Are Annual Church Pledge Drives Still Relevant?

I recently sat through a workshop involving financial officers and business administrators from churches in metro Denver. A panel of three finance officers, convened to discuss cash flow and cash reserves, focused mostly on appropriate cash levels, metrics, and forecasts that churches should consider using.

At one point, one business administrator in attendance asked the panel whether they conduct annual pledge drives.

You may or may not be familiar with these efforts. At my church, usually in November and December (we use a January-December fiscal year), the church distributes pledge cards that allow households to indicate how much they expect to give every month in the upcoming year. Those pledges then help the church begin to anticipate what giving may look like and, to some extent, budget accordingly.

After this workshop, I wonder if the approach remains relevant.

My church is denominationally affiliated. Two of the three panelists come from large-sized churches within "mainline" denominations; the third hailed from a large-sized, nondenominational congregation. One of the mainlines said his church uses an annual pledge drive; the other mainline, and the nondenominational, both said they don't.

The mainline that doesn't use this approach said his church never has, so such an effort would be limited in effectiveness. The reason: Historical data is necessary in order to understand what the pledges mean for budgeting the next year. What good does a total pledged amount do if your church doesn't understand what percentage of pledges, historically, are actually given?

This leader then made one more point to reinforce why his church hasn't done this: An annual pledge drive sometimes winds up turning into the only time in the year when a church openly discusses money and finances. He sees that discussion needing to happen as frequently as weekly, whether through teaching about sacrificial giving or the sharing of stories involving people who have been blessed by what people have given.

I came away with one other realization: Household finances fluctuate throughout a year, so much so that anything my wife and I pledge is really just a guess. What's to say that our financial picture won't worsen—or improve—three, six, or nine months from now? That seems to make the idea of a pledge seem inaccurate at best, misleading at worst.

To go deeper on church giving, check outIncrease Giving at Church, a training resource for church leaders and teams from Church Finance Today.

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