Funding Ministry

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The Significant Shifts in How Churches Raise Money to Fund Their Mission and Vision

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I think most church leaders would agree that they’re experiencing some shifts in giving. And while it’s not always easy to talk about money, finances resource our ministries and our churches. It’s important that they’re healthy.

In the past 15 years, the percentage of households giving to charity has dropped 18%. The research says that the number one corollary to generosity is being a Christian. With trends showing a significant decrease in generosity, how can we adjust? How can we develop cultures of generosity?

On this week’s episode, Joe Park, from Horizons Stewardship, joins me on the podcast to talk all things money and giving. Specifically, you can expect to learn:

  • The correlation between financial health and ministry health
  • The biggest giving shifts that they’re seeing in the Church
  • If traditional financial campaigns and annual pledges are behind us
  • How Millennials are impacting giving, and ways to connect with this generation
  • How to shift your language to connect with key donors
When asking people to give, remind them that you want something FOR them, not FROM them. [episode 120] #unstuckchurch #podcast Click to Tweet Want to see Millennials start giving at your church? Start by asking them to volunteer their time. [episode 120] #unstuckchurch #podcast Click To Tweet

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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Churches face some unique challenges when it comes to their finances. They’re shifting trends in our culture that have increased the complexity of funding ministry. This week on the podcast, we begin a four part series focused on the specific issues churches face when it comes to money. Today, Tony is joined by Joe Park from Horizon Stewardship for a conversation on funding your church’s ministry plan. Make sure before you listen this week to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox. Every single week you get one email with our leader conversation guide, all of the resources we mentioned in the archive of all of our podcast resources from past episodes. You can sign up by going to and if you haven’t yet, take the next 60 seconds and help us resource thousands of churches by adding your voice to our podcast survey. Jump over to to respond. Now let’s join Tony and Joe Park for this week’s conversation on funding ministry.

Tony: 01:05 Well, Joe, before we dive into today’s topic, can you tell us a little bit more about Horizon Stewardship?

Joe: 01:12 Yeah. Horizon is a group of about 38 folks whose mission is to make disciples and fund ministry. W e’ve been around for about 28 years and have raised about 8 billion capital dollars and sort of untold dollars, you know, for the ministry funding plans.

Tony: 01:33 8 billion. That was with a B. Right. Do you have any idea how many churches you’ve helped through the years?

Joe: 01:41 Gosh, it really, we haven’t counted them off, literally thousands. And, and you know, we’re there, we’re only talking about capital dollars. So a lot of our work is outside capital fundraising. So we do a lot of education. pastors speak to several thousand passengers a year at live conferences, and also have a resource library, or we call Giving 365. Folks can go and and sign in there and see the resources that we create. All of those are free for, you know, for churches uses.

Tony: 02:20 Well, let’s begin the conversation here. Generally speaking, it appears to me that there is little or no correlation between the financial health of the church and the church’s overall health. In other words, I’ve encountered healthy, thriving churches who seem to be struggling making ends meet financially. And at the same time I’ve run into many what I would consider spiritually dead churches who are really, they have all the money they could ever hope to need to keep the doors of their church open, but really not making much of a kingdom impact. So do you agree with that assessment and if so, why do you think that is?

Joe: 03:01 You know, Tony, I actually don’t agree with that. I think there’s a strong correlation between how healthy a church is and how well funded its ministries are. There’s certainly exceptions to the rule, but as I see the more common problem in healthy churches is how hard it is to fund ministries in a healthy church. Leadership is always looking to expand ministry. They know what they want to do. They’ve got a clear vision that’s strategic ministry plan to get there. They’re attracting younger families and families new to the faith that have to be discipled in that journey. You know, the church you described on the other side, it’s more likely that that church is really spending very little on ministry. They don’t have much of a vision and so it’s not hard to fund a ministry that’s doing very little. My guess is they also have some fluid members who are giving small amounts that total enough to keep the church going. So I think healthy churches are the ones that really do have the best funded ministries, but they always want more.

Tony: 04:18 That’s good. Joe, it seems like we’re seeing some significant shifts in how churches raise money to fund their mission and vision. Can you share some of the biggest shifts that you’re seeing as your team engages with churches?

