Hidden Miracle or Hidden Peril
well do congregational endowment funds serve God? Can an endowment fund
lead to "empowerment"?
There is over
$1 billion in ELCA congregational endowments. What an opportunity to
minister, to make a difference, to be "empowered". The $1 billion figure
is a current estimate based on reports submitted to the ELCA. If funds
already committed in wills and life insurance policies were included, that
estimate would be substantially increased.
congregations, over the past 15 or so years, have participated in wills
emphasis programs, and the insurance industry has undertaken heavy
promotions of gifts through life insurance over the same time period and
these have been quite successful.
My purpose for
this article is to generate a desire to examine the purpose, potential,
practice, and problems of congregational endowments and to encourage
"empowerment". Let me be clear: I am in favor of providing opportunities
and motivation for deterred giving. Experience has shown that such
practices have not always provided the results that congregations want or
need. This article is an attempt to provide some framework for discussion.
Before you read
any further, be aware that this topic is controversial. I have discovered
that this topic engenders deep emotions, can divide a congregation, and
for discussing it, I have been "shown the door." All one needs to do is to
begin to discuss "endowments" with a congregation that has such a fund and
you will trigger the same emotions as when we begin to talk about "money"
with individuals in the church. Perhaps it is related to the "mine" versus
"God's" dilemma that we come face-to-face with continually. Perhaps it is
a matter of needing to identify the "purpose" of a congregation or the
purpose of "money". Perhaps it is the need to integrate "purpose" and
"practice" into "achievement" or "empowerment."
What is the
purpose of your congregation? Many mission statements have been written
but most, in the end, will relate to the nurturing of faith of the members
and to ministry to some part or all of the world.
purpose generally is related to the rite of baptism where several things
1. We are given
the gift of faith.
2. We are given
the promise that God will be with us always.
3. We have been
4. We are given
congregation is charged with the task of nurturing the faith of the
is our acceptance and acknowledgement of these gifts.
purpose is to nurture the growth in our stewardship, in our acceptance of
the gift of faith, and the promise that God will be with us always.
How do we do
2. Singing and
young and old.
the responses of our gifts of time, talent, and treasure.
the living of lives dedicated to God.
like wealth, can be a blessing or a bane. How can it be a blessing? We
know that its existence will affect us. We know that there will be new
temptations. We know that it will present new opportunities. The mere
existence requires that we examine our purpose and our opportunities to
live out our faith.
of an endowment for many churches has served as the only means for
survival. It allows the congregation to serve where the community does not
have the ability to fund itself. (One must ask the question here as to
whether this has deprived other Christians of the opportunity to serve
with their money and time?)
congregations are doing marvelous things with their endowments and are
empowered. There is a sense of mission, purpose, and empowerment in these
congregations as they reach out beyond their own needs to address the
needs of others.
congregations are gasping, suffocating, or even dying because of their
endowments. Why? Because they have yielded to the temptation that we all
have experienced. Let's take an easier road. My experience in
meeting with many congregations is that an endowment fund can be a
divisive issue. I should add that many endowments carry with them
specific, well-intentioned conditions that leave little choice.
congregations with endowments, I suggest that some questions are in order:
1. Are your
endowment practices consistent with your purpose?
2. Do you
envision your endowment or future endowment as a means of empowerment?
3. Does your
endowment in any way, potentially or actually, reduce member
responsiveness or giving?
4. Does your
endowment practice encourage additional deterred giving?
5. Are you
being asked "Why don't we pay for 'that' out of our endowment?"
6. Is some or
all of your endowment being used for current expenses?
endowments been received or are being received with limiting conditions?
8. Is your
endowment protected by your finance committee?
If your answer
to any of these questions is a "yes" or a "qualified yes" perhaps an
examination or redefinition of practices is in order.
recommended for discussion:
premise "God will be with us always" This gives the congregation
empowerment. Luke 6:38, "Give to others, and God will give to you."
Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into
your hand all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one
that God will use for you. How can our congregation be empowered?
2. All gifts
are to be used up over a period of time. In other words, annuitize the
gift over a fixed period of time (usually 5 to 12 years). This will result
in greater amounts being available, and will generate enthusiasm for
greater deferred giving. Choose the time to suit the project. The shorter
3 Commit the
funds to projects and causes outside the congregation. This encourages
empowerment of congregations and encourages regular giving and growth in
faith. Luke 12:32, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for our father is
pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell all your belongings and give the
money to the poor"
guidelines that discourage limitations on future gifts. Who knows what may
5 Seek ways to
release restricted funds now in hand (this may have some legal
implications). If there is a legal requirement to spend the endowment for
specific purposes, then dedicate like amounts from the tithes and
offerings to offset this amount.
partners for projects. This can leverage an endowment. Partners may be the
synod, Lutheran Social Services, state or local governments, or other
institutions in the area.
7. Continue to
emphasize empowerment and urge future gifts. We all need to give.
8. Bring your
endowment into the life and witness of the congregation.
finance-oriented people invest your endowment. Have your congregation
spend your endowment for you.
10. If you
expect deep controversy, invite a qualified consultant from outside the
congregation to provide some independent thoughts.
I pray that if
I have stepped on any "sacred cows” for you, that you will forgive me,
that you will be open to discussion and that you will be empowered to go
forth to His will!
Duane Engelhardt of Springfield, N.J., is a
past president of Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. This essay
Faith in Action.
© Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Faith
in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA
and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.