Thursday, June 1, 2017

Generational Stewardship

Working with churches from all over the Conference, I get to see firsthand how our polity informs (or, rather, doesn’t inform) how we do basic bedrock functions such as governance or stewardship. So many differences. What is also interesting is the way in which some things are consistent no matter how we organize ourselves.

I’m thinking about stewardship in particular. One of the areas of congregational life that is undergoing a significant change is how we ‘do’ Stewardship, from annual pledge drives to capital campaigns and planned giving. I attended a workshop titled “Generational Differences in Stewardship Development,” led by Rev. Susan Snook, Church Planter for the Episcopal Church. She made the point very well that how we do Stewardship for the younger generations (later baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials) has to be different than the way we’re used to. You cannot use the same voice to speak to all and expect all to hear. The GI/Silent/”Greatest” generations, particularly after World War II, valued strong institutions. They dove in and participated and financially supported for reasons such as:

  • To meet societal expectations
  • For Institution building, teamwork, or responsibility
  • To pay their fair share
  • Or to leave a legacy
When doing stewardship with younger generations, asking them to “fulfill their obligation” is not going to find a receptive audience. What other things do we know about them?

  • They are hard working and have complex schedules. (as do their kids)
  • Their time is often more precious than money.
  • They need to understand the congregation’s vision, not the budget. They value transparency – over half will not connect to an organization unless they feel a personal connection or trust in leadership.
  • They are reluctant to commit; more likely to take part in “Micro-Volunteering” than a multi-year commitment to a committee. But they do volunteer: in a 2010 survey, 79% of Millennials volunteered for organizations.
  • They are focused on mission: helping the poor, caring for the environment, and enrichment for their children. They value outreach and tangible results. 85% of Millennials said they are motivated to give by a compelling mission or cause.
If your congregation mostly exists to worship on Sunday and share fellowship, it’s not going to be very attractive to younger generations. If, instead, your congregation exists to serve – then you have a missional focus that will connect with them and be valued. And that value will express itself in participation and financial support.

Let me say it this way: if you speak with one voice to multiple generations, at least some of them will not hear you. The irony is that despite being perhaps the best positioned mainline denomination (in terms of polity and theology) to connect with Millennials, we do so poorly, because we speak to them as though they are their grandparents.

And really, I’m not just talking about stewardship anymore. But I’ll bet you knew that.

One last thing: If the only way to make a financial contribution on Sunday morning is by a plate being passed around, you really shouldn’t expect Millennials to give. Most of them don’t carry much cash or a checkbook. There is no better reason for promoting electronic giving (including a QR code in your bulletin) than that.