Engagement Best Practices
Covid has upended many of the common practices that faith communities relied on to engage their parishioners. According to the The Unstuck Church Report: How Churches are Positioning for the Future, most churches now offer online small groups and weekend services. Almost all have added weekday services online as well.
The nonprofit business trainer Melissa Rancour says many faith communities are hamstrung because clergy don’t know how to fundraise. She offers a simple three-step tutorial for fundraising at church, which eliminates one step from ordinary nonprofit fundraising: explanation of the mission. Anyone who doesn’t understand the mission or buy into it is not a prospective donor, she says.
1. Create Engagement
Each church must decide the contours of engagement for itself. The goal may be to bolster belief, to build community, to raise money or something else. Whatever the decision, creating connections between the institution and the individual will eventually drive fundraising.
2. Make the Case
If members are going to support the church financially, faith alone is not sufficient. They must understand the need for financial resources. Rancour says prospective donors don’t need to know the details, but they may be inspired by a general understanding of how money is being spent. Make sure you’re making a strong case for support. “We need a new roof” is more likely to motivate than “we need money to run the church.”
3. Show Appreciation and Impact
Research demonstrates that thanked donors are more likely to continue giving, yet faith communities rarely engage in this strategy. Rancour says a simple donor acknowledgement letter outlining the impact of the gift helps the donor connect their gift to something positive the church is doing.
The religious service offers an opportunity to help parishioners understand the value of giving to their faith community. Pastor Will Rodes observes that believers can’t take their vacation homes, 401(k)s, cars, and boats to heaven. “Helping our congregants…steward their finances in a way that prioritizes the church is the best way to ensure that material things of this world are being used to make a way for eternities in heaven.”
He advises pastors to educate people about what God’s Word says about giving and offering them opportunities to surrender their finances to God. The church must share its vision and share the “why” as well as the “what.” He recommends church leaders present opportunities to be generous beyond the tithe and to celebrate the successes and account for stewardship of funds regularly.
For more information on this topic, please visit: Engagement Strategy
Online Church Services
As we found in The Unstuck Church Report: How Churches are Positioning for the Future, faith communities are responding to the new realities much the same way everyone else is—by moving online. Sunday has gone digital in the U.S.; it’s an operational imperative today and all it requires is a laptop and a webcam to run a church service online. There are numerous platforms for live streaming, and services can be recorded—or even pre-recorded—for those who want to attend asynchronously.
Midweek ministries like daily devotionals, small groups, and Wednesday worship have also largely moved online fairly seamlessly. As you can no longer rely on passing the tray for weekly giving, fundraising may have had to move partially online as well.
Simply migrating content and flow from in-person to a screen is unlikely to create optimal engagement. Your team needs to consider the unique idiosyncrasies of the online experience for the viewer and adapt streaming content to it. The most obvious way is to make content available asynchronously but there are many other strategies to improving the online experience. Here are three of many:
- Create watch parties.
- Develop semi-scripted plots, complete with visuals, much like the production of a TV show, which after all, this is.
- Start the church service or small group livestream with a host who poses questions to consider, which might reflect the sermon or Bible verses being discussed.
Digital Prayer Walls
Prayer walls are designated places for people to post their prayer needs and for a community of believers to pray for the posted request. For example, someone might post that they received a cancer diagnosis and request that others in the space pray for their health.
Digital prayer walls can be established by individual churches to build mutual support among church members. Adding navigation units to the prayer wall page facilitates easy access to other aspects of the church’s website and allows the visitor to engage more deeply with the church community. A digital prayer wall can help parishioners feel like the church is their religious “home.”
Digital Fundraising: The Collection Plate and Tithing
More than half of Christian donors say they are willing to give to their church online. As a result, churches that accept tithing online have enjoyed a 32% spike in donations. 1 “By offering the option of online giving, and specifically recurring giving, we create the opportunity for our church members to prioritize God in a way that was not previously possible. By utilizing technology, we can help our members put God first, and connect their hearts to His through obedient giving,” says Pastor Will Rodes.
Accepting online donations is easy: add a donation portal on your church’s website. It is also easy to establish a text-to-give option and links through social media. Mobile giving apps for churches allow flexibility for branding and messaging options as well.
