Barnabas is best known as a New Testament missionary, apostle and companion of St. Paul, but Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, believes he can also teach the 21st-century church how to approach stewardship and fundraising.
“Barnabas is our mentor-he knew how to inspire people with the message of the gospel; he knew how to ask people to support the church’s ministry, and he knew how to thank them,” said Hiltz, in an introductory keynote to the Resources for Mission’s (RfM) third annual stewardship gathering.
Organized with a theme of Inspire! Ask! Thank!, the event brought together around 80 clergy and lay people from 27 of the Anglican Church of Canada’s 30 dioceses and territories, as well as Lutheran and United Church partners, to sharpen their fundraising skills.
Hiltz stressed that one cannot talk about fundraising without also discussing evangelism and the purpose of the church.
Asking people to give money is not a matter of minor embarrassment made necessary by financial need, but a way for committed believers to take part in building something beautiful and important, he said.
In a talk based on the work of Episcopalian Canon C.K. Robertson, who has written extensively on the subject of stewardship, Hiltz explained that the Barnabas model treats fundraising as another side of discipleship.
When Barnabas first appears in the Acts of the Apostles, he has sold a field to provide money to be shared among the other members of the early church. When he is seen again, it is because he is championing the newly converted St. Paul. Hiltz argued that Christians need to fund mission by sharing wealth, and participate in it by actively recruiting newcomers.
It was to be a message that was repeated in the following plenary session, led by Martha Asselin and Murray McCarthy, senior partners of M&M International, a fundraising consulting firm that specializes in services for churches and faith-based groups.
Asselin and McCarthy began their presentation by sharing some grim statistics about the demographic and financial health of mainline Protestant churches-falling revenues, aging membership-before moving on to examples of churches that have managed to “buck the trend” of financial and demographic decline.
Drawing attention to a study done on growing churches in the United Kingdom, Asselin noted that many of the key elements in building a healthy church-strong leadership, clear sense of purpose, adaptability and willingness to spend time nurturing individuals-are also essential in fundraising.
Indeed, if done properly, fundraising is a form of evangelism, and evangelism contributes to fundraising, she said.
In order for this to work, Asselin said, parishes must have a strong sense of the concrete good they are doing for their members and for their community.
She suggested that crafting a “missional plan” that has broad support in the congregation and offers a clear sense of purpose can give people the sense of working toward tangible goals and being part of something larger than themselves.
“It isn’t about asking [for money]-it is about inviting people to participate in your visions and plans for the future,” said Asselin, adding that people are more likely to give to a cause if they can see concrete benefits coming from their investment.
Asselin noted that many of the most successful M&M programs in Anglican parishes have worked because parishioners became “ambassadors” who reached out to other members of the church and community and encouraged them to get involved.
For example, the Anglican Parish of Maberly-Lanark in the diocese of Ottawa, a four-point rural parish between Ottawa and Kingston, had been investing most of its financial resources in maintaining its buildings.
But one of the most serious issues in the community was youth suicide, and after a long period of debate about where the church should invest its resources, the parish decided to start supporting YAK Youth Services in nearby Perth, an organization dedicated to providing young people with support, encouragement and training.
The result was not only an increase in giving, but a renewed sense of connection to the community beyond the church walls.
Asselin stressed that Canadians are very willing to give to causes-the problem is, the church has often done a poor job of articulating why it is a cause people should support.
“If people know people, they will support a cause,” Asselin said, stressing the importance of individual parishioners going out and supporting the work of their church. “If people know what it is about, they will support it even more.”
According to organizer Susan Graham Walker, who works in congregational giving and stewardship for the United Church and is on secondment one day a week to work with RfM, attendance at this year’s gathering doubled from last year.
Graham Walker said the schedule was designed to meet the practical needs of those who work in church fundraising.
“We’ve responded to the evaluation from the previous years to develop the agenda-this is in response to what people have identified as things that we need to be paying attention to,” she said in an interview before the gathering.