How to Be Leading at the End of the First Quarter

How to Be Leading at the End of the First Quarter

“You never have to recover from a good start.” My mentor in the stewardship field, Dave Sutherland, taught me that years ago. Ask any football team if the statement is true or not. Consider this: 3/4 of NFL teams leading after the first quarter go on to victory. The first quarter is so important that I sharing this post, entitled How to Be Leading at the End of the First Quarter, to help you end your first quarter ahead.

In my over twenty years of coaching pastors and church leaders on stewardship, I find that the first quarter is the make-or-break quarter for whether their church will meet their budget needs or fall far short. In my experience, the churches that struggle in the first quarter almost always struggle throughout the year. There is nothing worse than running from behind. It takes more effort to catch up, and you are constantly at risk of falling further behind. What accounts for such a poor start? Here are my observations as to why.

First, as I keep reminding you, January is second only to July as the most challenging month for giving to churches. I believe there are several reasons for this. First is, people are slower to return to full church activity after the Holidays. Less engagement with your donors means less in the offering plate. Added to the engagement woes, the weather isn’t helpful, resulting in less attendance and engagement. Plus, many of your members over-extended themselves for the Holidays, and those credit card bills are coming due.

Finally, many churches shoot themselves in the foot by adopting a new yearly budget that is based on fantasy, not fact. Too many churches set their budgets based on what they feel they need while ignoring current giving trends.If you are increasing your new budget more than a few percentage points above last year’s giving, you are probably going to have a difficult first quarter.

Inflation last year in the U.S. was 8.2%, and it is now running at 3.7% currently. This means that to match the buying power of your 2022 giving, you needed to increase your giving this year by 8.2% and be on pace to be above budget by 3.7%. Plus, if you increase your current budget, you need to factor in that increase. If you do not already have the growth to wipe out the damage of inflation, how can you legitimize increasing your 2024 budget?

The question becomes, what can you do to be leading at the end of the first quarter? Get a plan and work your plan. You can’t sit by hoping giving will increase; you need to be proactive to work on seeing giving increase. Several years ago, I wrote a playbook called Six Weeks to Giving Success: A Step-by-Step Plan to Start Your Giving Year Right.

The plan has two primary focuses. First, we focus on recurring giving, encouraging people to make their giving automatic and recurring. Secondly, I like to hold a special “I Love My Church” offering in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. This gives a church the opportunity to connect vision with giving. We work to help attendees and members see the value of a dollar given to your church. My goal with special offerings is to see new donors begin their generosity journey and raise an additional week’s worth of offerings. What is your plan? Here is mine:

The time to start planning for your best six-week start is now! You will thank me in July.

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach