Cash Flow and First Fruits Giving: It Can Happen in Your Church

Cash Flow and First Fruits Giving: It Can Happen in Your Church


We are deep into the dog days of summer. Folks are off on vacation. A variety of summer activities has impacted attendance at worship. Along with this reality comes a challenge of which we are by now well aware. When the people do not come, financial support of the church falls off. Dwindling summer cash flow becomes a problem to be reckoned with. The church treasurer prioritizes the bills to be paid. We hope and pray for a mild autumn that will delay having to fire up the furnace, and we cling to the hope that once school starts, the people will be back! But will folks who have fallen behind in their giving catch up? Experience indicates that once weekly support of the church falls a month or more behind, the chances that the shortfall will be made up diminish greatly.

This is a common reality for our congregations, especially in the northeast. It adversely affects not only the local church, but our connectional giving, necessitating a scramble by our Conference to meet the ongoing financial responsibilities that do not take the summer off.

There is a widespread mentality in our churches that undergirds the habit of giving when we are present. This is especially true for people who do not make a formal giving commitment to the church, but applies also to pledging givers. “We will give when we are present.” This mentality, not indifference to our ministries or shallow commitment, is what causes people to fall behind in their intentions to support the church. When folks feel connected to the ministries of their church and see how they are making a difference for Christ in the world, they want to give.

We can create opportunities for parishioners to keep current in their giving apart from their attendance. We do this through offering and educating around electronic giving as a current means of faithful stewardship.

The best alternative is advocating and implementing automatic payment to the church of parishoners’ giving. We encourage folks to set up with their banks a regular automatic payment to the church of their pledge or tithe or financial commitment. We are more and more familiar with this method of payment. Most of us by now are paying some of our bills this way, either a part of or a major portion of our ongoing spending. Newspaper subscriptions, utility bills, mortgage payments, even monthly savings are paid by our bank as part of their services for us who hold accounts with them This method of meeting our commitment to the ministries of our church becomes an important emphasis in our stewardship campaigns. We urge it as the most helpful and thus the preferred way of supporting our ministry. The advantages are convincing:

For the church, this will create a continual income flow that greatly reduces a cash flow problem during “low attendance” weeks. It enables congregations to be faithful in their support of our connectional covenant and the ministries it enables. Just as individuals find it difficult to catch up when they fall significantly behind their giving intentions, so do congregations find it difficult to make up covenant giving to the connection when they must rely on anticipated increases in giving at year’s end.

There are compelling advantages to individuals who set up automatic payments to their church. Obviously, it is convenient. But I would stress the biblical and faith advantages automatic payment nurtures. First, this encourages first fruits giving. We have the satisfaction of knowing that our commitment to discipleship ministry does not come out of whatever is left after all else has been paid. Our church pledge or financial commitment to our church becomes a spending priority. And then, another fruit: Research shows that when people form the habit of automatic payment of their church support, it is easier to grow in giving. The average United Methodist household gives around 2% of their income to the church. When automatic giving becomes their method of support, the giving of households increases significantly. So this becomes a concrete way of assisting faithful Christians on their way toward tithing.

Biblically, theologically, practically, fostering automatic payment for our church family makes sense! With all there is to gain, is it not worth pursuing?

Here are some ways to begin:

  • Talk to your Church Council about automatic giving and its advantages. Get their endorsement and enthusiasm!
  • Work with a core of church leaders, beginning with the pastor, to begin automatic payment so that there is a respected group in the congregation who can testify about it.
  • If you have a banker in the congregation, ask him / her to explain the simple steps in arranging for this. Or, ask a bank that many in the church use to offer that resourcing.
  • As you plan your stewardship campaign, include testimonies that encourage automatic payment.

One additional detail: For those who do make their regular, dependable offering to the church through automatic giving, the Sunday morning offering is no longer the means by which they express their stewardship and see their tithes and gifts consecrated and blessed. We need to recognize this and provide for it. A way that congregations are doing this is by providing a “giving card” in the pews which people can use in lieu of an envelope or loose offering. It is recognized by the congregation and honored by offering counters as an indication of automatic giving, or other forms of electronic giving. Use of these cards discourages people from feeling they have to put a “token” offering in the plate. We do not want to communicate unintentionally that a dollar or loose change is an adequate offering as might be concluded by new people or visitors who see the offering.

Research indicates that it is increasingly important to provide faithful Christians with more opportunities to financially support their church other than simply passing the plate on Sunday morning. We need to unpack just what this may mean. But surely, implementing automatic payment as a preferred way of giving in a congregation is one effective alternative.