By Erik Alsgaard
The Baltimore-Washington Conference’s trend of strong stewardship continued in 2020, and that included several local churches whose Mission Share giving rose significantly.
Mission Shares (formerly called apportionments) are giving done by local churches to support mission and ministry around the conference and around the world. Each time you put a dollar in the offering, a small portion of it goes to ministry far and wide.
"I am encouraged by these stories of local churches bearing fruit at the most difficult of times," said Paul Eichelberger, BWC's treasurer. "They are strong testimonies that reassure us of God’s desire to walk beside us at all times."
We reached out by e-mail to more than 20 BWC congregations where giving to support connectional ministry grew by double-digit percentages from 2019 to 2020, ranging from 16.7% at Sharp Street UMC in Baltimore, to a 100% increase at Butler’s Chapel UMC in Martinsburg.
Here’s what a few of them said about how they did it, what advice they’d give to other churches, and whether the pandemic had any impact on their finances.
At Mt. Zion UMC in Magothy, Pastor Johnnie Randolph Jr. said their giving increased 50% for several reasons.
“We ensure that our parishioners have options available for giving in a platform they feel most comfortable with,” Randolph said. He’s a part-time local pastor serving the church. “We use an electronic giving platform with a link on our church webpage for electronic giving; some parishioners mail in their tithes and offerings via U.S. mail to a P.O. box; parishioners also have the option to drive up and drop off tithes and offerings each Sunday.”
Randolph said that he makes sure, every Sunday, to thank people for their generosity.
“I also believe giving increased because we keep our members informed as to how their giving is being put to use,” he said. “Lastly, I and other leaders, lead by example by tithing ourselves and letting the congregation know we are cheerful givers. I think parishioners are motivated to be cheerful givers of their leaders demonstrate such behavior.”
Randolph said that he had not yet preached on giving yet but plans to do so after Easter and once a month after that.
“My advice is to lead by example if possible,” he said. “If I ask my church members to tithe, I feel that I should be first in line with that respect. Another bit of advice is to keep the ministry informed and be transparent with the financial status of the local church. My final piece of advice I say from time to time that we give so that we can give; let's give above and beyond the tithe. This is one way our church demonstrates that we are a church that expresses our love to our neighbors, through the practice of extravagant generosity.”
At St. James UMC in Marriottsville, the Rev. Patricia Abell said that her church grew 42% in its Mission Share giving with a multi-pronged approach. Her advice: “communicate often; speak gratefulness.”
Last year, she said, was the first year back from a reduced Mission Share arrangement with the conference due to the closure of Rockland UMC, and taking on a “full time” status, unexpectedly, in 2018. The congregation was made aware and were asked to give an increase in their pledges.
“The pledge cards we used included tables for 1%, 5%, and 10% increases for planning purposes,” Abell said. “Our yearly ‘Thanks-in-Giving’ pledge campaign runs six weeks – from October to the second Sunday of November – and concludes with a luncheon.”
Abell also enrolled in the Financial Leadership Academy, an 18-month program that takes a pastor, along with four key lay leaders, and trains them to move from good to great through stewardship. It is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic United Methodist Foundation.
Since the pandemic started, there is now a weekly “Mission Moment” where she shares the impact their stewardship is making and thanks the congregation for its support. Before the pandemic hit, those moments were only once a month.
“We discontinued our BWC e-giving because only two givers signed on to it,” she said. “However, our Fall pledge campaign included a Digital Pledge Card (and a link to a Google Form), and we mailed only our regular, ‘snail mail’ families. Reminders were communicated via regular weekly e-mail and snail mail, a monthly newsletter, and the generosity moments in worship.”
Giving last year, Abell said, dropped off for a bit, but then people adjusted to dropping off, mailing, or scheduling bank cheques. The church also received PPP money in 2020.
“When people hear of need and the impact of their giving,” she said, “they are more likely to give generously.”
At Towson UMC, lead pastor, the Rev. Mark Johnson, said his church saw an increase in Mission Share support by 26.8%. They achieved that, he said, partially through staff realignments and receipt of Paycheck Protection Plan money, twice.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on us,” said Johnson. “Those who had pledged in the previous stewardship campaign did a great job of honoring their commitment. Those who gave sporadically (when they attended) stopped giving altogether.”
In 2019, Johnson said, the church had to cut its Mission Share giving to balance the budget. “For the first time in our history, we paid only 70-plus percent. In 2020, we went back to 100%. What you’re seeing as an increase is fixing a problem from the previous year,” he said.
In 2020, Johnson said that the church made sure the giving link on their website was easily found, giving statements went out five times, and regular reports on finances went out, too.
Johnson said that he preaches a “stewardship sermon” once or twice a year, but most of his sermons mention giving “at least tangentially,” he said. “Every Sunday before the offering, I thank the congregation for its faithful giving and tie it to Christ's ministries at Towson UMC. I also tell the congregation how they can give.”
His advice for churches struggling with stewardship? “Continue to talk about it,” he said. “Make faithful giving a norm."