The Importance of Vision

January 15, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

It Is not unusual in churches for offertories to lag behind what is required to sustain their ministry. This causes particular consternation towards the end of the year. It is not merely because of the current shortfall but it also casts gloom over the planning for next year.

Some years ago, when I was on holidays, I attended a church with such a problem. It was a good church with a healthy congregation and a multi-staff ministry. Yet they were obviously under financial stress as the following notice was in the bulletin.

  • Up to the end of October offerings have averaged $9381 per week, well below budget and a little less than last year.
  • While expenses are below budget we have not been able to contain them to the same extent that offerings are down
  • We expect to finish this year with a budget shortfall of approximately $24,000
  • No budgeted change to staff currently in place
  • Expenses reflect current trends with some allowance for cost increases
  • Offerings are budgeted at $10113 per week
  • While this is a $732 per week increase on current offerings, our average Sunday attendance is close to 400 so if each person attending put in an extra $2 we would be covered
  • If offerings do not reach the budgeted amount in the first quarter of next year, the Leadership Team sees little alternative but at that time to recommend to the church reducing staff

What is wrong with this approach?              sad                                       

While it is good to bring the congregation up to date, I do not believe an announcement like this is the way to do it. Sadly, a similar notice appeared in this church’s bulletin in subsequent years. So how should the announcement be handled? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. The issue should be addressed by the senior minister. Remember the senior minister is the chief resource raiser.
  2. Frame the notice in terms of mission and vision not money and budgets. Parishioners rarely give to budget shortfalls. Remember money follows vision.
  3. Think about the effect on the congregation. The framers of the notice may not realize it but the people in the pews will hear that their church is going down the gurgler. What they hear is:
    ‘Our church is worse off than last year. People are not giving enough money.  The situation is not getting any better. There are probably lots of things wrong we don’t know about. We are not going to do anything new or bold in ministry advances next year. We are addressing this situation by cutting spending. This means fewer ministries. If this downward spiral keeps occurring, we will cut staff which will mean we will go down the gurgler quicker and the downward spiral will continue.’
  4.  The comment about $2 per week per member looks like a drowning person desperately clutching at straws. It will not succeed. See my article All we need is just the cost of a cup of Coffee. 

A better way to make the Announcement                         

Ask confidently and boldly for support. The raw numbers of the money required can be placed in the bulletin without the gloomy commentary. Omit the word budget. It is a money term not a ministry term.

The senior minister could say something along the lines of the following.happy

‘You will see a note from the treasurer in the bulletin indicating the giving is a bit down.  That’s important but I want to tell you about some of the really great ministry that our staff and our volunteers have been doing. There are so many good things and I only have time to talk about a few.

  • Our recent youth camp had record numbers.
  • More people are in bible study home groups than ever before.
  • Our compassion ministry helps twenty families each week.

 ‘This church has been consistently generous over many years in supporting all the great work that goes on here. So I have no hesitation in asking you to be generous again. I am announcing a Christmas appeal where we will give ten percent to our mission offertories and use the rest to be cashed up and ready to go for another exciting year in ministry.

Don’t forget the summer ministry programme in January, or our first ever camp for seniors, or the Easter outreach that our music team is planning right now. That is just a start.

Some people might say, ’Why not just reduce the staff? That will fix the shortfall’. Frankly that is the very last thing I am proposing. Staff are employed to empower and multiply ministry and my desire is to increase staff not to decrease them. In fact we wish to employ an additional Children’s ministry intern starting next February to help make our great Kid’s Church even better.  What I want to emphasize Is that changing lives through Jesus is what we are on about.

What I am asking is that you make a special Christmas donation in the envelope provided or go to the website and donate through ‘The Christmas Appeal’ special account.

I am asking everybody to contribute, but for those who have been specially blessed financially or receive a Christmas bonus, I ask you to be even more generous than usual this year.’

Such an announcement will obviously need to be tailored to the particular local situation. I do not say it is perfect but I do believe it will yield more fruit as it will remind people of why the local church exists, and will invite them to be part of something that has eternal consequences.  To read about how to raise money for ministry so you are not stuck in crisis mode see my book Giving Generously: resourcing local church ministry.

Buy-the-book

 

The Importance of Vision

December 18, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Early last year a church leader named Jim purchased a copy of my book Giving Generously and soon after requested a dozen copies for the church elders. This is a good strategy apart from the obvious fact of increased book sales for me!! The reason is that the whole leadership team gets to learn about the process at the same time. They can reflect, discuss and question together. It is not just one person having a good idea and then trying to sell it to the rest of the group.

