The Importance of Vision

May 15, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Masked man (2)I was speaking to an Anglican minister recently and he was telling me about the changes that had been taking place in ministry with the advent of Covid-19. It seemed like a whole new world. In the course of the discussion, he mentioned that to his surprise, the giving had recently been very good. It is not the first time I had heard this type of statement. Thus I wondered why.  It might be thought natural that with the congregation staying home and consequently not being in contact with their pastor, giving might evaporate. And , of course, in some places it has. Putting on my thinking hat, I have come up with three reasons why an upturn in giving might take place in the current Covid environment.
  1. People may be switching to electronic giving and consequently to more regular giving. It is true that there has been a major shift to giving on-line over the last decade or so. However, many have not opted in. These include people with theological objections who simply want to place their money in a physical plate. It can also include older members who are cautious about technology, regularly attend services and see no need to change. With services cancelled and no definite idea of when meeting physically can resume, some of these groups may have decided that on-line giving via technology isn’t so bad after all.
  2. Ministers are being very creative in thinking about the on-line Sunday services, and making them crisper and emphasizing relevance. Sermons are getting shorter! There is no longer, the same old same old, but a brand new day. A friend even told me he now wears theatrical make-up on his face for his on-camera appearances. This may seem a small point but it shows how this new Covid world has forced us out of old, perhaps staid patterns into fresh ways of communicating. There is a key statement about raising resources. It is that ‘money follows vision’. In the emergency of this Covid era, churches are being forced to reassess exactly what they are on about and sharpen and clarify their reason for being.
  3. People may be feeling more connected. That seems quite counter intuitive. Let me explain. Some years ago when the church at Figtree was attempting to raise significant resources for a new building, we organized a visitation to every member of the parish. The visitors carried a pack explaining the project and an audio message (it was some years ago) from me with a greeting and a further explanation of the project. There was opportunity to share prayer points and give feedback. Almost every attender was involved in some way and it certainly embedded the project in the consciousness of the church community. The whole operation was so well received that we repeated it the next year purely for pastoral purposes.

I suspect something similar to the above reasons, is happening in many good churches at the moment. Pastors understand the danger of disconnection and so have made extraordinary efforts to have pastoral teams ring around the church contact list on a regular basis. People who have never gotten a call for years are now receiving contact and offers of care, all the time. I can’t remember a time when I have felt so loved. As an introvert I almost feel over-loved!!! (I am not really complaining.) There are phone calls, texts, suggested prayer points, zoom prayer meetings, home groups and evangelism on zoom and I am sure much more. As a result I suspect many people are feeling more connected than ever. When you feel connected, giving increases.

There may be many other reasons for an upswing in giving. I would be happy to hear them. However, if you are a minister in a church where the giving is going the wrong way, it could be of course that your congregation is suffering from unemployment or cash flow crises and in need of more pastoral support. But if that is not the case and the giving is flagging, maybe paying more attention to some of the points above,  may get the curve going the right way again. For more information on raising resources in a church setting, see my Book Giving Generously. Buy the Book

 

The Importance of Vision

May 15, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
whitefieldMy mother, who rarely went to church herself, sent me to a local Methodist church where I spent my formative years. One of my ministers there was a Mr Brown (not real name) who I quite liked. My enthusiasm was dimmed somewhat when Mr Brown preached a stewardship message. It was quite extraordinary and remains fixed in my memory despite the passage of fifty years.

Mr Brown simply read the church roll. That’s it! There was no more. That was the message in its entirety: all one hundred and thirty names. What is more it was not rushed in delivery but a slow, steady movement through the list. Further the names were read in full: John Malcolm Hughes, Benjamin Robert Ingram and so on. I can remember being astonished beyond all measure and sharing my bewilderment with some other young adults after the service who evinced similar sentiments.

As I reflect on this strange episode there are a couple of issues that stand out. First, at least Mr Brown addressed the topic. Some might feel that the way he chose to do so could have been counterproductive but at least he had a go. Many ministers shy away from any mention of money issues for fear of offending the congregation. So I give Mr Brown good marks for courage.

Secondly, I can excuse his effort somewhat because ministers are generally not taught how to preach on money, then or now. Thus they embark on ministry where finances will be a concern week in and week out, with almost no teaching on how to raise resources or to preach on a topic that is admittedly sensitive. I was certainly in that category despite having attended a first rate theological college for whose training I am constantly grateful.

So here are a few pointers about  how you might attempt to preach on raising resources:

  1. Acknowledge that it is a sensitive subject, but speak confidently into it. Ministers get into trouble when they dither around or get angry and defensive. I preached my last money message about six weeks before I left my parish of Figtree. I commenced with a big smile saying something like, ‘this will be the very last time you will hear me preach on money so I have determined to it my very best shot. So buckle up and here goes!’
  2. Remind people of the goodness, grace, glory, and generosity of God. God is our Maker, our owner and everything we have is due his extraordinary blessing.

I love the way King David puts it as he celebrates the money raised for the temple.

Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
1Chron 29:12-13

  1. Remind people that the most extraordinary instance of God’s grace is in the giving of his Son, the Lord Jesus. God is a Giver. He gave his only son.
  2. Remind people that even though they might work hard, ultimately their wealth all comes from God. King David continued,

Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand and all of it belongs to you. 1Chron 29:16

  1. Remind people that giving is an opportunity for immense spiritual growth because ‘where your treasure is there will your hearts be also’. (Matt 6:21)
  2. Connect your request to the ministry future of the church, not the debts or financial shortfall. Remember that ‘Money follows Vision’.
  3. Don’t beat about the bush. Make a clear request for financial commitment. Moses did (Exodus 35). David did (1Chronicles 29). The apostle Paul did (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). Why shouldn’t you?

I wish I could have discussed these points with Mr Brown but I think we were both clueless.

For more on this topic see my book, Giving Generously Buy the Book

Related Articles

 Preaching a Generosity Message

 Constructing a Commitment Preaching Series

 

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The Importance of Vision

March 28, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

photo-1544400716-1ec92d437c0c 

I was driving through Brisbane recently and I saw a sign on a church notice board that I must confess filled me with gloom. It said, ‘Hall for Hire’. Sounds innocuous! So what is the problem? First, it was a very prominent sign close to a very busy intersection in a location that made it hard to miss. A church’s main business is proclaiming Jesus so surely something about Jesus would be infinitely better than advertising hall hire.

By contrast a friend sent me a church sign sighted on the notice board of an Anglican church in the southern Sydney region.

REASONS TO COME TO

 CHURCH ON SUNDAY

 

1-JESUS IS AWESOME

2 -WE HAVE TOILET PAPER

The sign is eye catching, humorous and contemporary (in the era of the Corona virus). It proclaims Jesus in a way that makes everyone sit up and take notice. I can imagine there will be some who won’t agree but I take my hat off to that kind of creativity. It indicates to me that there probably is a smart leader and a positive ministry going on at that church. Someone is certainly minding the store.

‘Hall for Hire’ says something quite different to me anyway. It says we are struggling and we are out of ideas and short on money. That really is not the sort of image I want to be proclaiming to the community.

I see another problem. Often churches do hire out their halls and then use the money to prop up the ministry. This is a very slippery slope from which there is often no return. I heard of one church that had permanently rented both their halls to a parachurch organization. This meant that it was almost impossible to start a youth or children’s ministry or run any sort of midweek activity.

What is the answer? Most churches don’t have a money problem; they have a vision problem. The answer is to start ministries that will utilize the halls. You won’t be able to fill it up seven days a week if you are starting from scratch but that should be the aim. There is absolutely no reason why a vision team can’t be formed to examine what God-glorifying gospel ministry could be run for men, women, children or youth in the space. At the very least, I would be considering running some form of midweek large group bible teaching or course on evangelism, leadership, church history or Christian ethical issues where I would import top quality speakers. A playgroup to engage local families or easy English to make contact refugees could be other options. In other words, anything positive to show we meant business for the kingdom of God. The longer aim would be to commence a range of other ministry groups.

This of course will take the pressure off the finances because more ministry means more people and more people whose hearts are touched by God mean more pockets and purses open for generous giving. The cycle then continues.

I have hesitated to write this article because I know there will be all sorts of situations and there may be very good reasons why your church is a glorious exception to what I have been saying. So please don’t see me as an unfeeling, uncaring person, unsympathic to the reality of church life in difficult ministry settings. What I am hoping for is that if you are in the position of having a Hall for Hire this post will stimulate you to pray, plan for, and activate ministries to fill the hall so it won’t need to be for hire any more.

