Emphasis on ministry boosts bottom line at Trinity UMC in Rome
By GLENN HANNIGAN
Trinity UMC in Rome believes it has found a smart new model for inspiring generosity and increased giving from its members.
In short, the church has improved its bottom line by disregarding the bottom line. The takeaway: To improve the numbers you might want to consider ignoring the numbers.
“We were not doing badly financially when we adopted this new model,” said senior pastor David Campbell. “But since then our giving has gone up considerably, even in the difficult economic environment in Rome.”
The new model Trinity UMC adopted in mid-2011 was based on “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate,” by J. Clif Christopher. In his book, Christopher posits that churches and charitable institutions often fail to convince potential supporters that their contributions will have impact and make a difference.
After hearing a young attorney explain his faith-based reasons for making a large monetary gift to a community youth center, author Christopher asked him why he didn’t make a similar contribution to his church. "Lord no,” the attorney said. “They wouldn't know what to do with it."
Trinity UMC and Campbell decided to test the premise of the book.
“The lesson for us was to quit worrying about all the numbers and specifics of the budget and focus on changing lives,” said Campbell. “So, we stopped printing ‘we need this and got this’ each week. We replaced it with stories about the ministries we are involved in and the differences they are making.”
Instead of publishing the financials each week, Trinity began sharing stories of how the church was aiding local storm victims, helping people in poverty, ministering to the youth of the church, etc.
Campbell said church leaders were keeping a close eye on how the congregation responded to the change and were prepared to beat a hasty retreat if the response was negative.
The payoff: Giving increased. In the second half of 2011, Trinity UMC’s contributions rose about 4 percent. But that was only the beginning. In 2012, giving was up 8.5 percent over 2011.
“We had additional money to pay off debt,” Campbell said. “This is the first time the church has been debt-free in more than 40 years.”
In 2013, pledges are up more than 10 percent from 2012 and, “we have more money in the bank than at any time in our church's history,” Campbell said.
“The church is truly bought into a mission of ‘Changing lives for Jesus Christ’ and I think it is because we are sharing these stewardship stories instead of throwing numbers at them.”
Though the church no longer publicizes its weekly financials, Campbell says it will provide them to any members who ask.
“We are not interested in hiding anything,” Campbell said. “We will be glad to share whatever financial information people want.
“But we know they prefer to hear the Good News and stories of how lives are being changed.”
And some churches are being changed as well.