About a month later, I was invited to address Jim and his leadership team one evening. The church had a project that had been in the development stage for a year or so. It was to upgrade two halls adjacent to the church which were used for a variety of ministry purposes. It was a worthy project as the halls had been built many years before and it was obvious they needed refurbishing. The work could be done in stages, with a total cost in excess of $1,000,000.

The whole issue was complicated by the fact that the church was between senior ministers. The former leader had left the year before and while the search team were active, no new leader was on the horizon. Conducting a capital works appeal requires bold and determined leadership. However, despite being in this transition phase, the church elders were keen to proceed. They felt the project had been gestating long enough. 

I addressed the group and presented the key issues involved in conducting a capital campaign (see Chapter 14 of Giving Generously). One possible way forward was to sell some property that the church owned. I cautioned against this step, in the first instance anyway. I believe it is far better to conduct a capital campaign and only sell property as a last resort. See Beware of selling the farm .

I was impressed by the calibre of the lay leadership. Jim was a driving force and a wise consultative leader. However the other members of the team were intelligent, energetic and make-it-happen type of people who wanted to have a crack at raising the money. I went home feeling full of admiration for the group, but also with a sense of foreboding. I had conducted a number of such campaigns at Figtree Anglican and I knew the focus, effort and determination required. To attempt such a project without a full time senior minister who had earned the love and trust of the congregation, was a formidable task indeed. 

Apart from one small further interaction, I had no other input into the campaign, which Jim and the leadership team developed over the next few months. Jim kept the project on track, ensured the components were well executed, made sure it was grounded in scripture and bathed in prayer.  The others magnificently played their part, supporting the process and producing an excellent explanatory brochure. Imagine my delight when Jim contacted me about six months later with the news that the campaign had been a resounding success, raising in money and pledges a figure exceeding ten times the amount that had ever been achieved in the past. It did not cover the entire amount but certainly funds a very significant part of the project.

But here is the more amazing fact. I have mentioned the leadership of Jim. He was the locum, the interim minister and Jim was part-time and in his eighties!! This was a truly astonishing result from an outstanding leader and an outstanding leadership team. They are all giving thanks to God.

So if you and your church have a daunting project, commit your plans to the Lord and draw some inspiration from Jim and his bold band of brothers and sisters. You need great leaders…like Jim. Buy the Book

The Importance of Vision

November 15, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

St James Church had a problem. Offertories were down for reasons nobody seemed to understand. This had been apparent for five or six months. Church elders had discussed the situation at monthly meetings. In fact the longer the issue had persisted the more time had been taken up at the meetings talking about it. Nobody was falling all over themselves to tackle the problem, but everyone was concerned.

It was a lot like the situation in the old story ‘Bell the Cat’. The mice had come up with a plan to put a bell around the cat’s neck to stop their being surprised by the lethal feline. In the end nothing happened, because no mouse was game to do anything. At St James the minister opted out as he was there to preach and pastor. The elders opted out because they didn’t know what to say. The treasurer opted out because she was there to ensure the money was appropriately accounted for.

But as the shortage began to take crisis proportions, people started to look to Betty the treasurer to say something because, after all, she was the money person. So very hesitantly but courageously, Betty addressed the services one Sunday. Using a graphic of a thermometer she explained that the church was 12% behind budget. The elders had restricted costs as much as they could. Unless everyone increased giving then more drastic cut backs would need to be made.

However Betty brightened and explained that all was not lost. If everyone gave an extra $4.00 a week, just the price of one cup of coffee then the crisis would be averted. Would each congregation member prayerfully consider increasing their giving by that amount?

Well full marks to Betty! At least she did something. However there are a number of glaring problems.

  1. It is the senior minister’s job to address the issue not the elders or the treasurer.
  2. People don’t give to budgetary black holes. They give to transformational vision. See my article The Importance of Vision.
  3. The cup of coffee figure of $4 per member per week may be financially and mathematically accurate, but is actually encouraging the appeal to fail.

I will comment on the Cup of Coffee point here. The reason for probable failure is simple. People don’t all have the same amount of income. Also, people don’t give the same amount anyway. In their book Passing the Plate:  Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, authors Smith Emerson and Snell state around 20% of American churchgoers put zero money in the plate. Only about 9.4% tithe or exceed the tithe. Everyone else is in between.

So making an appeal for everyone to give an extra $4 per week will make little or no impact on the person who has shown zero inclination to give up to now. At the other end of the scale it gives an expectation to the wealthier members of the congregation that all they need to do is to contribute an extra $4.00 a week, when in fact they could easily contribute much more. They have been let off the hook.

If Betty had wanted to pursue her Cup of Coffee analogy, (and it is not my recommended strategy), it would have been better for her to conclude her presentation with something like the following.

‘If you are mathematically inclined you may have looked at these numbers and thought to yourself, if everyone gave $4.00 a week, just the price of a cup of coffee we would be fine. However I am not asking that because I know that we don’t all have access to the same amount of money. For some of you an extra dollar may be all you can spare. But for others here God has blessed you richly, and you can afford to put in an extra $50.00 a week or even more. Most of you are somewhere in between these figures. So could I ask you to have a family conference, seek God’s will and generously increase your giving.’

Every church has offertory shortfalls. To address the whole issue of raising resources for local church ministry I wrote the book Giving Generously which you can purchase here.

Buy the Book

The Importance of Vision

September 24, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Some years ago I read a wonderful little book called Jesus and Money by Ben Witherington III. He commended John Wesley’s famous sermon The Use of Money and reproduced it in his book.

I pricked my ears up because I was sent by my non-church going mother to the local Methodist Sunday School. One of the heroes of the faith I learnt about, was the famous C18th evangelist John Wesley. As an adult I subsequently read of the wonderful ministry of Wesley and his brother Charles and their equally famous fellow worker George Whitfield in the evangelical movement of the C 18th. . I grew up singing the hymns of their revival.

So when I visited the UK a couple of years ago, my itinerary took me from York to Cambridge I determined to detour off the motorway and visit the shrine of Methodism, the Epworth rectory where their father Samuel had been rector and where they had been raised by their saintly mother Susanna. It was here that 6 year old John had a marvellous escape from the fire that ravaged the house. rod-wesley-1

The volunteer guide was nowhere to be seen but the local Methodist minister appeared from a meeting and took us over the house which was full of fascinating Methodist history. However, by far the stand-out for me was a full size likeness of the great evangelist that formerly was on display in Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. What staggered me was how small John Wesley was in real life (see photo). I remember someone had called him a ‘dapper little don’, but until I stood next to him I hadn’t quite realized just what that meant.

The thought that went through my mind was, that relative to Wesley I was a physical giant but a spiritual pigmy, whereas he may have been physically challenged but was certainly a spiritual giant.

Later I visited the Epworth Anglican parish church where Wesley had been briefly a curate for his father.  Later during the evangelical revival Wesley returned to Epworth where he was refused permission to preach within the church by the new Rector. Thus he stood on his father’s tomb and preached powerfully to the crowd outside the church. He is reported as saying that he did more good for the kingdom on that occasion in 20 minutes than he had done in two years as his father’s assistant. rod-wesley-2

The tomb is still outside the church and surprizingly with no identifying sign apart from the inscription. I felt I was gazing on hallowed ground (see photo) and thought it would be inappropriate to stand on the tomb myself.

Wesley was a wonderful evangelist but was also concerned to help his converts develop in Christian maturity. As I note in my book Giving Generously, there is little that assists Christian maturity more than a proper understanding  of money.

In his famous sermon The Use of Money, John Wesley bases his message on Luke 16:9.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

He asked the question, given that money is not evil in itself, what is the appropriate and wise way to use it. His message is in three parts.

1 Earn all you can: but in a way that is honorable.

2 Save all you can. Don’t waste it.

3 Give all you can: remembering that you are a steward of God’s blessing.

It is a wonderful message and while it was preached well over two hundred years ago in another place and another age, the biblical truths it enshrines speak just as clearly today. And with the magic of the internet you can find it with one click on the link below. I heartily commend it.

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-50-The-Use-of-Money

Buy the Book Giving Generously https://givinggenerously.com/buy-the-book-2/

The Importance of Vision

August 20, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Kiama is a wonderful seaside township about two hours’ drive south of Sydney. It sits abreast of a spectacularly beautiful coastline highlighted by the famous Kiama blow hole. The Anglican Church in the town is located on a headland with one of the most magnificent views in the state. Christ Church has been a vital part of the life of the community since the 1840s.
Christ-Church-Anglican-Kiama

A friend recently sent me a brochure (see below) about a giving campaign, conducted in 1959 to raise money for the Sunday School. It had been unearthed recently in the archives and is a document worth studying as it touches on most of the necessary principles for a fruitful result. Here are just some of them.

