthen them. You help give it the resources it needs to help itself. The greater the strength of the community and its safety net, the more pastors are free to do what they do best: Provide spiritual guidance.

The juggling act will never completely go away - pastors will always have to be both administrators and spiritual leaders. All we’re saying is that when times get tough, when you start to feel a little too human, consider turning an eye towards a goal you can more easily quantify and achieve: Church growth. They don’t have to be absurd goals, either. Ask yourself, “How can I add one family, or even one person, to my church over the next month?”

Remember, it doesn’t have to be all dollars and cents, phone calls and fundraisers, either. Sometimes it’s about getting out into your community, meeting new people and making your presence known. Sometimes, that kind of growth is all it takes to renew your sense of purpose.

image

Online giving is slowly catching on among churches, and that’s a good thing (FaithStreet is certainly happy about it). Having it is one thing, but we hear all the time from churches that it seems slow to catch on. Fortunately, that’s a problem with an easy solution - you just have to tell people to use it.

Anyone with a background in sales or fundraising knows that the last (and most crucial) step in the process is, one way or another, asking your customer for their money. Churches are undeniably timid about this - unless they’re asking for donations for a certain, discrete cause, most pastors are content to do the offering plate do the talking. That may have worked when physical gifts were the only option, but it won’t do the job nowadays.

Is it uncomfortable to ask people to do something specific, especially when it comes to money? Of course it is, that’s why not everyone is cut out for a career in sales or fundraising. Unfortunately, as a church leader, it’s part of your job to spur your flock into supporting their church. The good news is, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Consider how much your community members already look to you for direction - spiritually, emotionally, morally etc. Given the weight of those issues, is gently expressing a preference in payment methods (of all things) really a tall ask? Hardly. After all, you’re nudging them towards a transaction method that not only increases giving for your church, but makes their financial lives exponentially easier as well.

When it comes time for collections at your next service, consider saying something simple, like “As the plate makes its way around, please keep in mind that online giving is our preferred option.” Use your own words, of course, but you get the idea. All you need to do is remind them that 1) online giving is an option, and 2) it’s the preferred option.

You’ll be surprised at how readily your church will respond, we promise.

Don’t have online giving yet? Make it happen here. It’s easier than you think.

image

"Millennials," people aged roughly 18-32, are an odd thing (Firefox’s spellcheck doesn’t even recognize the word): As The Washington Post noted last week, they want to live in hip, urban environments, but as soon as they make an are desirable, they often find they can no longer afford it and leave. A problem, indeed.

As we showcased last week at OnFaith, Kevin Lum took a look at the “influx-consume-flight” patter, and decided he no longer wanted to be a part of it. Instead, he wanted to give something back, and so The Table Church was born (though somewhat by happenstance):

"We had a choice — to keep criticizing the city or to be a part of the solution. So, we began inviting random people over for dinner and scheming what a community might look like that allowed people to stay in the city and transformed new residents from consumers to investors.

Out of those dinners, The Table Church was founded. I often joke that I’m the world’s worst church planter. I had no idea what I was doing — only a vision of what might be possible if Christians in D.C. were to take seriously Jeremiah 29:4-7.”

If it sounds like this “church” is just a bunch of elder-millennial bros sitting around having quasi-religious discussions, think again - community outreach and integration is their entire goal:

"One of the first things we noticed was that transient residents do not build relationships with their neighbors, especially when there’s a racial or socio-economic difference. So, we created a partnership with Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church, an African-American church that has been in the neighborhood for over 100 years. Douglas had a thriving food pantry and thrift store, but an aging population and decreased giving was making it harder to keep these ministries open. Now we run the ministries together as a team.

Imagine that - younger residents actually taking an interest in not only themselves, but in their neighbors who, in terms of demographics, couldn’t be more different from them. Kids these days, right?

In the end, Kevin’s story is a reminder that church growth can come from anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a big, organized push from a higher authority to build more brick and mortar churches. It doesn’t even have to be an aggressive (albeit quirky) initiative, like the Presbyterian one we featured last week.

Sometimes, it starts with concerned citizens taking an interest in (and responsibility for) their community. Head over to FaithStreet, type in the name of your church, and get started today. It’s that easy.

image

With an increasing number of Americans claiming spirituality but turning away from organized “traditional” denominations, growing an established church can be difficult. If you’re a church leader, you’ve undoubtedly experienced these non-growth pains yourself. However, if we can open our minds a bit, maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from other churches overcoming the same issue.

In an article this week at OnFaith, deputy executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Roger Dermody dropped something of a bomb: By 2022, the Presbyterian Church plans to add 1,001 new worshiping communities. The catch? In order to do so, they’re willing to think outside the box:

"Tamara John, an evangelist in our mainline Protestant denomination, started a church in Southern California in her custom RV with a 10-by-12-foot chapel in the back. ‘I’m talking with people who have walked away from God,’ she says. ‘To those who are struggling to trust God again.’"

A church. In an RV. Sound crazy? Sure it does! But, that’s also the point - historically, churches have grown by employing aggressive (if not unconventional) methods. Martin Luther didn’t grow the concept of Protestantism by hanging a sign outside his door that said, “Please come in, we’re done with the whole ‘transubstantiation’ thing, I swear.” Why would any current church expect appreciable growth via the same tactics they’ve been using for decades?

If the Presbyterians succeed, it will be because they had the foresight to not only get an idea of who their base is, but who their base isn’t. For instance:

"Nearly 50 percent of our new worshiping communities have been started by racial/ethnic minorities and new immigrants in partnership with our denomination’s judicatories. This is great news for a church that is 90 percent white — the average Presbyterian is a 63-year-old woman."

If you’re struggling to grow, maybe it’s time to take a look at what your church is lacking and then determine what it is those would-be community members are looking for. Plenty of people out there are looking for a way to express their faith - they’d be happy to be part of your community if you’re willing to give them an outlet.

In case you doubt the payoff for thinking differently, consider this: Hope For Life Chapel, the RV church, now includes 52 recreational vehicles in its park, each housing up to six people.

How’s that for growth?