"Stewardship - We've More Than Enough"
All My Relations:
These days it seems all too easy to get a bit pessimistic whenever the topic of Stewardship is mentioned. Some people appear to have come to the conclusion that the generous spirit of United Church congregations has just dried up. Like one character in Doug Wright's play at last year's annual meeting, (portrayed by Bruce Cook) some have slipped into an attitude of perpetual hand-wringing, along with repeatedly muttering "we can't afford it".
Well, I'd like to share some information that just might change that attitude, and prove that this United Church of ours can still rise to the challenge. Just over a month ago Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake, and in those few weeks our congregations have contributed a total of one and a half million dollars ($1,500,000.00) to the relief campaign. When matched by the contribution of the Government of Canada, members and adherents of the United Church of Canada will have been directly responsible for delivering three million dollars ($3,000,000.00) to aid in the recovery of brothers and sisters in Haiti That sure doesn't sound like the spirit of generosity has dried up!
Although it is true that we didn't as a national church meet our goal for the Mission and Service Fund, the congregations of London Conference did contribute a total of $2,860,724.00. That works out to 127.32% success for the overall objective we set for ourselves, or roughly 97.5% of the amount that we raised the previous year. Given the severe economic downturn and loss of employment in our region over the past year, that's a pretty impressive total nonetheless!
I'm not trying to act like some sort of "Pollyanna". I'm well aware that efficacious stewardship in contemporary society isn't easy, for even our normal purchasing habits have changed significantly in the past decade. Not so very long ago a trip to the store began by checking in advance that we had sufficient cash to make our purchases. Now we often find that we have virtually no cash in our wallet or purse, replaced by row upon row of plastic cards. Hasn't everyone had at least one experience discovering at offering time that we forgot to first stop at an ATM for cash?
This may not be as much of a concern for long term members, who seldom forget to make out their offertory cheque before they leave home. However, if our church is to grow and remain vital in the years ahead, we must be intentionally reaching out to individuals and families who haven't this well-established church tradition To a far greater degree they routinely rely upon their debit and credit cards, and even if genuinely moved to donate, they’re much less likely to have cash in their pockets. Essentially, they increasingly represent an untapped resource to our churches.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that every church should install debit card machines. In some larger churches such an initiative would likely make sense, but for the vast majority the increased revenue would never warrant the expense of installation and maintenance. Similarly, the value gained by utilizing credit cards in most churches would likely never compensate the additional banking fees and surcharges. Congregations should carefully evaluate before considering either of these methods - particularly since a far less expensive alternative already exists.
I refer to the PAR method of making regular donations, a programme fully maintained and administered by the United Church of Canada. The term "PAR" stands for Pre-Authorized Remittance, a direct debit program that allows people to support their church through an automatic monthly withdrawal from their bank account. The programme is based upon the giver's wishes, (e.g., "x" amount for local church expenses and "x" amount for the Mission and Service Fund) and once a month all PAR givings are debited from givers' accounts and then electronically transferred to the local church bank account.
The PAR programme was introduced in 1976 as a convenient way for members and adherents to provide consistent, year-round financial support for their church. It's now growing at a rate of about 15 percent every year. Increasing numbers of people find that monthly direct debiting allows them to more intentionally plan and honour their financial commitments to their local church. At this present time there are approximately 4,000 PAR donors in London Conference, of whom more then 1,600 also use PAR for their regular Mission and Service Fund donations. In January of this year the average monthly PAR donation was $115.99, while the average monthly PAR M&S Fund contribution was $31.74. How well do these figures compare with the current average monthly cash donations in your church?
Needless to say, PAR also provides your church with a predictable income each month, making it a great deal easier to keep on top of the cash-flow situation. Gone from your mind is any concern that your best contributors may be absent on extended vacation, for PAR continues to make the same remittance even while they’re away. There is no minimum number of givers required for a congregation to initiate the programme. However, since one of the basic purposes is to ensure regular monthly givings to help pay church expenses, most congregations find that the more people on the program, the more valuable and viable it is.
If your congregation is already using the PAR system then you’re already well aware of the advantages. Even still, perhaps now would be a good time to promote the programme within your congregation and increase participation. If your church has yet to implement PAR, isn’t it time to make the switch? Attached to this memo you’ll find a three-fold brochure which you can copy and pass out to everyone in attendance this Sunday. You also find a sheet to copy and provide your congregation with Authorization Notices to get the process started.
PAR isn’t a new idea, but it is still under-utilized and may be just the Stewardship solution that your church requires. I urge every church to make this the year when you launch or expand PAR in your congregation. I also want to thank each of you for your anticipated co-operation and assistence in getting us all on PAR.
Yours in Creator's service.
Rev. R. Matthew Stevens
London Conference, United Church of Canada,