When I scheduled A.J. Thomas of the Joyful Giving Group as a podcast guest for Art of the Sermon, I told him that I would love to talk to him about pledge card design. He replied that this was something he was really passionate about. We were both excited.
I was planning on taking his expert input and designing a slick and effective pledge card that you could download, print, and use at your ministry. It was going to be a really great tie-in between the podcast and the blog.
But then I did my interview with AJ, and what he shared was an approach to the pledge card that didn’t need a fancy design. In fact, it really didn’t need a design at all. Index cards, some sealable envelopes, and a fresh take on pledging is all that’s required!
A.J. recommends giving everyone a blank card and an envelope that seals. You ask then people to do three things:
- Prayerfully consider what percentage of their income they will give and write that percentage on the card.
- Seal the card in the envelope and write their name across the seal.
- Bring the sealed envelope to the altar/front of the sanctuary as an act of worship.
There is no long or complex form to fill out, and it asks for no dollar amounts.
As the church, you do not even open the envelopes. You simply record which individuals and families turned in a pledge, and return the still-sealed envelopes with a “thank you” letter to all who made a pledge.
The Heart Behind Rethinking Pledge Cards
A.J. is passionate about the idea that giving has nothing to do with the financial needs of the church.
Of course, churches have financial needs, and hopefully they are aligned with the mission of making disciples. However, whether and how much an individual or family gives is not dependent upon the needs of the church.
Giving is a spiritual discipline and an aspect of our relationship with God. We do not give to the Church, but rather we give to God through the Church.
A church that cannot meet budget and guilts its members into giving is an unhealthy church. And an individual or family who chooses not to give because the church doesn’t need their gift has a skewed understanding of the purpose behind giving.
Putting the Focus on Generosity
Asking individuals and families to express their giving as a percentage of their income rather than as a dollar amount refocuses everyone on the underlying spiritual concept of generosity.
By keeping the focus on generosity and not on the church budget, each commitment feels meaningful and significant, even if the resulting dollar amounts vary greatly.
And in churches where the size of someone’s giving establishes influence or even access to leadership or the pastor, this kind of refocusing may be necessary.
By returning the pledge card in the still-sealed envelope with a “thank you” letter, you also send the message that the level of commitment is between the giver and God. Instead of worrying about being judged for the size of the pledge, the individual or family receives the gratitude of the church for committing to generosity.
Removing the Constraints of the Dollar Amount Pledge
The commitment of a percentage of one’s income is much more flexible and thus much easier to meet.
Certainly, it is not fool-proof. There are always unforeseen circumstances like financial or medical emergencies that may make it impossible for someone to meet their commitment.
However, normal fluctuations in income are much easier to handle—such as with those who work on commission, freelancers, farmers, and small business owners. If income is down, the individual or family does not face the added stress (or guilt) that stems from not fulfilling a pledged dollar amount.
In addition, it may actually lead to a rise in giving. People like to do what is familiar, and so there is a decent chance that some givers in your congregation have been giving at a steady dollar amount for years—even though their income may have gone up! This reminds us that, as we have the opportunity to steward more resources, we are expected to maintain a commitment to generosity and not to a dollar amount.
But What About the Budget?!
If this method sends a shiver of panic through your body, chances are good you’re not actually the one doing the books at your church.
As A.J. notes in the podcast, the best starting point for next year’s budget is this year’s actual income and expenses. Many churches already budget using historical data more than the amounts on pledge cards.
If you talk to your church’s bookkeeper or financial secretary, you may find that all of the information on the pledge cards is already being overlooked anyway. When an individual or family returns a pledge card, it usually tells the office that they can expect a similar giving trend to continue. This alternative pledge card method provides the same cue to the office along with all of the additional benefits previously mentioned.
We Want to Hear From You
Does your church already use a method similar to this? Will you be switching to this approach? A.J. and I would love to hear how it is going. Use the contact form at the bottom of the site to send me a message!