The Importance of Vision

January 10, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Dessert and Coffee 2It is a truth universally acknowledged that money follows vision. (I apologize to Jane Austen)
Thus an important role for the minister is to constantly share the vision of the church in as many ways as possible. One way that I found particularly enjoyable was in the form of dessert and coffee evenings.
When I first became senior minister (Rector) of the Anglican parish of Figtree in 1987, my wife Helen and I invited groups of people to our home (rectory) for ‘get to know you events’ designed to make contact with members of our new parish family. The prime purpose of these gatherings was a good one: fellowship. I continued to hold such events as the years went on but their focus broadened to include sharing the vision.
I was asked recently just exactly what we did. I briefly referred to this concept in my book Giving Generously but I elaborate more fully here.  It is not particularly rocket science and I am sure there can be many variants but our evenings generally took the following course.
The People
First Helen would mail out invitations from names I would give her. Generally we would try to invite about 16 people, normally 7 couples and two singles. The singles were not invited for any match making purposes but simply to invite them as I was advised that married people often unconsciously exclude singles. There was no magic in the number 16. It was just the approximate limit to our lounge room and I always reckoned that not everyone would be able to accept.
While I certainly invited people from all areas of parish life I tried to include mostly the people who were contributing significantly to the health, vitality and progress of the ministry with their time talents or treasure. Is this being selective? Yes! But the simple fact was that the parish had around two thousand people on the contact list. I would have liked to invite everyone and certainly tried to connect with as many as possible in other ways. However, in these evenings (almost always on a Friday), I wished to purposefully speak into the lives of people who were contributing most to the progress of the parish.
The Evening
Second, when people arrived, they were welcomed into the lounge room of our home. I always believed the home venue was important. Of course we did have different types of functions in other venues such as the church or a restaurant but inviting people into your home is an important pastoral function that provides a real connection.
The evening was broken into three parts. The first, at 7:30pm, would be some sort of getting to know you game. We often found that asking couples how they came to meet was an excellent discussion prompter as it often lead to many funny stories. There are endless variants that could be used, such as ‘tell us about your favourite movie and why?’ While some of the group may have known each other for years, such questions often give new insights even to old friends.
Then, at 8:30pm we would break for supper with tea, coffee and an assorted array of really nice cakes and goodies, some of which we purchased from a local cake shop and some Helen cooked herself. I was really blessed that in Helen, I had a wonderful hostess who could not only provide and present the food beautifully but socially oiled the evening so people really felt welcomed. This took a huge amount of pressure off me as I am an introvert, for whom social occasions are not my long suit, even though I see them as vital.

 At about 9pm after supper, we would reassemble in the lounge. There I would say something like, ‘I would like to share with you where I see the church going over the next few years. Nothing is set in concrete at this stage. It has not been signed off in any detail by the parish council. But these are the sorts of things that on my heart. I would just like to talk about them and get your feedback.’

Then I would give an overview of the ministries we would like to start, the staff members we would need to support them, the buildings we might need to house them. I would encourage the room to ask questions, seek clarification and challenge the assumptions. Sometimes people would want to know why certain past decisions had been made. Other times a group member might make a really good suggestion which I endeavoured to act on later and acknowledge when it came to pass.But overall I wanted to let people know that the church was not on autopilot and that the leadership were actively thinking planning and praying about our future.

At 10 pm promptly I would thank them, pray for them and conclude the evening as I did not want them to feel they were stuck till the wee hours.

Could these evenings have been for dinner? Helen and I certainly had people over for meals on many occasions but for these particular evenings we preferred dessert and coffee. Over dessert and coffee you can invite more people and they are far easier to host and maintain. Remember the purpose of the evenings is to have a friendly relational way to speak into the lives of as many people as possible and to keep doing so over many years. It is often the persistence with a ministry like this that ultimately makes it effective.
All it needs is a bit of Sense and Sensitivity and the evening is a wonderful form of low key Persuasion. I am sure Jane would agree.

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See also the article The Importance of Vision

 

The Importance of Vision

September 2, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

Research worker

In January 2019 the University of Sydney announced that it had reached a target of $ 1 Billion dollars raised from donations to the University’s Inspire campaign that had been started in 2009. Yes, the figure I quoted was one billion dollars. That is not a mistake.

So what did they do? ‘What was the secret sauce’, some people asked.

The first major initiative was to recruit someone, Tim Dolan, who had great expertise and a track record in the field in the United States. The USA has a far more developed culture of philanthropy than Australia. The next initiative was not just to ask for support but to ask in a particular way. Dolan pointed out that Australian Universities tended to have a menu-based approach to raising money. By this he meant the University would give out a list of projects that it wanted to proceed with and ask people to get on board with their list.

By contrast Dolan advocated a personal approach where the resource raiser became a conduit for the donor and the University. This involved making a relationship with the donor, sitting down with them and exploring the sorts of projects that light their fire.

There is also recognition that not everyone can give equal amounts. Some, because of hard work or sometimes accident of birth, are endowed with far more of this world’s goods than others. In major campaigns every gift is valuable however some can give far more than others.  The University of Sydney has recently been receiving about 13,000 gifts per year. It has received around $120 million per year with about $20 million in bequests. Of the final $100 million, while there are many small gifts, most of the money comes from a couple of hundred very large donations. It is a ‘top heavy’ process

Another factor is that the projects are transformative. By transformative I mean that the gift goes to a project that can totally transform lives or environments. Recently I received a letter from my old alma mater, the University of Queensland.  The heading in large bold letters read.

Can you create the change
you want to see in the world?

It then told me of a gift that a distinguished professor had received for his research thirty years ago that enabled research that produced a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Truly this is a life transforming accomplishment.

While not everything about a university campaign is applicable to the church, much is. Both Church and University are not for profit. People in both communities are inspired by vision. In both communities every gift is valuable. However it is good to recognize that there will be people in your church that have the capacity to give significant gifts to projects that ‘turn them on’.

It actually should be easier for ministers to fund their churches’ mission than university leaders. This is because for many weeks of the year the people are sitting in front of the preacher who should be casting an enormous kingdom vision as part of the message. The minister should be building an ongoing relationship with the people. And part of that relationship should be discussing with the congregation, sometimes personally and sometimes together, the sorts of projects that light their fire. The minister also has the use of the pulpit and can bring scriptural messages to bear that will transform stubborn hearts into generous ones.

Finally, kingdom of God projects should be inherently transformative. Many of the causes represented by the universities are of totally life changing and I applaud them. Kingdom of God projects should be eternal life changing.

Nothing in what I write here is to advocate slippery underhanded dealings or viewing members as walking dollars signs. It is simply that people give to inspirational projects when they are taught to be generous, and asked to be generous to a cause that is truly out of this world. 

If you are looking for help you probably won’t be able to recruit Tim Dolan. He has gone overseas to help another university fund its mission. However you can find help in my book Giving Generously and I comment it to you. Buy the Book

 

The Importance of Vision

April 28, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In my book ‘Giving Generously’ I discuss the role of vision and use the quote ‘Money Follows Vision’. This is not the only factor in raising resources but it is a vital one. I believe the vision must be inspirational. It must engage the hearts and minds of the congregation. This encourages them to sign up for ministry and give to support the vision.
church vision

I am not a detail person so I have never believed the vision needs to be overly detailed. I remember being at a meeting once where the minister shared his plans for the church over the next five years. It involved a large spreadsheet that included detailed numbers of how many people would be in each ministry. While that sort of detail may be helpful to some, I have always been inspired by vision painted on a large canvas with broad brush strokes.

 At Figtree Anglican Church (FAC) we had a visionary slogan that appeared on our documents:

 ‘Impacting the region, modelling to the nation and sending to the world.’

We then explained to the congregation that in ‘Impacting the Region’, we wanted FAC to be known positively all over the Wollongong Region, which is largely a self-contained geographic space. It also meant that we wanted to be a blessing not only to our own church members but to the wider community.

‘Modelling to the Nation’ may sound a little pretentious, but what it meant and what we explained was that we wanted to be an adventurous church trying out new ministries and sharing  new ideas with others. For many years the Figtree elders set aside money for ministry staff, including me, to visit other dynamic churches interstate and overseas. We then tried to take the inspiration we had gained, Australianise it, and put it into practice. From time to time other churches would ring up and ask for assistance and we were glad to help them. The material on raising resources found its genesis on my first study tour to the US in 1995.

‘Sending to the World’ was a way of expressing the idea that FAC had a mission and evangelistic heart. For many many years there has been an annual mission trip conducted by Figtree members trained in Evangelism Explosion. That was only one expression of missionary activity and we wanted to say to our congregation, ‘this is who we are’. It also meant that while our local ministry might have suffered a setback if a talented person left to do mission elsewhere or go into theological college, we would actively rejoice in their calling, as sending people out to God’s work elsewhere was a core value for us.

Of course creating and casting an inspiring vision is far more than repeating a slogan. The slogan needs to be fleshed out, given legs, and celebrated. However what it did do was to declare loudly and clearly that outreach, innovation, taking prayerful risks, learning and sharing was the sort of church FAC was proud to be.