Joe: 04:32 Yeah, I think Tony, it would be helpful to start with the trends that are driving these changes. They’re pretty profound. If we look back, there’s four major trends that are driving church generosity today. The first is a number of households that are giving anything to charity at all. That that number is rapidly falling. And just 15 years ago, 68% of households were giving to any charity at all. And that’s fallen to around 50% today, and that’s even before the standard deduction. We see that in churches where about half the donors are not giving anything and about 60% of the donors are giving less than $2 a week. I think there’s a couple of major causes for this. One is that there’s less people in church and Christians drive giving in America. All the research says that the number one corollary to generosity is being a Christian.

Joe: 05:41 So is there less people in church or less folks being generous? The second is this massive shift of wealth that we’re seeing from the bottom 90% to the upper 20%, excuse me, the upper 10%, since the 1980s. The upper 10% has gained 13% more of the nation’s wealth. And so today it’s gotten so bad that the upper 1% own 40% of the nation’s resources, and so while the giving in the upper 10% is increasing, it’s not increasing in the bottom 90%. The other big issue, and this is playing out even among your well-to-do donors, is that the percent of giving today that goes to the church is half of what it was 50 years ago. And it continues to fall. We’d been in the low thirties, and in 2018 it took a hard shift down to just 29% of the each dollar given is coming the church.

Joe: 06:55 So until recently, most churches were able to get small increases and they’re giving without working very hard for that. But that changed in 2017 where church giving was flat. In 2018, it took a hard turn, dropping 4% one adjusted for inflation. So Tony, if you think about that over a five year period of time, we’re going to have 20% less ministry funding in the church if that trend holds. That’s just three and a half years from now because we’re talking about 2018 data. So the major shift that we’re seeing in funding ministry plans, it’s just the interest in churches and doing that. It’s being led on the healthiest and the best funded church today. They’re the ones that are identifying this shift and they’re taking proactive steps. So Tony, what we’re seeing is a major shift in a churches interest in developing cultures of generosity. About 75% of the work that we’re doing today with churches involves helping them build their annual giving base. We’re not seeing less capital campaigns, but the very best churches are seeing these changes in giving, realizing how much more difficult it is, and they’re taking proactive steps to do that.

Tony: 08:30 Well, so you raised this thought about campaigns and Joe, this is one of the things I’m hearing from church leaders. They’re wondering are the days of the traditional financial campaigns for churches behind us. What are your thoughts on that?

Joe: 08:47 I still think that campaigns are playing a critical part in churches funding strategies. If you develop a really good year round generosity plan, then you may be able to move away from campaigns, but our experience is most churches aren’t there. So it is helpful to use campaigns, you know, shoot the donkey before we learned to drive the tractor.

Tony: 09:12 Alright, so let’s talk about another cultural trend. I’m reading a lot about millennials. I actually have a couple of millennials—kids that is—and they seem to be shaking up a lot of different business sectors in the marketplace. And I’m curious to get your perspective on what the generation is doing as it relates to churches. How is that generation impacting how churches fund their mission and vision?

Joe: 09:41 So two thoughts on that. One, the differences in the generations have always been profound. In many churches we go to today, they’re still using techniques that were really successful with the builders but haven’t worked for the boomers and Gen X’s and certainly are working for the millennials today. I think the other thing to keep in mind is that millennials are not a monolithic group. If you listen to the media today, you know, they’re highly focused on urban millennials. But you know, we’ve seen that happen before where the media was focused on yuppies and everybody, every boomer wasn’t a yuppie. And so understanding what millennials look like in your setting of suburban, rural millennials all share some characteristics but differ and others. But they are most definitely changing the conversation. If you want to engage them, they need to feel apart of the process.

Joe: 10:50 They need to have an influence on it. You may need to change your discipleship path for millennials so that you engage them to volunteer first. Getting them to volunteer is often easier than getting them to give. So where that’s been the reverse with most of the generations, with millennials, it’s a really effective strategy. And it certainly we have to communicate differently, not just with millennials but with all generations so that they hear us. They use different channels. They have different ways of interpreting information. And I would say just off the top of my head that transparency and authenticity are really important as well as the channels that we use.

