A ten year window of opportunity

Director of Learning and Stewardship, Steve Pierce, explains why he believes that we have ten years to really tackle the issue of ageing money and offers some resources that can help churches meet the challenge.

As part of our round up of proceedings at the last Diocesan Synod, we cover the second major debate on the issue of Ageing Money. Steve Pierce, Director of Stewardship, presented Synod with a challenge – that churches have ten years to act, or face a worsening financial situation.

The ten years challenge is an instinctive response to the evidence that churches will see a decline in regular planned giving. As something in the order of 42% of our regular planned givers are over the age of 70, we are rapidly losing the cultural heritage that put faithful Christian stewardship at the heart of our giving lives. Evidence shows that only a very small percentage of the under 30s approach giving in the same way.

Steve is clear that it’s in part a cultural issue. “The over 70’s were taught to give. They grew up with it as part of their discipleship. Nowadays, and this affects the younger generation in particular, we’re moving into a culture which is changing the way we look at philanthropy. We have a culture that can be dominated by big charities using increasingly sophisticated techniques to raise funds. A culture where regular, sustained giving as part of an overall approach to stewardship is not so highly prized.”

But, as research has also shown that Christians are the most generous givers in society, there is clearly potential for change. So what should a church do?

“The first thing,” Steve explains. “Is to make an honest, realistic assessment of the problem in your congregation. That will involve understanding people’s ages – which can be a sensitive topic, so we will have a tool on the Giving in Grace website that can help you get that data. This should be ready after Easter and we will give more details in the Bulletin.”

Steve recognises that parishes are not going to be able to compete with charities, and that we have to fall back on to our core message of teaching people about the value of regular planned giving.
One of the challenges raised is that of the ‘missing million’. We know that half of our regular givers offer less than £5 per week – if we raise that by £2.50 per giver we can raise an extra million, and an extra £2.50 is not a massive amount for one person to raise.

“So it’s not asking the impossible,” he contends. “We must simply teach stewardship confidently and well.”
For Steve, this involves going back to the four key tasks identified by the Church of England in 2009. These were:

·         Teaching and preaching well
·         Thanking people (without asking for more at the same time)
·         Communicating the connections between mission and ministry
·         Carrying out an annual review

Other help will be available soon in the form of a Direct Debit Parish Giving Scheme. Pioneered by Gloucester Diocese, this planned giving scheme enables more control of regular giving. It will soon be launched across the country, with our diocese being one of the first to take it on. Again, more details will follow, but it’s another example of where we are at the forefront of thinking in the church.

With these tools and determination, Steve believes this can be achieved. “There are two challenges – both of which we are tackling. The first is a stewardship challenge. We need to get to this younger generation, teach them well – not just about giving but about the complete approach to stewardship. The second is the growth challenge. We need to grow our churches to enable the giving to be spread among more."

“It’s a ten year window of opportunity. Let’s face up to the challenge and take strong realistic action.”