Changing That Light Bulb

You know all the jokes about changing light bulbs: 

     How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. 

     How many Zen masters does it take to change a light bulb?  None.  The universe spins the bulb and the Zen master stays out of the way. 

     How many optimists does it take to change a light bulb?  None.  They're convinced the power will come back on soon. 

There is a whole series of light bulb jokes about all the various Christian denominations.  For some of the more tradition-bound denominations, such as, let's say, the Episcopalians (yeah, that's the ticket - the Episcopalians), the answers can be "Ten.  One to change the bulb and nine to form a committee to study the historical precedents for light bulb changing."  Or "CHANGE?"  Or my personal favorite, "You can't change that light bulb.  My grandmother gave that light bulb."

Change is never easy, particularly when we are in large part defined by our traditions, and when we take great pride in those traditions.  But there are some areas where "that's the way we've always done it" is no longer effective, and for churches, annual giving campaigns are an example.  And an extremely important example, because the way that people think about churches has changed radically over the last thirty or forty years.  Church attendance and financial commitment to one's church are no longer the norm and cannot be assumed for anyone.

So what does this mean for churches?  It means that you can no longer run an annual giving campaign by having someone stand up in front of your congregation and say "We need X amount of money this year. Please be generous."  Or just by presenting an open and detailed budget so that people know where their money is going, although that is important.  Just doing it the same old way is no longer enough.

So what do you do instead?  You tell the stories found in that budget.  On the surface, a budget is just a listing of numbers.  It says "we're going to spend this much money on salaries, this much on maintenance, this much on missionary support, this much on Christian Education, this much on outreach," and so on and so on.  What you need to do is dig deeper and show the effects of those numbers.

Take the salaries number, for example.  People tend to think of salaries as overhead - part of how much we need just to keep our doors open.  But salaries represent people, and in churches, people are one of the most important assets.  Suppose the staff at your church consists of a pastor and a part-time administrative assistant.  How many lives do those two people touch in a year, and how, and what stories can be told from those connections?  Add a choir director.  What stories can that position tell?  My first choir director changed the direction of my life, sending me down a path that ended up with an advanced degree in Music and a (small) career singing professionally.  Who tells those stories?  Add a Christian Education director.  Where and how are lives changed now?

Stories from the budget for missionary work and outreach almost tell themselves.  But be specific about them.  Go beyond, "We spent $X supporting the Food Bank this year."  Show what that number represents.  How many meals for hungry families is that?  How does your mission work touch people?  Tell the stories.

It's not easy in our culture to talk about money.  It somehow feels indelicate.  And talking about money in church can be even more difficult.  Think of the story of the money changers in the Temple.  Or the somewhat unsavory reputation that some churches have for being income-generating powerhouses for their leaders.  But one of the great traditions of the Moravian Church, as was discussed in our recent Adamson Forum, is a very utilitarian approach to money as a tool for service.  We live in a money-based society.  Money is a tool that allows us to accomplish our goals.  While we may find it difficult to talk about money, it's easy to tell stories.  And the power of those stories can offset any of the negative issues swirling around the topic of money.

I recently saw a great blog post on this subject, which says this much better than I have.  You can find it here.  As you read it, think about what compels you to donate to the organizations you give money to, and how you can apply that same thinking to your congregation.  And don't just be that optimist waiting for the power to come back on.