Faith Works 1-2-16
Finances of a New Year
The Ghost of Christmas Present asks Scrooge "have you met my brothers?" He claimed some eighteen hundred in that story set in 1830s London, and each of them unique but related. "Have you ever seen the like of me?" he could proudly boast, knowing there never had been nor would be again a Christmas quite like the one he represented.
Almost two hundred more into the family since "A Christmas Carol," and they all have a tie (no matter how tenuous sometimes) to a birth in Judea some two thousand years ago, and they all are as unique as the times they appear in.
This Christmas has seen the increasing impact of some trends that we all see happening, but have mostly been slow to deal with, for reasons that are both sensible and unfortunate, often all at the same time.
A billion packages delivered in the couple of days before Christmas; think about what that entails. So much cardboard and bubble wrap, so many trucks and delivery crew, twist ties and heavy vicious plastic covers which fight back against being opened. And not just those practicalities, but the implicit changes of what doesn't happen: fewer trips to brick-and-mortar stores, less shopping and more shipping, almost no cash changing hands, but clicks and beeps and passwords transferring sums from one account to another.
Which also means an even more indirect, but very real and visceral problem for charitable programs. In many places, the traditional "Toys for Tots" and firehouse drives and red kettles have seen a marked downturn.
For those efforts to help people in need to get their children a nice Christmas, many of them have for decades been built around an assumption that the path of least resistance is to get people to buy one more thing at a toy store or department store, and then deposit the charitable gift as you walk out with your other eleven items. But if Christmas shopping is more of a spot-fill process, and you are buying more specialty stuff and less of it at that, you could expect to see less of the "and get one more for the kiddies" reflex, and we have.
Then there's the cash factor altogether. As in, we don't carry it. At all. How do those Salvation Army bell ringers appeal at their tripods to people who have nothing in their pockets but tissues and car keys? In some areas, they've developed a kettle that has a card swiper built into the lid, but I've not seen one yet in central Ohio.
The bottom line is that getting people to make spontaneous gifts of cash and coin is only going to get harder, at grocery entrances and malls and yes, at churches. Giving is easier in some ways today, with smartphones and texts becoming a way that millions get raised for a special cause well known in the media – a crash, a tsunami, a famine – but for more local and personal and ongoing needs, we're simply going to have to become more intentional about helping people give intentionally.
Some of that is finding expression in the rise of "sustained giving," where you make a commitment at a certain point of the year to give an amount "automatically" each month or so. It's that word "automatically" that many church folk don't like, since it feels somehow unauthentic, illegitimate, not like putting your check in an offering plate . . . but it's not artificial giving any more than putting a symbol of a dead president in a passed tray is not a true representation of your time and resources shared.
In the end, all economics is symbolism at work. How will the economics of charity and church and community sharing be put to work, given the changes in our "symbol systems" of how we hold and use and share our substance? We don't carry the first sheaf of wheat from our fields into worship anymore, either, but that's not a lack of commitment, just a change in circumstances.
How can churches change how we teach and support stewardship and giving in 2016?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about innovations in asset sharing at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.