1 Past legacy, present needs and future vision were linked. There was constant reference to the fact that this was a centenary project honouring the debt free building of the first church in 1859. The then current urgent need for £8,000 to minister to the members and leaders of tomorrow was spelt out.

2 There is the endorsement of the leaders, the then Archbishop of Sydney, Hugh Gough, the rector (senior minister) of the day and the General Chairman of the campaign with the encouragement to give generously.

3 The details of the campaign were explained. The visitors would already have given to the campaign. They would not be asking the congregation to do anything they had not done themselves. They had ‘skin in the game’. People would not be railroaded. They would be approached in private. The issues could be explained personally.

4 People were asked to make a three year pledge. This is wise in the conduct of a campaign for funds in excess of the annual budget of the church. Willing members often cannot give a large up front amount (some can) but are far more able to contribute to a three year target.

5 The brochure included the familiar illustration comparing generous givers to the Sea of Galilee, with the Jordan River flowing in and flowing out giving life and vitality. The contrast was made with the lifeless Dead Sea where the Jordan flows in but there is no outlet.

6 Sacrificial giving was encouraged and boldly contrasted with token giving.

7 While there was a front page diagram of the proposed structure there were also four photographs of people and children of the church in various ministry settings. This is a key point as buildings don’t always excite people even when those buildings are used for ministry. However, the growth of people is inherently exciting.

8 The spiritual nature of the campaign was highlighted. This request was being made to God’s people who believe in God’s church and wanted the ministry of the gospel to proceed. It underlined the fact that giving to God is never a money issue. It is a faith issue and a ministry issue. Bold leaders understand this and thus are never hesitant in asking.

Some years ago when I was the senior minister of the Anglican church at Figtree I conducted a giving campaign for a building. I wrote about it in my book Giving Generously: Raising Money for local church ministry. https://givinggenerously.com/  I had to undertake a lot of research to find out what to do. The 1959 Christ Church Kiama brochure shows there is nothing new under the sun and I wish I had had it twenty years ago.

Well the Kiama campaign must have succeeded because the hall has been in use for many years and I have attended a ministry function within it. Christ-Church-Anglican-Kiama-group The church in 1959 was obviously populated by people of vision and faith. This continues to be the case as a new facility has recently been built, funded by  a modern campaign but one embracing many of the above principles. The building, now debt free, serves the needs of the current vibrant community. A number of them are my very good friends. So if you are ever in Kiama on a Sunday, pay a visit to Christ Church Anglican. I am sure you will receive a warm welcome.
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The Importance of Vision

July 24, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Consider this verse.

A generous person will prosper;  whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Prov 11:25

Now maybe you are thinking, that’s crazy. How can giving stuff away be a good thing? How could that be a bright idea? Won’t that diminish me? If you are thinking that you are in very good company. However it a biblical truth and it is a universal truth. It is also found in the writings of sages, philosophers, wise men and women and religions throughout the ages.

There is a recent secular book called ‘The Paradox of Generosity: Giving we receive, Grasping we lose’, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. the paradox of generositySmith leads the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S and Davidson has close involvement in the work. The study draws attention to the paradoxical, counter-intuitive nature of generosity. Here is the essence of it:

‘Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.’

This is a book worth buying. It is based on two thousand surveys followed up with sixty focussed interviews with real people, Americans, some generous and some and some self admittedly far less so.

They examined generosity over five dimensions.

  • Giving money away.
  • Volunteering
  • Being generous in personal relationships
  • Being a good neighbour and friend
  • Personally valuing generosity

A life of generosity is a life where you are a giver not a taker, you are open-hearted with an open wallet. The result: generous people were happier, healthier, had more purpose in life, more friends, less depression, more opportunities and experienced more personal growth. And what’s more, the relationship of generosity with blessings was causal. Generosity was not just associated with blessing; it actually caused it. This point, being controversial, was examined in some detail.