Tony: 11:43 Joe, it’s probably not a surprise to you at The Unstuck Group we do quite a bit of work with nondenominational churches or churches that have_they’re part of a denomination, but they have more of a nondenominational mindset. And then we do quite a bit of work too with mainline churches. And it seems in many of the mainline churches that we’re working with, they’re still doing annual pledge drives to fund ministry, and I’m wanting your perspective, are you still seeing that to be an effective solution in today’s environment?

Joe: 12:15 Tony, let’s talk about the mainlines first. Those traditions who have a history of doing annual efforts to fund the ministry budget. So we have a process, a guided process for an annual campaign that we’re seeing churches see double digit year over year increases in giving. So if you have a tradition of an annual campaign, that can be really effective. What we see in most churches that we work with for the first time is that they’re doing the same kind of annual campaign that, that their grandfathers were used to seeing and the grandmothers who used to seeing. And so it needs to be refreshed and updated. It really is a new way of describingthose unchanging biblical principles. In nondenominational churches or in other churches that don’t have a history of doing that, the one fund is essentially an annual campaign. It is a process of reintroducing the discipline of deciding in advance what percentage of your income that you’re going to commit to the church. And, while that may not be a long term strategy to keep paying somebody to come in and guide you through a one fund over and over again, it can be really effective in setting in motion some good practices.

Tony: 13:41 That’s good. So you’re raising this concept of a single fund focus. And actually I’m seeing this particularly among larger churches that we work with—we’re seeing more of these larger churches shifting away from designated giving or campaigns to fund specific initiatives and instead they’re using more of a single fund approach. So, for the churches that you see doing this, Joe, what are some of the benefits and then also the dangers of eliminating campaigns for building projects or other focused initiatives of that nature?

Joe: 14:17 Yeah, so I think the answer to that question is highly contextual to each church. In the majority of cases, a two fund approach is going to raise more money than a one fund approach. But the church, we may not have a big need for a capital fund. And so one fund approach may be more appropriate in that setting. Designated giving, moving away from that can actually be helpful because we create some donor fatigue where we have a different task every quarter. So what we see are the majority of churches are still choosing a two fund approach. They’re moving away from having multiple asks during special asks during the course of a year to maybe concentrating that to be a Christmas offering or an Easter offering where they put all of those outside asks together. And then the other big move is around special asks for high capacity and financial leaders. The church that I think probably has the largest annual budget in the country, nearly $149 million, they’re raising about one third of that through special ask of major donors who are not responding well to traditional methods but do respond well to sitting down and asking them to find a specific piece of ministry. And so that’s a best practice that we certainly encouraged churches to do. So maybe for a church, a one fund is best or two fund, or a hybrid of that depending on what their needs are and how much they’re willing to invest in the process.

Tony: 16:17 I liked that response because what that suggest is when Horizon engages with a church, they’re not just using one formula for every church. There’s going to be some nuance based on the objectives that the church is trying to accomplish for ministry.

Joe: 16:34 Yeah. When we have an opportunity to have a conversation with the church, we begin by saying our preferred method is to do an assessment of your church, to look in all the areas that impact giving. In most churches, that’s about 30 different areas. And we want to base our recommendations on their funding plans, capital special plan giving, an annual based on what we learn about their church so that they get the best, not just short term outcome, but longterm outcome as well.

Tony: 17:10 That’s good. Alright, Joe, it’s not uncommon for me to hear a senior pastor say something along these lines, “We don’t have any big givers in our church. Instead, we have a lot of faithful givers that fund our ministry without any significant contributions.” And I can appreciate in some settings that may actually be the case. But honestly a statement like that usually raises a red flag for me because my suspicion is that the church has some people who love Jesus and the church’s vision and have financial means, but they’ve never been approached and an appropriate way to make a significant contribution. In other words, I suspect we need to engage potential key donors differently. Do you agree? If not, what’s your take?

Joe: 17:55 Yeah, I do agree that’s a red flag for me. And certainly there’s some blue collar churches that that may in fact be the case—first-generation kind of churches. But what we find in most churches is they do have financial leaders and they do have high capacity donors. What they probably are not doing is identifying them and cultivating them and high capacity donors are driving the best funded ministry plans today. So when we work with a church, helping them identify those high capacity donors, that may or may not be showing up on their radar screen, is important and then walking them through the process of building relationship because it’s built on relationship and cultivating those over time. The special ask and opportunities that exists there are incredible. And so when we take pastors through this process, what they’re usually most surprised by is first how much money these high capacity donors are giving away to charity and how little of it is coming to the church.

