Many parishes use a pledge system or "all member canvass as their primary approach to stewardship. Yet some parishioners are unfamiliar with this approach. Below, reprinted from a parish stewardship manual is a brief description of this practice -- and an approach for addressing a common objection.
What is a Pledge?
Estimate of Giving
On one level a pledge, given as part of an all member canvass, is really nothing more than a prayerfully considered estimate of annual giving. It is achieved by privately prayerfully filling out a pledge card and returning it to the parish treasurer or stewardship committee.
On another level, however, it is much more. It is a spiritual and practical tool to help us:
- Regularly review our relationship between: ourselves as persons; God as Master of our life; and our worldly possessions given to us by God to be managed on His behalf.
- Express gratitude for all that God has given to us.
- Joyfully offer a meaningful investment in the work of our parish -- sharing in the work of God through this church.
- Reveal what we value.
The pledge is used by each parishioner, privately, thoughtfully, and prayerfully to answer one key question -‘What of God’s am I going to give back this year?’
It is NOT…
- A “ploy” to generate more income…
- Or… to create a sense of guilt…
- Or even an obligation.
A Common, Good Practice for Planning Stretching, Teaching
Pledging is the method used for decades by most OCA churches and -- in particular most OCA churches that are growing. It is not new. It is not a gimmick or the “next big thing”.
Pledging is also:
- A planning tool for parishioners and the parish. It provides an annual review for both.
- A “stretching” tool. Annual pledge discussions, when done well, energize a parish and its parishioners toward reiterating the parish mission and its priorities for ministry -- what we are called to do here, in this time, in this place.
- A rite of entrance for youth and new members – providing a platform for emphasizing the responsibilities of membership.
- It is a private, nonbinding, estimate of what portion of God’s financial gifts to us we intend to give back during the coming period.
Important Aspect of Membership
Making a pledge is an important part of committing to be a member of the parish. Membership in the parish strengthens your relationship with your neighbors and with God. You make an intentional commitment to be part of something larger than yourself, to be a part of a Christian Community, united in our love of God and God's love for us.
Participating in the pledge program is a way of formalizing your spiritual discipline of stewardship to which Christ calls each of us daily.
Most of us react to ideas and changes based on our past experiences. If you've been in a dues based parish most of your life it is true you haven't experienced a pledge system -- so naturally it seems like this is not an Orthodox practice.
However, most Orthodox parishes, at least in the OCA, have long ago abandoned "dues systems" as an inherently limiting stewardship mentality.
Pledging or an "all member canvass" is the method used for decades by most OCA churches and -- in particular most OCA churches that are growing. It is not new and it is not a gimmick.It is not the "next big thing".
A survey of OCA parishes taken in 2002 identified that:
- Most growing parishes are pledge based. Specifically 90% of parishes classifying themselves as having experienced "good growth" and 84% with fair growth use a pledge based system. Conversely only 13% parishes in slow decline and 0% of parishes in deep decline used a pledge based approach.
- Parishes using the pledge system generate, on average significantly larger annual donations than parishes using dues.
- Pledge based parishes receive significantly higher numbers of annual donations greater than $3000 per year. They receive significantly lower numbers of donations under $1000 per year.
When parishes implement a pledge based stewardship methodology they encounter questions and even objections from parishioners. Undoubtedly one of the most common of these objections is:
“I don’t want to fill out the pledge form because I don’t want to let the parish down if something changes.”
In helping parishioners work through this issue the following points may be helpful:
It's Not a Mortgage"
Remind people that the pledge is an estimate-- not a mortgage. If personal circumstances change the pledge can and should be updated by letting the treasurer, or priest know the new plans. No questions or need for justification.
Often, however, the issue requires us to dig a bit deeper.
Guessing is Not Planning
Those who offer this reaction seem to be expressing a belief that the parish is better off if they (the potential donors) are very conservative -- under commit and over deliver.
Yet, is this approach truly helpful to the parish? Are we really being responsible by not providing an estimate of giving? In reality the opposite is actually true. Asking parish leaders to guess about one's intentions is not responsible –and not good stewardship. It avoids the review and commitment that makes the pledging process practically and spiritually valuable.
Unraveling this concern starts with an understanding that a good parish has a job to do. The parish has responsibilities to parishioners and to others to “make saints” and to bring the light of Christ to its city or region.
When people hold back on their pledge decision, parish leaders may be forced to adopt an overly conservative income forecast and a spending plan that eliminates or reduces items in the budget. Then, when, unplanned donations materialize at year end the parish has paid an opportunity cost. Something that could have been afforded was pared back. Important improvements to building, compensation or ministries will be delayed or the cost will be laid off onto others. New ministries –hopefully with important impact -- may not be considered. (“We can’t afford that!”)
Though the money may eventually arrive by year end, the opportunity to create an impact has been delayed or an opportunity completely missed. In a business tightened budgets often delay advertising, product launches, new hiring or plant improvements. The business pays an opportunity cost in fewer customers incomplete projects or higher production costs.
While the impact of delay on a parish is often less clear -- it is just as real. IF we see our parish as an organism with an important job to do.
Putting God Last in Line
Being unwilling to make the effort to think through the commitment of giving back the first fruits of the financial gifts bestowed on us and indicating our best estimate intentions, essentially puts God and His Church last in line. (If I have something left I'll give it to the church.")
However, if everyone used the “wait and see then donate” approach little or nothing could be planned and much less would be done. Perhaps more realistically without the soul searching involved in making an honest, serious, meaningful pledge often the money does not ever find its way to the church.
In a parish making a transition from dues to pledging this question is commonly heard.
The old "dues based" approach has a number of practical and spiritual deficiencies. Among them are a lack of intentionality" thinking through our commitment and unfairly treating everyone "equally" -- as if they had equivalent financial resources.
In his workshops, Fr. Anthony Scott of Stewardship Advocates offers the following ten advantages of Pledging:
- Properly, actively remind ourselves of our relationship with God.
- Properly remind ourselves of the source of our possessions.
- Move away from an equal share/obligation mentality to a gratitude mentality -- investing in the future of this parish.
- Forces reiteration of parish mission each year – our key priorities.
- Align parish priorities and activities more closely with the New Testament.
- Compels parish to account for use of $.
- Frees up precious volunteer time; less need for fund raising; more time for Christ.
- Creates resources: new programs of service; outreach.
- Offers compelling testimony to visitors.
- Rite of entrance for youth and new members.
Participating in the pledge program is a way of formalizing your
spiritual discipline of stewardship to which Christ calls each of us
Making a pledge is a key part of committing to be a member of the parish. Membership in the parish strengthens your relationship with your neighbors and with God. You make an intentional commitment to be part of something larger than yourself, to be a part of a Christian Community, united in our love of God and God's love for us.