The authors stress that the positive effects of generosity flow to those who value generosity and make it a habit of life. Making a one-off gift in some emergency, performing some incidental community service like giving blood on occasion just doesn’t cut it. The blessing of generosity accumulates to those who have internalized generosity so it is part of their DNA. Consequently it cannot be faked and does not accrue to those who give in order to get or to acquire some perceived advantage. Generosity is more like love: the more you give it away the more abundant it becomes.

They also examined the effect in the negative: the effect of lack of generosity on those who kept things for themselves.

The ultimate opposite is the miser. I certainly don’t want to be thought a miser. The miser hoards, grasps, doesn’t give, doesn’t share. Misers are not just careful with money but tight, skinflint, cheapskate. The miser is not happy.  Our word ‘miserable’ and the word ‘miser’ have the same basic meaning. They both come from the Latin root that means ‘wretched’.

The Paradox of Generosity study found that generous people were happier, healthier, had more friends, enjoyed more benefits, were more prosperous, thrived in life. The ungenerous ones were poorer in spirit and often financially, had less purpose, lived for themselves, were sicker and lonelier.

Jesus  said’ It is more blessed to give than to receive’ and it is obvious he knew what he was talking about.

To investigate this topic further see my book Giving Generously: Resourcing local church ministry.   https://givinggenerously.com/

So here is my point from the scripture, tradition and reinforced by modern sociology

Be generous. It’s good for you. It will give you great joy. It will bless others and the bible adds that it will give God glory (2 Cor 9:11).

The Importance of Vision

June 5, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

In my book Giving Generously: Resourcing Local Church Ministry I stress the importance of asking for resources. This is in contrast to fretting, wishing, hoping, complaining or dithering. I know history records certain great believers who simply waited on God for their ministry needs.  I, for one, do not wish in any way to decry their efforts. However, when I look at the bible I see a number of examples where some the greatest leaders of the scripture, when faced with the necessity of funding a godly cause, asked God’s people clearly and confidently but not coercively to give.

Consider Moses who was charged by the Lord with building the tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings.

From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; (Ex 35:5)

There are more ways to give mentioned in subsequent verses. While this is a command of the Lord, Moses was not coercive. Note the words, everyone who is willing.

People were also asked to give their time and talents.

All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded:   (Ex 35:10.)

The people responded with such enthusiasm that Moses had to tell people to stop giving (Ex 36:6). The appeal was oversubscribed!! Now that is a happy thought and a prayer point for church leaders with a project.

ask

When King David needed to raise money for the building of the temple he first led the appeal by personal example and asked people to follow his lead with these words:

Now who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord. (1 Chr 29:5)

Again there was a great response, great rejoicing and they all partied hard (in a godly way).

When the apostle Paul wanted to raise money for the collection to relieve the distress of the believers in Jerusalem he held up the example of the generosity of the poverty stricken Macedonians and said,

See that that also excel in this grace of giving’. (2 Cor 8:7)

And then after speaking of the lavish grace of the birth, life, ministry and death of the Lord Jesus that has brought such blessing, Paul urged believers to finish the work they had started. However the apostle wrote, ‘I am not commanding you’. He wanted them to give freely and voluntarily because they loved the Lord and loved the Lord’s people.

In each case above the appeal was clear, it was confident but it was not coercive.

There is something else in common in each case. The leader, whether Moses, David or Paul made the request. In churches today, this is a leadership function that should not be farmed off to the church treasurer. Treasurers are important and do a wonderful, often unheralded ministry. See you need a good treasurer https://givinggenerously.com/need-good-treasurer/ . Also, there may be a very good reason for the treasurer to explain the financial facts, but pastors should not pass the buck in this task, which is one only they should do.

So make sure your cause advances the gospel. Make sure your financial facts are accurate. Then stand before your congregation, point out how God will be honoured and people blessed and clearly and confidently ask for support.

The Importance of Vision

March 16, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine
When I became Rector( senior minister in Anglican speak) of Figtree Anglican Church  I inherited a very good voluntary treasurer. He was competent , pleasant and wise. After about four years he told me that as he had been in the role for quite some time, he would stand down after another year giving me time to recruit a successor . The parish was growing and he felt it needed someone more able than he was.
good-treaurer

I was not thrilled about this news as he was doing a very good job and finding a volunteer who would take on such a demanding and time consuming role for no money was not not going to be easy. It certainly was a matter for prayer. The task turned out to be far easier than I had imagined. Only a month or so later a man called Alan who had recently joined our evening congregation invited me to meet him in the city for coffee.

