During Advent and through Christmas, parishes and churches weave together messages of preparation, hope, and joy with reminders of generosity and giving. We hear it from companies that serve churches too. ACS Technologies is an example, providing prayerful Advent content and reflection, along with strategies to reach donors for year-end giving.
Sometimes the fabric woven with these threads is rough and unfinished. While it is appropriate to encourage giving during this time of the church season and in light of the financial implications of the calendar, sometimes it seems like we fail to connect the request to the priorities and the vision of the Church. And we lose the key point – the expression of our discipleship – in the message. Our threads are loose, and the fabric unravels.
“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a Journey.”
– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium #127
Is your message about giving to a need? Christmas is a time to provide help to those in need. Are you also providing context for how providing the item or service enables the organization’s mission? Have you provided any past communications demonstrating how your parish and church have progressed or fulfilled mission-focused services?
This is an opportunity to inspire generosity and faith. Celebrate the birth of Christ and also prepare for His coming. Move beyond the one-time seasonal gift to help people reflect on how they express their faith and consider deeper exploration and commitment.
“Unleashing Catholic Generosity,” a paper by Smith and Starks for the Notre Dame Institute for Church Life, provides an excellent analysis comparing giving across different denominations and why Catholic giving lags behind others. Their observations hold true today. In the closing paragraph of the executive summary, the authors say:
“When, instead, parishioners understand themselves to be a part of the planning and vision for their parish, and when they become excited about all of the good things that donated money can accomplish, this empowers them and engenders a sense of ownership, all of which
leads to more generous giving. Our research suggests parish leaders will benefit from developing collaborative parish cultures in which service and mission inspire a vision of opportunities for charitable giving that can dramatically improve the Church, change people’s lives, and transform our world.”
We can improve the strength of our fabric if our message thread aligns requests for giving with the plan and vision for our church. If we present stories celebrating how our services have helped people and impacted the community, we can engage people more deeply in our mission. Stories about the causes identified as priorities are meaningful, and the request can be specific. This also provides an opportunity to show progress over time, which helps people see how their contributions change lives.
Encouraging Evangelization and Discipleship
But what about our Faith journey? Ideally, giving should express our need to give, our grateful recognition that all we have comes from God. This level of faithful response and stewardship is discipleship, a deep level of faith and trust. In reality, we are all in different places on our personal journeys. The framework for thresholds of conversion is helpful in understanding what it means to be on a journey. The phases of Thresholds of Conversion were originally developed by Everts and Shaupp. Sherry Weddell used them as the foundation for her popular book “Forming Intentional Disciples:”
- Initial Trust
- Intentional Discipleship
These terms are used to describe stages that we move through as we explore our faith. We first establish a bridge of trust with people in the church. This bridge gives us some confidence to explore ideas. As we become open to the possibility of a spiritual change, we can make a decision to move into seeking and learning more, ultimately “casting aside the nets” as Weddell says, and committing as intentional disciples.
What does this have to do with year-end giving? And how does this fit with the Advent and Christmas season. Skillfully woven communication about giving can engage people with our purpose and mission, which is one avenue to building trust and opening curiosity. This season is a time to weave our mission-focused messages on giving with personal encouragement to grow in faith.
It’s also a time to welcome lapsed and un-Churched people into a relationship with our community. Without invitation and encounter we cannot hope to develop a bridge of trust. Trust is built on a positive association with a Christian believer or something identifiably Christian. As Weddel says “Without some kind of bridge of trust in place, people will not move closer to God.”
A strong fabric
Weave a strong fabric of communication by intentionally connecting year-end giving to mission-driven outcomes, and by coordinating the message with invitations to listen to what Christ is telling us. Include communications to welcome people to an activity or event rather than to give a gift. Follow up with continued welcome and invitation. Consistent, transparent communications build trust. Trust fosters an environment that is safe and allows us to be curious. The combination of these things gives us strength as a church community, so we can walk with each other in the Glory of our faith.
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.