By Marcia Shetler
A few years ago during a family vacation to northern California, we visited Sutter’s Mill, where John Sutter’s discovery of gold in the American River set off the California gold rush. Our three young grandchildren enjoyed doing their own prospecting along the riverbank. They were excited about their shiny discoveries, even though they were tiny flakes that may have been gold or simply gold’s much less valuable look-alike, pyrite.
An afternoon of fun was enough, without additional investigation of their findings. Serious gold mining still takes place along the creeks and rivers and in those mountains, but finding a reward with value and authenticity takes much work and patience.
In our technology-rich and information-soaked culture, data mining is easier than gold mining. Access the Internet, search any subject, and receive millions of results. We forget that there’s not a lot of vetting here: anyone can claim to be an expert. It’s up to us to distinguish between the reliable information and the look-alikes.
Denominations, judicatories, congregations, and their leaders look to the Ecumenical Stewardship Center to help them understand and practice faithful generosity. We value our relationship with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving as a trusted partner whose credible research, education, and public conversations inform the resources we create and share. Like Lake Institute, we see the need for a new baseline of knowledge about how congregations receive, manage, and spend their financial resources.
We are thankful for Lake Institute and its supporters’ investment of resources, hard work, and dedication to make the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) a reality. We were delighted to assist by raising awareness and making connections, and we are grateful that Lake Institute shared preliminary results of the study at Ecumenical Stewardship Center events earlier this year.
Even the NSCEP summary report informs the questions often asked by our constituencies: Why is it important to talk about stewardship all year? Why should we consider helping those who attend our church with their personal finances as part of our stewardship ministry? Why should we offer giving opportunities beyond the Sunday morning offering plate? Why should our pastor know about the giving from the individuals who attend our church?
The NSCEP provides data to show why these understandings are important and why these practices are beneficial. As an organization, the Ecumenical Stewardship Center will use NSCEP to gain a clearer picture of our constituencies, and to discern where we should focus our energy and resources to help those we serve thrive as they learn to live generously.
I am grateful for this nugget of hope in the NSCEP summary: “Congregations across all traditions, types, and sizes appear to have the capacity to succeed in the midst of the changing American landscape” (p. 13). With this shared hope we move forward, with new data from NSCEP to guide us on the journey.
Marcia Shetler is executive director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible Certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and most recently was director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position.
The Ecumenical Stewardship Center helps the church thrive as it learns to live generously. Learn more about their resources, events, and networking opportunities at https://stewardshipresources.org.