He was a committed Christian who had joined the church on the recommendation of his then young adult son. Alan said he would like to get more involved. So we had a discussion about his faith and his gifts. In his professional life he was the COO of a local transport company. However he added that his basic training was as an accountant. Accountant! I think I looked at him like he was an angel directly sent by God as an answer to prayer.

As it transpired Alan did become treasurer and a senior elder ( warden in Anglican speak)and kept that role as a a volunteer for the next fifteen years with me and continued on for some years with my successor. It proved a very happy partnership. He became a close friend a counsellor and guide.
Why was he so good?

First he was a totally committed Christian who loved God and was committed to the growth and health of our church. Sometimes churches have treasurers who have some vague religious sentiments and do the books as some sort of religious duty without a knowledge of Christ. That was never the case with Alan.

Second he was very competent. The books were always kept meticulously. The parish council had an accurate set of figures on which to base their discussions . Alan would also give a clear lucid account of the finances at the Annual General Meeting. Further Alan was able to successfully negotiate  a significant loan at a very competitive rate that enabled a large building project to proceed. Because he was used to dealing with multi- multi- million dollar budgets at work a couple of million dollars for our loan was not disconcerting. In addition Alan was current and up to date keeping up with the shift to electronic banking and cloud computing.

Third he was scrupulously honest, a man of absolute integrity. The people of the parish knew they could trust him. This is a crucial requirement. The apostle Paul stresses the need for financial integrity and transparency in finances. (2 Cor8:20-21)

Fourth Alan’s faith was bold and wise. Sometimes you can have a treasurer who is so laissez faire they will acquiesce to any crazy scheme. More often you find a treasurer who holds onto the money so tightly that it becomes almost impossible to step out and make progress with new ventures.
Alan was neither of those. He was keen to support innovative new ministries. With two other leaders he accompanied me on an overseas church crawl to get new ideas. But he was also grounded enough to restrain me from any ‘irrational exuberance’.

Fifth Alan was personally generous. He gave a huge amount of time to the finance ministry and to the broader leadership of the church. This commitment only increased when he retired. With the support and encouragement of his gracious hospitable wife Carol he also generously financially supported the regular ministry and the big leaps forward the church attempted to make.
As I sat at our first meeting all those years before, with the pressing need for a treasurer at the front of my mind, I wondered if perhaps  the Lord was sending me an angel. I am sure Carol would disabuse him of any angelic pretensions but he looked like a direct answer to prayer to me.

So if you have an Alan active in your ministry, thank God. And if you don’t you now have a prayer point.

The Importance of Vision

January 2, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Recently I attended a church service for Volunteer Sunday. On this day the minister suspended the normal preaching programme to design a service and preach a sermon celebrating the many volunteers who week in week out exercised a faithful and fruitful ministry in the church and on behalf of the church in the community. I had been to such services before and with the writing of this post in mind I was especially looking forward to this service.  I was not disappointed. This church goes all out. It is never a half- hearted afterthought such as: ‘Hello everybody thanks for your ministry. Now let’s return to normal business’.

On the day the church and foyer were festooned in a celebratory atmosphere. The service and sermon had a theme of ‘hundreds and thousands’. This was meant to embody the idea of hundreds of volunteers ministering to thousands of people. Fairy bread covered with ‘hundreds and thousands’ were distributed in the foyer after the service.
volunteers-hundreds-thousands

The preacher used a very, very large adhesive board and to it, attached dozens of coloured dots which represented people in ministry and reinforced the theme. The bible passage was Romans 16 where the apostle Paul greets a galaxy of otherwise unheralded ministry friends. These are people who were highly significant in Paul’s ministry and had laboured long, diligently and effectively in gospel work but don’t get the attention that we naturally pay to figures like Peter, Paul, James and John.

The connection is easy to make. Congregations are naturally aware of the ministry of the preacher, the music director or people who pray, lead singing or read the bible. Their ministry is prominent and visible. Volunteer Sunday gives the opportunity to thank not only the prominent people but also those who humbly and faithfully serve behind the scenes. At Figtree Anglican Church, where I ministered for many years, there was an unobtrusive lady who had been folding the church bulletins, midweek, since the 1940s! What fantastic devotion and how appropriate it is to thank such a servant.