Online giving offers several big assets to faith communities. It is inexpensive compared to other forms of fundraising and doesn’t require people to attend worship services in person to give. With online church attendance increasing in popularity, this is a logical extension of the fundraising process. Even those who attend services in person are less likely to carry cash or checks. Three quarters of Americans reported in 2019 that they carry less than $50 on them, with half saying they carried less than $20. Churches have begun setting up giving kiosks on-site for parishioners to donate online even when they are in church. No doubt, this is the wave of the future. The passing of the collection plate may not be completely obsolete in a decade but its place as an icon of church attendance is likely waning.
Mobile and online giving offer flexibility not possible in a collection plate. Supporters can be contacted in real time following an event, without waiting until the following Sunday. These portals can be linked to social media for seamless communication and peer-to-peer fundraising.
People who volunteer for a nonprofit of any kind, including a faith community, are more likely to give, and give more, than those who don’t. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 79% of volunteers make financial gifts to charity versus 40% of non-volunteers. Because resource development is built on relationships, any effort that strengthens individuals’ bonds with their church has the potential for increasing the organization’s financial resources, particularly if that relationship is nurtured continually over the years. This extends even to volunteering that does not directly benefit the church itself.
The ultimate form of short-term volunteering is the mission trip—an immersive experience in the literal mission of the church. Roughly two million Americans annually participate in short-term mission trips.1
In addition to potentially relieving suffering at their destinations, mission trips intensify the spirituality of the participants, build community among them, and deepen their relationship with God and with the sponsoring church. As many mission trips involve student groups, they lay the foundation for sustaining commitment to the church.
There are myriad ways to establish a missions ministry; indeed, it need not even be run by the pastor or church staff. Missions can grow organically inside a faith community and build iteratively from local day- and weekend trips, to weeklong Spring Break trips before growing to longer-term, international outreach.
One key to sustaining the passion generated by mission trips is to sustain the mission itself even after the return home. Congregations often neglect this follow-up, relinquishing the opportunity for ongoing engagement the project affords and the beneficiaries may need for the mission to provide sustainable benefits.
When the leadership of faith communities are attuned to their constituents’ everyday needs, they serve their congregations and help them thrive. In their book Early Childhood Ministry and Your Church, authors Kathleen Seaton and Linda Rothaar observe that, “a healthy congregation is one in which there is an awareness of the real needs in the community, respect and love for all people, and a gospel-driven drive to serve others.”
A reality of modern life in which both parents work outside the home is the desperate need for childcare that is affordable, reliable, convenient, and high quality. Providing this service strengthens the bond with families inside the faith community and serves as outreach to the larger community. It also provides an opportunity to instruct children in the ministry and set them on a positive life path.
Whether you hold fundraisers for a local charity or for a family experiencing crisis, volunteer events for social good, collection initiatives for people in need, or some other group activity, church-sponsored service events extend the ministry and build fellowship within the church.
Events succeed when they are well-planned and organized around clear objectives. Organizers should ask themselves whether the primary purpose is to build fellowship, provide community outreach, raise money for a cause or something else—and how best to achieve that goal. Does it meet the needs of the community being served and of the volunteers simultaneously? Is it fun and inclusive, and does everyone involved understand their role?
These are the 10 basic considerations for a church service event:
- Budget – helps determine the scope of the event
- Assignments – everyone should be clear about what is being asked of them
- Chain of command – even if volunteer-driven, someone must be in charge
- Theme – this will dictate much else, like the food and activities
- Activities – sketch these out in atomic detail
- Outreach – how will you get people to attend?
- Food – this is often the key to the event
- Ambience – a key consideration that should reflect the theme and activities
- Set-up and Tear-down – it is easy to forget that there is still work after the event has ended
¹ShortTermMissions.com, Mission Trip Research
For more information on this topic, please visit: Building a Volunteer Program
End-Of-Year in the Church
Along with being the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, the end of the year presents the busiest fundraising season, when roughly 20% of contributions for the year are made to religious charities.¹ The single most impactful concept with respect to end-of-the-year fundraising is this: do it. The specific strategies you employ can increase your success, but it all starts with asking for support.
Establishing a year-end fundraising campaign begins months before the end of the year. The campaign must be planned well in advance, with the implementation beginning long before the calendar runs out. The strategies your organization might employ to maximize your year-end giving campaign are myriad, such as recording celebrity thank yous, leveraging matching gifts, distributing heartwarming videos that include giving requests, and much more. Integrate the campaign across all platforms—your website, social media, blogposts, mailings, church services, etc.