The average pledge at St. John’s for our annual operating fund is just over $5,000 which places us in the top 10% of all churches in the United States, Episcopal or otherwise. Perhaps congratulations are in order. But what does the term “average pledge” bring to mind for you?
Years ago, back when our average pledge was about $3,000, I made reference to that figure in some report on our Every Member Canvass. In response I got a phone call from someone who told me he wanted to raise his pledge to $3,000 because, as he said, he wanted to make sure that he was giving his fair share. Knowing something of his financial resources, I suggested to him that his fair share would actually be 10 to 15 times higher than that average pledge. The ensuing conversation had to do with proportionate giving as opposed to giving an amount. His giving $3,000 really couldn’t be compared to the same gift from someone with far less resources. Unfortunately he approached his giving to the church more like payment of dues to a club. As you might imagine, my challenge to him was not altogether successful.
Giving, in many ways, is a very private matter. We are asked to consider God’s blessings in our lives and then make a gift to our church that corresponds to that sense of blessing. We talk about giving a percentage of our income to God’s work in the world and speak of the tithe – giving 10% as the Christian norm – but each year you are asked to choose how much you will give to that work. We do speak frankly about giving money but it’s not a constant harangue. We try to teach Christian stewardship rather than mere financial support.
The hard thing is that we are asked to be truly generous and that is a stretch for us. None of us is easily generous with what we have, especially our money. We tend to think we need to hold on to our money or at least use it to buy things that will improve life more tangibly. Giving money away is something we have to force ourselves to do. It is an acquired taste.
Yet giving money away actually makes us more generous and seems to improve our connection with God. As we give more of our resources to God’s work in the world, something seems to shift inside us. Someone told me long ago something I have found to be true: he said that the people who give the most to the church are the ones who complain the least. They are the ones who are in the pews the most, are the most positive and supportive of the things going on at the church, and generally are the ones who are the least demanding. We might think that those who give the most are the ones calling the shots but those giving the least actually tend to be the ones who put more strings on their gifts. Those who have practiced giving at a higher percentage level seem truly to have become a bit more generous.
When you read that the average pledge is around $5,000 what do you find yourself thinking? Do you quickly compare yourself to others and your perception of them? Or do you ponder your own potential in a more positive way? We celebrate God’s great generosity to us and our Christian faith calls us to live into generosity in all we do. Consider how you might grow more generous in your Christian stewardship as response to God’s many gifts to you.
Robert Wisnewski, Jr.
Pledge Cards are Due November 1