Recently I had lunch with a church pastor. His church has an endowment fund from the sale of property, but it hasn’t grown much since then. Like many congregations, his church could benefit from the income a stronger endowment could provide.
To that end, church leaders have worked to clear up the language around their endowment fund and make sure their policies are clear and updated. They’ve put a multi-year strategic plan in place to move their congregation into the future.
I congratulated him on their progress and said they seemed to have everything well in hand.
“Thanks,” he said, “but now what? How do I ask members of my congregation to sit down with me and talk about endowment? I don’t know how to begin the conversation.”
While we’ve talked about how endowment conversations are joyful conversations here on the blog, and we’ve talked with a church leader who has helped us to reframe our ideas around those who have the “gift of giving”, we haven’t really talked about what that conversation might look like in a church setting.
Here’s what I suggested:
Consider talking about the endowment fund from the pulpit. This message can come from the pastor or another leader in the church, but it’s an opportunity to educate the congregation about the role of the endowment in the church’s finances, plus a chance to lift up those from previous generations whose generosity still impacts the church today.
Before meeting with a church member(s), consider the following:
- Are they still active in the church and able to come to church regularly? => Are they up to speed on what’s happening with your congregation?
- What ministries/activities have they been involved in? => Where does their heart lie?
- Is their family involved in this church (be it their grandparents or their grandchildren — or both)? => How might leaving a legacy be important to them?
It’s OK if you don’t know the answers. These are great questions to ask to get to know someone better!
Call each person/couple and ask if you might have coffee some time to learn more about their history with your church and to get to know them better. Remember, the meeting isn’t about asking for money as much as it is about learning more, and sharing your congregation’s vision and needs.
When you sit down to talk, keep it simple:
- Ask them about their lives. Where they grew up, when they came to the area, how their spiritual lives evolved, etc. There’s always something to learn – even with a parishioner you’ve known for years.
- Share a little bit about what’s happening in the church. New opportunities, expanding ministries, challenges, etc. Lift up the activities or ministries that are a direct result of distributions from the endowment fund.
- Invite them to pray with you for the future of your church, that it will always have the resources it needs to continue to teach and share the love of God for generations to come.
- The conversation might end right there. But, if appropriate, share what you (or you and your spouse) have done to leave your own legacy. This is not about sharing dollar amounts, but indicating that you’ve prayed about it as a family and decided to celebrate what you’ve been given by leaving a gift for the church in your own estate plans.
- If there are questions about the endowment or planned giving, answer them or share brochures.* If not, take your leave with a grateful heart. You’ve planted a seed that will hopefully grow into a gift that will be transforming both for your church, but, more importantly, transforming in the heart of the member who gives it.
- Hand write a thank you note after the meeting, offering your thanks and following up with next steps as needed.
It’s worth noting that this conversation may take place over several visits. Legacy decisions take time, just as seeds take time to germinate and then to grow. Measure your progress in visits and in connecting in a deeper way with the people of your congregation, not just in dollars in the endowment fund at the end of the year.
What do you think? Is this a conversation that you’re ready to have with members of your congregation? And, if you’re a churchgoer, have you had this kind of conversation with your pastor?
*Many churches may have access to these types of materials through their synod, Bishop’s office or other liturgical or teaching sources.