Planned Giving in Stewardship Season

11/12/19 9:15 AM / by Denis Greene

Although polls in recent years agree that the size and number of religious congregations are changing, a new study surprisingly found that revenue is not necessarily changing along with participation.

The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving study of 1,231 congregations found that 48% of them saw an increase in revenue, 35% saw a decrease and 17% had no change. However there were significant differences in how various religious traditions fared. This table indicates the percentage of individual parishes, congregations, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship that increased, had no change or decreased in participation and revenue:

  Participation Revenue Change
Catholic Parishes 24% increased 31% increased
23% no change 13% no change
53% decreased 56% decreased 
Mainline Protestant Church 32% increased 48% increased
19% no change 14% no change
49% decreased 38% decreased
Black Protestant Church 62% increased 59% increased
11% no change 14% no change
27% decreased 27% decreased
Evangelical Protestant Church 42% increased 51% increased
30% no change 21% no change
28% decreased 28% decreased
Other Religious Groups 37% increased 53% increased
17% no change 14% no change
46% decreased 33% decreased


These figures are the basis for the study’s statement: “Among congregations that are declining in attendance, there is not necessarily an automatic corresponding decline in revenue.”

While there may be a variety of reasons for this, the bottom line (pun intended) may be quite simple. Brad Fulton, who co-directed the study, noted that if the old maxim that 20% of a congregation’s participants give 80% of donations remains true, it might explain why giving has stayed steady or increased. “The people who are really committed tend to give a lot more. If you remove the people who don’t give much, the average amount per person is going to go up.”

For readers of this blog, the main take-away of the study is its conclusion that congregations need to do a better job of asking for money.

Stewardship in Every Season

Some parish leaders are hesitant to ask. Some have regular asks but the method of asking or the underlying message delivered is not effective. Most congregational leaders don’t teach about the theology of giving and don’t do a good enough job of thanking those who give.

One observation from the study: many older congregants are now in a position to give more at exactly the time when congregations need it the most. There is a significant transfer of wealth taking place right now, and by and large congregations are not doing a good job of being recipients of that. Hosting a planned giving workshop with a local financial consultant at your congregation can give people the education they need to give generously to your church. Organizing a legacy society with yearly acknowledgement to members can also inspire donors who might otherwise be putting off making estate plans. Here we provide a downloadable free manual on church planned giving to start organizing your efforts to inspire generosity.

So I close this post with a true story. A friend related that her pastor gave an excellent sermon last week, introducing the annual pledge drive… excellent except for one unfortunate turn of phrase. The pastor mentioned that the parish was entering ‘stewardship season’, and my friend thought to herself, “Shouldn’t all year be stewardship season?” A focus on stewardship is not something the church should do only at the time of the annual pledge drive, or the capital campaign, or when the boiler goes out… it should be done in season and out of season.

Your stewardship calendar should be full of interesting and innovative stewardship actions during the year. Some of these actions should clearly be ‘asking for money.’ But many others can be sermons and conversations on the meaning of stewardship…they can be observations on the generous missional outreaches of the congregations… they can be brief monthly talks during the service, by parishioners, of what the church means to them… they can be activities that celebrate and thank people for their volunteer participation in the life of the church.  

As we prepare to enter a special season of giving let us remember that every season is stewardship season. 

Like our give to planned giving guide? Want annual appeal resources? Subscribe to The Stewardship System for more culture of generosity tips, guides, planners, checklists, and samples. We send resources and blog posts out monthly straight to your inbox or you can access on demand through the online portal. Click below to subscribe.

Subscribe to The Stewardship System

Topics: Research & Statistics, Stewardship Ministry

Denis Greene

Written by Denis Greene

Greene began working in the nonprofit development field in 1981. He founded Church Development in 1992 after a near-death experience motivated him to integrate his faith, education and skills in work that served the church and the virtue of stewardship. He has helped over 200 churches across the USA raise more than $200,000,000. He is the author of The Stewardship System, Stewardship-Based Capital Campaigns, and How To Ask For Donations as well as numerous articles on stewardship.

Subscribe to this blog!