Not Your Parents Offering Plate – J. Clif Christopher

Christopher, J. Clif. Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008. 123 pp.

JMKNot Your Parents’ Offering Plate is one of the most helpful books on congregational giving I have read in my career. Common wisdom holds that younger generations of Christians do not give as abundantly or regularly as their parents and grandparents, but few people offer insight about why this change has taken place and how to encourage better giving in this new environment.  Christopher examines the broad changes in giving patterns and gives clear directions for encouraging stewardship in a contemporary congregation. I have shared it with fellow pastors and with lay leaders, and both found it accessible, practical and insightful.

One of the most important points that Christopher makes is that “people want to be a part of something that changes lives.” (13) The competition for gifts is increasing as non-profit entities multiply rapidly. What the non-profit sector knows and practices—and the church generally does not—is that what motivates people to give is a desire to change lives. Changing lives is exactly what the church of Jesus Christ is all about—but we do not do a good job of explaining to others how our ministries are changing lives. In response to reading Christopher’s book, our church leaders reworked our stewardship campaign to highlight the ways our church ministries change lives, and we started a regular “good news” feature in the monthly newsletter to emphasize that theme every month. Both of these have proved very successful.

Another major argument of Christopher’s book is that the pastor must be involved in finances and in giving. His commitment to this point is strident and unrelenting, which caused some unease among both clergy and lay readers, but I think his argument is compelling. He argues that giving is a spiritual issue, and a pastor who is not aware of people’s giving cannot fully care for their souls. This sparked a major conversation among our lay leaders, because our church keeps all information on giving away from the pastor. Christopher’s argument was strong enough to convince us to try sharing information with me, as the pastor, for an upcoming capital campaign, so that I had the chance to write a personal note of thanks to all those who gave. Reading his book opened up the conversation for the first time in our church.

Christopher also discusses the importance of thanking people, how to handle major donors (including giving them special attention and appreciation), looking beyond earned income to capital and estates as resources for gifts and more.

Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate is full of information, provocation and practical advice on giving for the contemporary church. It is well worth reading and sharing.  To read Jennifer’s review of J. Clif Christopher’s “Whose Offering Plate Is It?”, click here.  To read her review of the The Star Book for Stewardship click here

Reviewed by the Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, pastor of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in Jeffersonville, IN,