Faith and Finances in Difficult Times

Faith and Finances in Difficult Times

August 17, 2020

Rev. Ron Carlson, Northwest District Superintendent hosted the fourth episode of the Good Idea Webinars on April 2, 2020. The guest speaker was Rev. Dr. Katharine Yarnell the Executive Director of the Iowa United Methodist Foundation. She shared her insights and ideas around faith and finances during difficult times. 
 
Yarnell shared three main points: 
·       Start with following Jesus.
·       Why do we give?  
·       How should we give?
 
Start with Following Jesus
“As we turn to our faith community, (which may be online now), and seek guidance from the Bible, what are we feeling, and thinking? Are we like David facing a Goliath of a pandemic? Now I know the virus is tiny, so maybe that one doesn't work as well,” said Yarnell.
 
“Are we Queen Esther, called to live in such a time as this? Is there a balm in Gilead? Can we be a little less like Martha fretting, and more like Mary and listen? Can we practice being an ‘Electronic St. Paul’ sharing our faith through letters, blogs, YouTube prayers and devotions, FaceTime, texts, phone calls, Zoom meetings, memes on social media?” said Yarnell. “Our narrative of faith may change from hour to hour, but following Jesus is the deep resource of eternal love and encouragement.”
 
Yarnell suggested that the first steps should be to be clear in our minds that this pandemic might change from hour to hour. She pointed out that we also have resources from generations of Christians facing disease and the unknown and they also didn't know how long it was going to last. Another idea she presented was to speak to members in your congregation and listen to their stories of what has happened in the past. 
 
Why Do People Give?
Yarnell shared that research shows that even when there is a crisis and giving is down, it doesn't go down across the board. Generally, people will continue giving to the causes and the missions that they trust. 
 
There are ways that the church can build trust so when giving is down, the church can still be included. ­The church must acknowledge that many people have been and will be hit by this financial crisis and then they offer sincere, personal gratitude for their support.  An expression of thanks, especially from the recipients themselves, is most helpful.  
 
“We want to, first of all, acknowledge that there are some people who are financially struggling in this situation. We want to be sensitive to that and continue to offer genuine and sincere gratitude for the gifts that people are giving,” said Yarnell. 
 
How Should We Give?
People have different levels of comfort in the ways they give. Some people have been writing a check to the church their whole lives. If someone has been supporting your church with checks, and that's what they feel comfortable doing, encourage them to continue to do that and mail those in. 
 
“If there are some people who can maybe turn their check into an ACH where it's automatically taken from their bank account, that would be also wonderful. Some people may feel more comfortable with electronic giving, and they can definitely do that,” said Yarnell.
 
Q&A
One question asked for suggestions on ways that might stimulate people to remember that the church is still operating and needs their offerings.
 
“They're not giving because they are afraid that they won't have enough to live on and you know, when you're in the grocery store and there's no toilet paper or soup, that's scary. So, you have to be respectful,” said Yarnell. 
 
She offered that churches should use small business grants that are for businesses that have had to shut down and have no income. Also, churches should be in a relationship with their parishioners that is based on trust that lets them know that the church is still there. Try reaching out electronically, with personal phone calls, or sending special postcards or cards. 
 
“Be patient, be encouraging, be positive and say, ‘Hey, we understand that you might really be scared right now, and we want you to know that we're here with you, we're praying for you,’” said Yarnell. “And we're looking forward to being able to resume ministry.”
 
Another participant asked if Yarnell had advice based on her experience of fundraising or overseeing the management of money in times when things seem pretty bleak.
 
“What we do is focus on the long term. A lot of times people are afraid of outliving their money so you have an opportunity to ask, ‘Would you consider a gift in your will?’” said Yarnell. She continued saying you could also ask if they would be interested in learning ways they could give and support their favorite charities and leave more for their heirs?
 
Yarnell said that the Iowa UM Foundation provides free reviews of estate plans through a contract with Thompson and Associates. In difficult times, it is important to be proactive and plan for the future. Yarnell said that churches that have endowments that have been cared for wisely are going to get through these difficult times more easily. 
 
“When you can focus on the mission and the good things your congregation is doing in the community, and around the world, that is the best,” said Yarnell. “They love their church. They want to see things continue to happen.”
 
Yarnell asked churches to encourage parishioners to establish a continuing gift that can help stabilize a church's income and can always be changed later. For churches considering these options go to www.umcdiscipleship.org and watch their recorded webinar on how to set up recurring electronic giving.
 
For more information, Katharine Yarnell may be reached at Katharine.yarnell@iumf.org or at 515-974-8927. Go to www.iaumf.org/resources/ for a list of COVID-19 resources from IUMF.

The Iowa United Methodist Foundation is a charitable nonprofit that has been serving churches, organizations, individuals, and families across Iowa for over 50 years. As your partner in stewardship, The Foundation resources local churches and institutions through financial support services, including but not limited to investments, loans, and endowment programs. They also manage trust funds and estate gifts made by individuals for charitable purposes.
 
The Good Idea webinars are a joint effort of the Office of Congregational Excellence, Office of Clergy Leadership and Excellence, the Cabinet, and lay leaders of the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.