My third December as a church administrator floored me.
In January of that year, our church had planted a new church 20 minutes down the road, and 80–100 faithful leaders and givers went with the new plant to help the new church get going.
We were prepared to take a hit to our finances and leadership teams (including small group leaders), but as anyone on church staff knows, it’s impossible to really know what to expect.
When the summer giving slump hit us, we had to make some tough choices about what to cut out of our budget (coffee and bagels were the first to go—and before you ask, no, there was no revolt!).
By the time year-end giving season came around, we were doing better—we didn’t need to cut further, but we were also cautious about the next year’s budget.
And then . . . our December giving exploded. We went from being on track for a mediocre year to beating our prior annual giving record. And we did it again . . . for the next three years.
Maybe you’re looking at a tough profit and loss statement this year, or maybe it’s been a surprisingly good year. No matter where your church is financially, you’ll likely see a significant giving bump in December (particularly the last three days).
So, why is church giving so high in December?
Here are the five most common reasons I’ve seen:
1. Many people get annual bonuses right before Christmas.
Sometimes you’ll see a spike driven by your most faithful givers—who give above and beyond what they usually give. That’s totally normal, and a lot of times, they’re giving or tithing on money they just received as a bonus or raise.
2. Unchurched relatives of your members want a place to give for tax purposes.
This one always caught me off guard. Sometimes, when prepping giving statements. I’d see a last name I recognized, only to find out that a member of our church had told their parents or aunts and uncles about how our church had blessed them that year. Then, when that person wanted to make a tax-deductible contribution, they chose to support our church because we ministered to their loved one. We never asked for those gifts, but we were always grateful.
3. Some people prefer to give lump sums quarterly or annually.
Now, this one’s quirky. Since some people have different pay schedules or compensation incentives (like commissions), they prefer to give fewer, bigger gifts instead of scheduling typical monthly or semimonthly gifts.
4. You remind people how to give more regularly.
For the four (or five) Sundays in December, we would put special giving reminders in the weekly emails and bulletins, mention the 12/31 giving deadline during announcements, and make pre-service slides with instructions on how to give. Simply reminding people of how to give tends to create a boost in giving, since it can be easy to forget at budget time.
5. People who have forgotten to give during the year make a large donation.
Sometimes people get to the end of the year and realize their “I meant to!” turned into “I forgot!” about 6 months ago. This is different than people who give annually on purpose—they just never remember at the right place or time. Some of these are first-time givers who have been visiting your church, but not everyone will be.
Now, not all of those reasons will still exist in January—and that’s okay. Since giving from annual bonuses and unchurched relatives will always be unpredictable, you shouldn’t bank on it. Instead, focus on encouraging your regular, lapsed, and first-time givers to schedule recurring gifts.
How to encourage your church to set up recurring giving
Recurring giving is your secret weapon to take the financial successes of December into the new year.
I mean, think about it—your givers don’t have to remember to bring their checkbook to church (and many of them probably don’t know how to fill one out anyway!). They don’t need to create a new one-time gift every month. No matter how easy and quick it is to give, every one-time gift still requires intentionality.
And that’s just from the perspective of your congregation.
On the church staff side, recurring giving helps you set a realistic, predictable budget, since you have a better idea of what your income will look like in the future. It also helps you set reachable ministry goals for your church and your staff. (Of course, recurring giving will never make up 100% of your income. But in my experience, most of our financial growth came from new recurring gifts.)
My best tips for encouraging recurring giving:
- Use preservice slides. (If you’re using Faithlife Proclaim, they’re prebuilt for you.)
- Build a /give page on your website (meaning yourchurchwebsite.com/give) with an embedded giving form as well as instructions on other giving methods, like giving via text message or your church app.
- Send postcards or year-end mailers with instructions for how to set up a recurring gift.
- Let people turn one-time gifts into recurring gifts. For example, after someone makes a one-time gift using Faithlife Giving—included with Servant Keeper church management software from Faithlife—they’ll see a thank-you page that offers them a chance to make that gift recurring, on any schedule they’d like.
- Explain how recurring giving helps your church in a heartfelt thank-you letter—perhaps on your annual giving statement.
- Let people create a recurring gift without making them create an account on your system. Making someone create a login when they’re trying to donate is a sure-fire way to lose someone’s attention. After all, life is busy! When it takes people more than a couple seconds to create a gift, they can get distracted, meaning you miss out on some gifts that people intended to give to your church.
Whatever you do, make sure you clearly explain where and how to set up recurring gifts. If your church uses a strong online giving platform, anyone—even the least tech-savvy person—can give in these five simple ways:
- A direct link to your giving form included in emails from your church
- An embedded form on your church website
- Text to Give
- A giving kiosk on site (great for paperless giving methods!)
- Your customizable church app