Periodically the Foundation needs a reality check. This is a time when we talk with our stakeholders about our work, share our view of the Moravian world, present information about giving and philanthropy in a larger context, and, most importantly, listen. In the business world some might call this market research. Whatever it is called, we do it to more effectively serve the Church.
We invited pastors from both provinces and both districts in the Northern Province whose pastoral and leadership qualities we respect. Those who came were a mixture of experienced and new pastors, as well as pastors we have and haven’t worked with. We knew the group would be forthright and thoughtful in expressing their ideas, concerns and reactions throughout the gathering.
Among the very important points we discussed:
- Individual giving to religious institutions in America is on a steady decline. Religious institutions’ share of the dollars given to charities is shrinking.
- While amounts given to all charities in America is increasing, giving is stuck at 2% of America’s GNP and 2% of Americans’ annual income. Put another way, America’s charities are battling over increasing their size of a pie that is not growing in real terms.
- The current giving practices to churches are built around 19th and 20th century concepts that have run their course, so the Church, led by pastors, has to build efforts around the relationships they have with members, the Gospel message, their ministries, and the members’ stories of how the Church has enriched their faith.
- Neuroscience research on how humans respond to words and messages relating to giving, philanthropy, planned giving, estate planning, and the like. The purpose of the conversation was to highlight how the Church can best speak to and inspire people to be generous and remember the Church in their estate plans.
- The message of “Grace, Generosity and Gratitude” as a replacement for stewardship resonates not only with pastors, but also with those in the pews. But more than that, the notion of storytelling as a tool for pastoral care and inspirational giving needs to take center stage in faith-based philanthropy. And, pastors must be prepared to assume a stronger leadership role.
After a church meeting I often ask myself, “Did we just talk or did we really move the ball forward?” Too many times there is lots of talk but little action. I suppose time will tell, but we were very touched by what pastors said afterwards.
"Thank you for providing a forum and facilitating a discussion in which we could speak openly and frankly about our hopes and dreams for our congregations as well as the challenges we are facing. You, together with Chi-Chi and Laura, provided insights from your experiences and conversations with church members that are invaluable and unavailable from any other source. Your love and commitment to the church, your embodiment of best practices (for example, sharing your own stories), and your willingness to test and experiment and do "market research," will surely yield fruit "a hundred-fold."
"Please extend my gratitude to Paul, ChiChi and Lee (and yourself, too) for a wonderful meeting and exchange of ideas. Having been encouraged by the response of attendees at that meeting in regard to the larger balcony view of Wisconsin Rapids, I shared my observations with the clergywoman who is serving as President of our local ecumenical clergy group. Pastor Lonnie is also serving the community as Executive Director of a homeless ministry which brings her into contact with people who are in great need, having suffered emotional and physical abuse that results in drug and alcohol abuse. After hearing the "balcony view" observations which coincided with some of the work she's doing, it all came together for her. We plan on presenting our observations to the larger group in October with the vision of getting churches together to bring a spiritual healing for our larger community via ecumenical prayer groups, bible studies, and various ways in which people can "tell their stories." There is so much more that can be told about this but please know that our time together and the encouragement offered there is being acted upon. It is exciting to think of God's possibilities about to happen! Thanks again for a wonderful time and extraordinary hospitality. You are appreciated!!!"
As with any gathering the Foundation has, we think hard work needs a mixture of fun and fellowship, and we did so with great fun and joy.
We were and remain most grateful for the time and thoughtful conversations we had with a terrific group of pastors. They were enriching and will enable us to better serve the Moravian Church.
(Photo front row, left to right: Jenny Moran, Mary Lou Plummer, Andrew Heil, John G. Rights, Janel Rice, Chi-Chi Messick, Sue Koenig. Back row, left to right: Michael Johnson, Missy Johnson, Kurt Liebenow, Paul McLaughlin, Russ Williams, John D. Rights)