The One Thing You Can Do to Increase Generosity: Interview with J. Clif Christopher, Part 2

The One Thing You Can Do to Increase Generosity
Interview with J. Clif Christopher, Part 2

Here we are, back for Part 2 of the interview with author of Rich Church, Poor Church, J. Clif Christopher. In Part 1 we addressed the question, “What is the one thing that can kill a church?” The answer? Debt. If you need any proof of how damaging debt can be, here’s an email I received a day after the blog was posted:
When I arrived [at my church in 2006], they had just “run off” a pretty good pastor in 10 months. They didn’t like his concern for the decisions they had made financially. Neither did I.  They were not paying any apportionments; they were paying interest only on the $800,000 balance from a sanctuary loan; they were reducing staff and having to decide what bill to “let ride” a month. All that while moving ahead with a capital campaign of $3-5 million dollars. I am convinced the ship would have sunk had we not taken some significant steps to correct their bad decision. Thanks be to God, with gentle conversation and playing a few verses of “Nearer My God, to Thee” (a la The Titanic), we were able to get things back in order. Debt is a killer if you have no solid plan to reduce it.

So, from someone in the trenches, watch your debt.
Now on to the last two interview questions:
Since Rich Church, Poor Church was written in 2012, I wanted to know what, in Clif’s estimation, had changed over the intervening years. I thought he would no doubt mention the rise of electronic giving. But his answer went in a totally different direction from what I expected.
The only new thing on the horizon is the church’s continuing sexuality debate [for non-United Methodists, this refers to the ongoing dispute over LGBTQ rights]…I have seen churches put things on hold as they wait to see what the church will decide [referring to the Commission on a Way Forward]. There is uncertainty as to what the church will look like. Will we be one United Methodist Church? Evangelical United Methodists? Peaceful United Methodists? I work with one church that is 80% left leaning but the 20% who are conservative give the most money to the church. Not knowing means less risk is being taken by the local church.”

                                 J. Clif Christopher

Finally, I asked Clif, “What is the one thing a clergyperson could do right now to help his/her congregation become more financially generous?”
And for a second time, Clif surprised me with his answer.
“If I was starting a church today, I would start it as a high expectation church. I would make sure that people joining the church understand what discipleship, witnessing, worshiping, and giving means, and are committed to living a life this way.
“You don’t need to join the church – you can attend – and that’s OK. But if you want to be a member, it should mean something. Jesus had high expectations of His disciples. People who infer ‘I’m going to be a Methodist, it’s easy’ would have been an anathema to John Wesley – and to Jesus too.”
As he writes in his “Expectation” chapter in Rich Church, Poor Church:

The Rich Church is always focused on making disciplesit talks about discipleship rather than membership…Discipleship, however, underscores that you have no privileges but instead have taken on responsibilities to serve others. In the Rich Church, it is clear that the customer is outside the walls of the church. In the Poor Church, there is a heavy concentration of serving one another within the walls.”
EMC3 – Excellence in Ministry Coaching – has an excellent example of what a “high expectation” church might look like using the membership vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. You can download it right here. Think about using this handout as a conversation starter with your leadership group or Administrative Council about how your church might define “high expectation.”
And thus ended my very invigorating interview with J. Clif Christopher. I was challenged and I was enlightened. My deep gratitude goes to him for taking the time to talk with me. So here’s a toast to your congregation discovering ways it can become or continue to be a “rich church” serving all of God’s people. Lord knows our world needs you…right now.
Correction: For those on my email list, last week I mistakenly said that Clif went to Drew University. He actually went to Emory.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She found out that the “J” in J. Clif Christopher stands for “James” and “Clif” is short for “Clifton.” Whew! Mystery solved. She was the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.