My work for Everence allows me to continue to visit and speak to Friends Meetings and Churches on Sunday mornings. Since I am often asked to talk on stewardship, I sometimes like to pose the question “What is this community worth to you?”
By “community,” I mean the spiritual family that sustains, nurtures and inspires us in our faith. It includes those mentors, teachers, and examples who spur us on toward love and godliness. I am referencing the faith laboratory in which we get to practice (often with great regularity!) the essential disciplines of love, forgiveness, perseverance, kindness, patience, mutual support—just to name a few. These communities also serve as the training ground in which we learn to use our gifts, explore our sense of call, and uncover the unique way we are each part of Christ’s work in the world.
The local Meeting/Church, in my mind, is God’s great experiment. It is the primary avenue through which we get to learn how to be the people of God. Life in community is integral to the work of forming and shaping us into something more beautiful than we could ever be on our own and it enables us to become something more than a cluster of individuals. In community, we get to learn what unity, harmony, and a shared life together in God can mean for us and a watching world.
Involvement in this kind of community changed my life. The added opportunity to connect with others in my Yearly Meeting and the larger fellowship of Friends United Meeting only enhanced the joy and heightened the impact on my life. By no means are these relationships always easy, fun, or full of meaning—but, overall, I cannot imagine having endured without them. For me, the church has been my Mother to whom I owe my very life. So, when I consider the question “What is this community worth to me?”—the answer is “everything!”
We live in a time, however, when active involvement in the church is questioned. We commonly hear that many young people find the church “irrelevant,” “toxic,” and “harmful.” Clearly, there are challenges facing congregations. Interestingly, several studies paint a much less discouraging picture, highlighting how young people are drawn to communities that offer a vibrant faith, authentic community, service opportunities, and a serious sense of discipleship. In a major study just published by The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, more black and evangelical Protestant congregations increased in participation last year than decreased. Though mainline Protestant and Catholics trended the other direction, there are signs of hope.
Interestingly, among all Protestant congregations, more churches experienced an increased or consistent level of income than those that experienced decline. Funds needed to do God’s work rose, despite several concerning trends related to giving to local congregations. Even with this hopeful report, it is time to rethink how we encourage giving to support the overall work of the church.
What might this look like? Well, in the near term, it may be that some of us will need to continue to stretch to support the church we so dearly love. This is one reason I ask the question, “What is this community worth to you?” Is it worth enough to make regular contribution? In a culture where the average person contributes about 3–4% of their annual income to any charity, would I consider making a tithe (10%) to my faith community? In the coming year, will I consider doing more than I did last year—maybe increasing my overall giving by 5% or 10% over what I contributed last year?
In the longer term, there are many other creative ways to encourage giving and deepen the sense of partnership and belonging people experience in community. At Everence, we do a number of workshops, including one called Cultivating Generous Congregations (CGC) that helps Churches and Meetings develop a thoughtfully-discerned implementation plan that is best suited for their unique context. If your Yearly Meeting or Association is interested in learning more about hosting a CGC, please check out the link to this document or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.