Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Dear family in Christ,
Last year, after our Stewardship Campaign came to a close, I received the December 2008 issue of Christianity Today. It featured a familiar face—Ebenezer Scrooge. The headline read, “Scrooge Lives!” The subtitles continued, “Why we’re not putting more in the offering plate (and it has nothing to do with the economy).”
Editor-at-Large, Rob Moll reported in this cover article about a new study on Christian giving, Passing the Plate. Sociologists, Christine Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell discovered that one out of every four American Protestants give away no money at all. They found out the median annual giving for an American Christian is $200, which is a little under a half a percent of before-tax income. They continued, “About 5 percent of American Christians provide 60 percent of the money churches and religious groups use to operate.”
Of course, these statistics lead us to wonder why. Smith, Emerson, and Snell suggest we have too many fixed costs, things without which we cannot do (or so we believe). Also, we distrust our denominations and larger mission organizations, so we keep most of the money to ourselves. Yet, we don’t bother to inform ourselves about what those bodies do with our money and we follow the example we set at home. “Charity begins at home,” but it usually remains there.
So, what do the authors of Passing the Plate propose? They believe churches need to encourage members to make annual pledges, rather than making special appeals. We need to make giving “a matter of intentional obedience, a joyful expression of returning thanks to God.” Such obedience requires habits of generosity. Rob Moll writes, “Spiritual formation occurs when we, week after week, grab the checkbook, write a check, and drop it in the offering plate. We remember God’s goodness, his continual care, as we build up a habit of giving.”
If you wish to read the entire article, I will have copies available in the narthex. I hope you will pick up a copy and read it. On Sunday, I will reference this article in my sermon on the Widow’s Offering from Mark 12: 41-44. The biblical story reflects reality, as Moll writes, “America’s biggest givers—as a percentage of their income—are its lowest income earners.” Smith, Emerson, and Snell write, “Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations, whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent.”
Now, you may think it odd for me to quote this article at length in my stewardship letter. While it may seem strange, the article reflects accurately the reality of Kenmore Presbyterian Church. While I appreciate the generous giving of many of you, over fifty households make no annual pledge to Kenmore Presbyterian Church and many of those give nothing at all to the church. This year, 116 households pledged $190,771, which made for an average pledge of $1,658. However, the top 10 pledging households pledge 30% of that total amount and the top 21 pledging households represent 50% of the total pledged amount. Nearly fifty percent of all pledging households only pledge between $24 and $1000 annually to the work and witness of Kenmore Presbyterian Church. While I do not know names, these numbers concern me deeply. It means most households in our congregation would spend far more on one trip to the movies than they give weekly to the church. It means many families spend more on season tickets to the Bills, the Sabres, the Buffalo Philharmonic, or one of our local theatres than they give annually to Kenmore Presbyterian Church.
These numbers concern me, because they represent a serious spiritual problem for us. Yes, I know it represents a serious financial problem, but we must remember it’s only a symptom of a disease. St. Augustine described the disease as cors curvum se, “the heart turned in on itself.” That’s how he defined sin and our current approach to stewardship is something from which we need to repent. Even in our budget, we spend more money on maintaining what we have than we do on moving out into our community and the world with the good news of the gospel. We need to become more obedient to God in how we use the gifts God gives us. We need to approach our annual giving as giving what’s right rather than what’s left.
So, where do we start? Begin with the pledge card, which you find in this mailing. Take time to review it carefully and prayerfully. If you have never made an annual pledge to Kenmore Presbyterian Church, I invite you to begin this year. Consider giving at least one percent of your gross annual household income. If you already pledge, review what you currently give and consider prayerfully giving an additional one percent of your gross annual household income.
While I know everyone has different ways of giving, I’d invite every member to consider giving weekly in worship. When we give weekly, we keep our commitment before us. Also, the act of placing our offering in the plate is a living reminder of Romans 12: 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
The Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.