Joe: 19:18 Donors from the upper 10% of wealth and wage earners are giving on average about 10 times what the rest of the church is giving away to charity. They’re the ones who’ve been driving this big increase in giving. And if those with household incomes of 200,000 to 500,000, they’re giving away almost 9% of their income, but they’re doing it to on average about eight different charities and the church is getting smaller and smaller piece of that each year. It’s simply because we’re not cultivating, we’re not asking, and oftentimes we’re not involving them in ways that they want to be involved. We ask them to serve on a committee or a standing team. And that’s not really how most high capacity donors that have not already stepped up to do that work want to be engaged.

Tony: 20:16 Yeah. We usually when we get into this focus of high capacity givers in our church, it kind of raises some concern from people of why would you give that type of focus to people with means when the person without means that is giving to the church, it’s actually a bigger sacrifice and I can appreciate that. Obviously, Jesus, he’s wanting us to be generous with their time or talent or treasure, all of us. But I liken it to when invite people to step up with their time and their leadership and bringing that to a higher lay leadership capacity. We approach those conversations differently than we do a broad all call for people to serve at the church. And the same type of distinction needs to be made when we’re inviting people that have high capacity to support our church financially as well. My suspicion, Joe, is that this is a part of the why here from some churches that have been doing the single fund focused campaigns now for a season because high capacity donors don’t respond to those single fund approaches. They’re actually looking for specific projects to contribute to. Is that part of what’s happening here?

Joe: 21:37 So that’s one of the big attractions. Not only do they like to fund special projects, they want to know that the donation that they give is going to have a high ROI. And so I’m just saying we’d like you to give to the ministry budget of the church doesn’t quite chin the bar for many of these folks who are being very, very intentional with their giving. So when you have a specific project in mind, and it doesn’t have to be a one fund, you can think about, most churches can identify a number of items that fall within their ministry budget that they can go ask a single donor to fund entirely.

Tony: 22:21 Alright. You may include some of the things we’ve mentioned already today, but just for the senior pastors that are listening could you just outline kind of some of the biggest challenges or even mistakes—you could classify them as mistakes—that you’re seeing churches making when it comes to funding ministry today.

Joe: 22:40 This is one of the attractions that we have to The Unstuck Group and why we recommend churches consider working with you. I think the greatest challenge that we face when we walk in the door of a church is if they do not have a good vision, a compelling vision, and a good plan to get there. So that’s a starting point. I think secondly, they need to have some clearly articulated expectations through their discipleship path. What does it mean? And to include generosity as part of that discipleship path. And then ask your leaders to step off and testify that they are living in a way that is consistent with your expectations of membership. Churches, I’ve encouraged them to start with a theology of generosity to define what it means in their setting. What does the Bible say about our relationship to our staff?

Joe: 23:43 And, and clearly articulate that using clear words such as, you know, when we use the word tithe, we mean exactly this 10%. When we use the word offering, we mean a gift over and above the tithe percentage giving. And so being clear about expectations and expectations about financial giving as well as other stops along the discipleship path. And then to develop a funding plan and to do that using measurements. And that’s gonna require a lot of information. So the reason that we start with this broad assessment of the church, to look at all the different areas that impact funding of ministry. I encourage churches to use the analytics programs that they have or we will help them select one that best fits their need and then to be intentional as they move forward.

Tony: 24:46 Joe, I really appreciate your thoughts that you’ve shared today as it relates to helping us fund our mission and our vision and our churches. Any other final thoughts you want to share today?

Joe: 24:58 I want to encourage pastors as you’re thinking about ministry funding, remember that the work that we’re in is we’re wanting something for these donors and not from them. And oftentimes our language sounds like we need something from them. We need to fund the budget or this special project. And when you are preaching and teaching and developing communication around the issue of generosity. The more you focus on the donors need to give, the more money you will have for your ministry plan.

Sean: 25:36 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we would love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. Don’t forget to take the next 60 seconds and help us resource thousands of churches by adding your voice to the podcast survey. You go to to respond. At The Unstuck Group, we’re working everyday with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, let’s talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode on finances in the church. Until then, have a great week.

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