When Aristotle first wrote this phrase around 350 BC it was already a well-known proverb. The concept that a good start on a project is essential for success seems as old as humanity. In church stewardship the same rule applies. As this article is written we are beginning November and the annual church pledge drive is just underway. We have collected a little over half the number of pledges we have as our goal, and more than half the dollar figure. By the time you are reading this, we hope to be even further along. Have you pledged yet?
Giving out of Duty
Some think of pledging as an obligation or duty. For these folks, if you belong to a community it is only proper to contribute your fair share. If a group of friends went out to eat every week and one among them never contributed to paying the bill, that fact would be noticed and maybe joked about or resented. The group might even decide to leave the non-payer behind. This is NOT how God sees the church. God’s grace is freely given to both the big contributor and the non-contributor. God’s grace consistently undercuts the pledging as obligation argument, still in many churches and stewardship drives you often hear a version of this appeal. This appeal to duty fits with human nature and is almost irresistible once the initial pledges have come in and the end goal is in sight.
Giving out of Guilt
Other stewardship campaigns build on reciprocity and the desire of people to avoid being in someone’s debt. So you may see churches give out coffee mugs, tote bags, or other small items of value to put the recipient in a position of indebtedness so the church goer will be motivated to give in order to relieve the obligation. If you’ve ever wondered why direct mail solicitations often come with mailing labels, it is for this reason. This appeal to guilt does produce a bigger response rate, but giving out of guilt is not really aligned with the spirit of God’s grace.
Giving Out of Gratitude
Presbyterians and others in the reformed tradition recognize our giving to the church is not to earn God’s favor, or the favor of our fellows, but rather is done in response to blessings God has freely bestowed on each of us. Stewardship in the Reformed tradition is about responding to God with our gifts and pledges. Pledging is how we say thank you to God. The question for us is not so much, “Have you pledged yet?” as “Have you thanked God, yet?” Please think about the people and things in your life you are grateful to God for, and take this opportunity to say thank you by pledging today. Yes, we need your gifts and will use them in our community and around the world. But, the primary reason we are asking for your pledge is so you can have an opportunity to say “Thank You!” to God. Please join us in giving thanks this year.
Arthur Fullerton is a Ruling Elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY and Chair of the Albany Presbytery Board of Trustees. He consults with nonprofits about fundraising and organizational leadership. You can reach Arthur by email firstname.lastname@example.org.