Subscription not Stewardship

Why it's Time to Rethink Church Finances

Stewardship: pledging a set amount of money, budgeted over a year. A group of members - even a small one - pays the bills for a building, clergy and other staff salaries, and the programs and outreach of the community.

The concept of stewardship as church financial support began at the
turn of the 20th century, and peaked in the post-World War II mid-century era. For the last few decades, this model has persisted, even as it has become less effective, mostly because people don’t participate in institutional religion the way they once did.

Stewardship conflates two things that are not the same: the Christian practice of giving - setting aside 10% of the fruits of our labor for God, caring for the poor - with the financial support of the institution - buildings, programs, and salaries. As communities become smaller, the per capita cost of supporting everything becomes larger, and the amount of money that is used beyond institutional support is dwindling.

But it's hard to see how to change this system without putting the existence of congregations - and clergy - at risk.

The recent leap into Digital Ministry and online worship has opened up many possibilities for the future of church, including church finances. We are rethinking the concept of church membership itself, and with it, ways to financially support ministry - and encourage the Christian practice of giving.

It’s time to consider church
subscriptions as an alternative - or an addition - to traditional stewardship.

Here’s why:

  • Subscription works. From Netflix to newspapers, people are used to paying a small monthly fee to have access to things they want and need. Think about church as bringing the love of God, and the practice of faith, into people’s life. The small fee is for the work of delivering it.
  • Regular payment for service allows congregations and clergy to stabilize their budgets. It also reduces the burden of a relatively few individuals bearing most of the financial responsibility for the whole community.
  • It redefines the relationship between those ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the community. We can add virtual members from every geographic location, and every place along their walk with God.
  • It scales! Asking a relatively small amount of money from each subscriber makes it affordable, and adding to the number of subscribers makes it sustainable.
  • Focuses on Christian charity as a spiritual discipline, without it being a conflict of interest (the money pays my salary ...). Encourages followers to give a greater proportion of their resources to those in need, not maintenance of the institution.
  • Individual members (or the community) could gift or underwrite subscriptions for those who can't afford it. 
  • Some ministry would always be free and accessible to all: Sunday worship as it happens, for instance.
  • Subscribers can be members of multiple communities simultaneously. Congregations can welcome and encourage members to subscribe to multiple churches. We can rethink the concept that church membership has to be exclusive, and share the faith more widely and deeply.
  • Subscription can be a measure of who is engaged with what we do. This is much more accurate and effective than membership rolls, especially when they are kept locally, but not on a denominational level.
  • Today’s email automation systems make subscriber setup easy and affordable for even the smallest community.

The world, and the church, are changing rapidly these days. This brings opportunity - for vision, renewal, and evangelism. The world needs Good News, now more than ever, and we are the ones who have it to share. Reimagining ministry brings more focus to our mission of sharing the love of God with more people.

Free Range Priest can help.

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