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J. Clif Christopher addresses those attending the NTS Economic Summit September 28 in Kansas City.

“Why should we give to you?” is the question every minister should be able to answer if he or she expects people to give to their church, according to J. Clif Christopher. The author of several books, including Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship, made the comments in his keynote address at the NTS Economic Summit in Kansas City, September 28.

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Christopher told the group the church has done a poor job of articulating its mission and saying thank you to contributors over the last three decades. “The church used to receive 60 percent of all charitable contributions in America. Today, it’s 31 percent,” Christopher said.

“You need to understand that you are in a competitive environment. And it’s not that you’re competing against the Baptists and the Methodists and the Lutherans and the independents. You are competing against one-and-a-half million non-profits in America who are making their case.”

The failure of churches to tell their story of changed lives and saying “thank you” to contributors were high in Christopher’s list of why churches have seen reduced giving. He emphasized that many pastors can’t say thank you to their contributors because they don’t know who is or isn’t giving to the church.

“It doesn’t serve the kingdom that our head person is not in many cases even able to go up to a major donor and say ‘thank you,’ because the church doesn’t let ‘em know,” Christopher said. “Every other non-profit thanks that person for that gift except for the church.”

Molly Marshall was the other keynote speaker for the summit. The president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Marshall addressed the question “Can the Church and the Minister Afford Each Other?”

Marshall cited a study by the Lilly Endowment that indicates educational debt is making it difficult for those pursuing pastoral ministry to follow their call for economic reasons. “What it costs to prepare for effective ministry may never be fully discharged if one stays in ministry, unless there are some radical changes,” she said.

“I believe churches will continue if they are nimble, if they are service oriented, if they are missional. As they learn to be outwardly focused for the sake of their community, they will flourish in gospel witness. But they may not be able to afford all of the amenities or the same staffing.”

The summit included a panel discussion of matters related to church and clergy economic issues. It featured Christopher as well as Dan Copp, Nazarene Education Commissioner and Global Clergy Development director; Jerry Kester, superintendent of the Washington Pacific district; Megan Pardue, bivocational senior pastor of Refuge, a church-type mission in Raleigh, N.C.; Bill Sawyer, a former bivocational pastor, currently serving as chief administrative officer of the Global Ministry Center; Carla Sunberg, NTS president; and Don Walter, director of Pensions and Benefits USA.

The summit was sponsored by Pensions and Benefits USA, Nazarene Theological Seminary, USA/Canada Region, and Stewardship Ministries. Videos of the keynote addresses and the panel discussion are available for viewing here.

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