During the sermon the preacher invited people in the various ministry groups , pastoral care, missions, service, children, youth, mentoring, men’s women’s ministries to come onto the platform where he prayed for them and the congregation celebrated their service with acclamation. Many hundreds came forward and crowded the front. They were invited to stick a coloured dot to the adhesive board indicating their ministry and giving them a tangible participation in the message. Apart from the virtue of thanking God for his goodness and thanking his people for their ministry the celebrating of volunteers has other benefits in the life of the church.

First, it introduces a sense of real joy. The entire atmosphere of the service was one of delight in the Lord and his goodness. This congregation loves their church and this service is just one reason why. Second, Volunteer Sunday always acknowledges the vision and mission of the church. The ministry is not being done as a chore but for the glory of God. Celebrated leadership author Peter Drucker says that ‘Volunteers work for a cause’. Volunteer Sunday gives ample opportunity to remind everyone of the gospel imperative by which we live.

Third, it makes raising money so much easier. I discuss in detail raising money for ministry in my book, Giving Generously. It is a simple fact that people who serve in the ministry of the church in a practical way also give more money to that ministry. Volunteers are involved, invested and they are committed and are consequently more likely to be generous regular donors and respond to special appeals for financial support.

The church I refer to is a large, healthy church of very generous givers. It has over 1000 volunteers in ministry and given the way the church thanks them and celebrates their ministry, it is easy to see why.

You can find the sermon “Volunteer Sunday” by Andrew Sercombe from Gateway Baptist Church here.

The Importance of Vision

September 4, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In 1995 my wife Helen Irvine and I went on a trip to the US where we visited a number of churches and I went to two conferences. One of the speakers I heard was Rick Warren, the Baptist pastor of Saddleback church south of Los Angeles. He spoke of a large Capital Works campaign to finance the construction of their building. It had been called ‘Time to Build’. The campaign had raised an amazing $US22 million in money given on the day and pledged over three years.

I found later that Rick had conducted a number of such campaigns, the first being ‘Possess the Land’. Saddleback church had commenced in Rick’s lounge room and as the church grew had met in a variety of properties that the church didn’t own. As the titles suggest the ‘Possess the Land’ campaign was to finance buying of their first property, and then ‘Time to Build’ was to finance the erection of a suite of buildings. Later Rick ran a further campaign called ‘Build for Life’. In fact conducting campaigns for a variety of purposes has become a hallmark of Saddleback’s ministry. The campaigns 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community have been used fruitfully all over the world.
Giving Generously church fund raising campaign

As I discussed in my book, Giving Generously , when I came to financing Figtree Anglican Church’s building development I thought that I would need professional assistance to help raise such a large amount of money, many times the church’s annual operating budget. However, such a professional needed to be chosen very carefully. I believed they needed to have a good track record with engaging with churches as opposed to schools or other not-for-profit organizations. They would need to fit the culture and theological ethos of Figtree Anglican. A cultural mismatch in theology or methodology would be counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst. And of course they needed to be available and willing to come. My problem was that I couldn’t find any who met all three requirements.

However all was not lost. I found that Saddleback had produced a relatively inexpensive Time to Build kit showing in great detail precisely what we needed to do. With the invaluable assistance of my extraordinarily capable administrator Karen Dixon and a legion of wonderful volunteers we bought the kit, put it into practice and conducted a very fruitful campaign. Three years later we needed to repeat the process and by then the kit was called Build for Life. It contained very similar material.

Until quite recently the Build for Life kit was available to be purchased from Saddleback but it appears to have been withdrawn from sale. However, very similar material can still be accessed. As I noted above, conducting campaigns and helping other churches conduct campaigns is a feature of Saddleback’s ministry. An overview of what needs to be done can be found on the Campaign Central section of the Saddleback website. See https://store.pastors.com/pages/campaign-central

For more detail go to the free 33 page Campaign Success Guide

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0545/9317/files/Daring_Faith_Success_Guide.pdf?3657149131282000050

This is for a series called Daring Faith but the material in the Guide relates to campaigns in general.

Each of these campaigns has, at the core, a related sermon series of approximately six weeks. I found such series invaluable because at the start I had no idea how to preach in such a campaign. What I needed was simply to listen to other preachers to see just what they would say, and find a way I say something similar in my own voice and in my own context.

The original Build for Life sermon series is still available for purchase at: https://store.pastors.com/collections/building-for-life

They are certainly worth hearing.

Finally of course, read my book Giving Generously, especially chapter 14, where I explain in some detail how we applied these concepts at Figtree Anglican Church.