No. 8 Meaning-making: the neuroscience of pledging

At this point in autumn, many churches are about half way through their campaigns.  Many autumn pledge campaigns begin in mid-September (or at least my books suggest they do) and run for a solid eight weeks until the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving at which point it is time to end that concentration of your pledge campaign communications plan of direct mail to all members (one per week), emails (one per week), and Sunday announcements and bulletin inserts (one each per week.)  I know.  I can hear the sighs and feel the eye-rolls.  But the question is not “do I have time for all this” but rather “Do I want to raise money for mission and help people become great philanthropists …or not?” God connected, might we?


Last week we discussed “the dark side of the moon” – that syndrome of fear and dread which can so easily grip clergy, church staff and lay leaders who have worked so hard since February (please tell me you have been working on your campaigns since February!) on the campaign preparation, kick-off, mailings and the needful battery of communications. Since most families attend church once a month these days, they hear your pledge messages only twice!) Now it is time to connect and this connection is where most churches fail to raise their money.


The clergy and leaders are so squeamish about asking for money that they do not do that one thing – that one, ONLY, single thing which actually raises money – they sometimes do not move in closer and connect. They too often avoid connection.  And of course, the congregation (except for those lovelies who pledge early, easily and well) will also want to disconnect from clergy, stewardship staff and lay leaders because they are aware that they have been hearing about the need to make a pledge since May (and intensely since September) and yet, life is busy and fear has made resistance high; and so they have not yet sent in their pledge cards, even though we are at mid-October.  So they are in their own little shame-storm and seek the same disconnection from church leadership that church leadership seeks from the disappointment of congregants who have yet to make their pledge.  In short, it’s a perfect stewardship-storm.


The answer is this: Move in now and deeply!  Move towards your congregation person by person with a deep, broad, kind, firm smile and connect! There is nothing to be done about sullen, pathologically introverted, sad, wizened and grouchy clergy Bishops or lay leaders in stewardship – they are, sadly, bound to fail in stewardship work as also probably in ministry in general.  But for most clergy and lay leaders, a broad smile, an outstretched hand and the willingness to discuss difficult issues like money and mission-funding will connect you.  And with connection you can discuss the pledge directly but with a smile. But you must be direct.


I have seen clergy say “I can’t do a phone-a-thon, let the staff or vestry do it.” And then the staff revolt and refuse and the lay leaders drag their feet because- well- who wants to spend an evening making phone calls that congregants do not want to receive and leaving messages they do not want to hear?  And yet, in Lent, clergy and lay leaders will talk about sin and repentance with near pathological vigor.  Hmm. It makes one wonder.


So this author suggests that you have the phone-a-thons in late October and early November and have them with gusto.  I suggest all congregants receive a call (ok, message) in the last week of October and a second call (if they have not yet pledged) in the second week of November (3 weeks later and eight weeks after they were asked to pledge initially at the start of the campaign.)  These calls are not rude.  They are essential along with the communications of emails and direct mail which runs concurrently.  It is this kind of onslaught which gets the message of pledging into the minds of people whose lives are overwhelmed with marketing messages. They love the connection and in it, clergy also learn a lot about pastoral care needs. I also suggest a Spring phone-a-thon just to check in and say how much you love them.


In the end, you may disagree. And that’s fine. But ask yourself this question – Dr. Phil’s question – “Is what I am doing now – to raise money in my church – working?”


God sent “the Word” in human form to connect.  God could have just angrily stewed off at the other end of the cosmos, occasionally going berserk and reigning down fire in angry tirades like some teenager off their meds.  Well… like God did so often in the Hebrew Scriptures – to be honest. But instead God chose to connect with us by becoming a human even though God could see that the people to whom God sought real connection would strike back hard with a succor-punch like crucifixion.


If God can model and risk connection to raise mission, then might not we?

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