There is something wonderful about a group of Christians getting together around a meal to talk about their lives, their Savior and their bounty. I love pot luck dinners, hot bread, soft butter, crock pot goodness, wine and warm conversation. I have often dreamed about a church that had less pews and more crockpots.
When Jesus gathered his friends near the end of his earthly ministry he did not say “Please create and manage pomp and circumstance in remembrance of me.” Nor did he say “Craft great liturgies or sing solemn anthems in remembrance of me.” And he certainly did not say “Gather around terrible coffee and make small-talk in remembrance of me.” No. From what I can gather, it seems Jesus asked that what we do in remembrance of him is gather around a meal, get real with each other, weep a bit, laugh some, serve each other in humility and tell the story.
And yet, too often we launch our stewardship campaigns with a long letter and a short prayer. And of course, given that the average American family only attends Sunday liturgies once a month, they have a one-in-four chance of even being there if you launch the campaign on a Sunday with special prayers.
It is very difficult to raise money in a church when the congregation has not entirely noticed that a campaign for pledges is underway. So often churches send out the prerequisite “letter from the Rector, Interim or Vicar” – often too late, often too long and often saying much the same thing that was said in last year’s letter. And the most crushing opening line? “It is that time of year again….” When I read those words in a “stewardship letter” I begin to lose the will to live.
So I suggest that churches throw one heck of a party at the beginning and at the end of the pledge campaign just to wake everyone up and jar them out of their over-scheduled stupor. It’s ok to have an event on a Sunday but send a save the date card six months in advance, an invitation two months in advance, a reminder card two weeks in advance and a phone call the week prior to be extra sure they get there for the party.
Then, eight or nine weeks later, throw another party to celebrate the end of the pledge campaign so that there is a natural deadline (and a bit of pressure) for the pledge cards to be sent in to the church. (Please do not ask people to fill them out on a Sunday an dturn them back in before they leave…the “stewardship” is in the discernment and the family conversations…give them eight weeks to discuss it as a family and to pray about it.) Make this second party a celebration of the parish’s life together, not of the campaign. However, it is ok to use the date and the event to remind the congregation that the pledge cards need to arrive signed and ready for a new year.
Being part of a club is no fun at all, however being part of a movement is a blast! So make this work a movement, and create a very detailed communications plan to get people into seats at both events. I suggest that churches spend 70% of their effort getting people to an event and only 30% of their effort figuring out the event itself. If you go all out with balloons and buffets and have a poor turn-out then there is a double failure. Plan something that is fun! Make it an event you would want to attend – creative, innovative, and with some physical hook – something that requires that people do something different on that day. And then communicate, communicate, communicate. Jesus came as the WORD, not the announcement.
If you have already launched your campaign, no worries. You have plenty of time left for the communications plan which gets people to attend a late November parish dinner to call in pledge cards and celebrate the parish’s life together the weekend before Thanksgiving. Choose the four most fun, funny, life-affirming, mischievous people in your church (if you have a congregation of 12 or 2,000) and put together a party.
Here are some ideas for a fun campaign celebration which have worked for me in the past:
- Theme the foods on spices from the Song of Songs
- Create France with hot croissants, warm butter, raspberry jam and chocolate melted with a little cream to keep it soft and spreadable
- Recreate recipes and music from the founding year of your church
- Try a middle eastern breakfast or brunch…really good foods
- Make an apple-themed event to celebrate Fall
- Have people write the one thing they most love on a card made of paper with wildflower seeds in the pulp (there is a company in Boulder, Colorado that sells some!) and then plant the cards in a garden from which wildflowers will grow next year as symbols of hopes and gratitude.
- Move the pancake supper from pre-Lent to the fall campaign…everyone loves pancakes – add apples to them and serve them with cinnamon honey butter. YUM!
- Pile rocks in the church yard and then let everyone bring plants to place between the rocks in the pile to make a massive rock-garden – circle the garden with a circle of tables and eat something wonderful as you celebrate life.
- Get a jump on Christmas and theme an event with gold, frankincense and myrrh – then use all three to decorate or flavor foods while having the wardens and clergy dress as three kings. Or Queens. Or both.
- Just have the best pot-luck in the world by sending out crock pot recipes and pie recipes randomly to all members and invite them to bring their recipe in to the event. They will. It’s so fun! Who does not love crusty bread, soft butter, crock pot food and pie!?