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Learning to Ask

The offering is received at St. George's Church in Maplewood
G. Jeffrey MacDonald / The Living Church

[The Living Church] Signs of vitality abound these days at St. George’s Church in Maplewood, New Jersey. Attendance is up more than 10 percent in the past five years to 135. Each Sunday, newcomer parents and their young kids add to the laughter, banter, and joyful songs that fill the space.

But when Monday arrives and budgetary constraints come to bear, St. George’s has less to sing about. While more are worshiping, fewer are pledging – 20 percent fewer than five years ago. Traditional stewardship messages are not resonating with a younger generation. The task of coming up with more than $300,000 yearly to run the church now falls to fewer than 100 pledging families.

“We have to figure out what’s going on here,” said Dan Austin, co-chair of St. George’s stewardship committee. “A lot of the new families are coming from other faith traditions, so this whole stewardship thing has them wondering: what is that?”

To meet the challenge, St. George’s is doing like some of its peers in the Diocese of Newark and pulling pages from secular fundraising playbooks. They’ve seen the philanthropic trends: schools are gobbling up 41 percent more donations than at the turn of the 21st century, while giving to religious organizations has been flat in inflation-adjusted dollars. If churches are going to compete effectively for charity dollars, they will need to embrace strategies that are working for colleges, hospitals, and nonprofit agencies, according to fundraising experts.