Stewardship approaches must take cultural diversity into account, Reese tells Big Tenters

Giving and involvement are inseparable, veteran fundraiser says

July 6, 2009

Atlanta

Rapidly growing racial-ethnic diversity in the world and the church poses a major stewardship challenge for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a veteran church fund-raiser told participants in the first-ever Big Tent event here, June 11-13.

The Rev. James Foster Reese, who this fall will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination, told a joint workshop of the Stewardship and Investment Conference and the Racial Ethnic Convocation — two of the 10 conferences gathered under one roof — that “we’re discovering much larger diversity within racial ethnic groups than anyone realizes.”

He said 40 Asian groups, countless Hispanic/Latino groups and some 500 Native American tribes have been identified by researchers “and there’s tremendous diversity within all those groups.”

Meanwhile, Reese added, “there’s not very much out there about racial-ethnic stewardship. And for us Presbyterians, we’re running out of time — we’re halfway through the years of the Racial Ethnic Church Growth target [to increase membership to 20 percent by 2010], but not halfway to the numbers.”

One key, Reese said, is for all Presbyterians to take a personal stake in church growth everywhere. “If a presbytery says we need a church at Ninth and Main, then all 2.3 million Presbyterians ought to be involved in some way in that church’s support.”

That sense of personal stake is especially crucial in this day and age, he continued. “Don’t expect people who are not involved to give,” Reese said. “Giving and involvement are inseparable — you cannot count on one without the other.”

Different ethnic groups have different lessons to teach about stewardship, Reese said. “If you really want to learn about stewardship, ask the Koreans,” he said, citing giving statistics showing substantially higher per-member giving by them.

“And if my learning curve only involves African Americans like me,” he added with a chuckle, “then I’m in trouble.”

New immigrants — an area of recent growth in the PC(USA) — pose a special stewardship challenge, Reese said, “because when the Caucasian church went to other countries to evangelize, funding was not expected to come from the people, so giving was not part of the ministry that was expected or emphasized” by Presbyterian mission workers.

“That failure to undergird giving because they didn’t have to give to say, like pay the pastor,” Reese said, makes it more difficult to raise funds in immigrant churches in this country. 

The “culture of giving” varies widely from ethnic group to ethnic group, Reese said. African Americans respond best to “self-help’ or “self-determination” appeals. Asians respond better to trusted or respected leaders and elders. Latinos are motivated more by kinship and extended family ties. Native Americans tend more toward reciprocity, where giving and receiving go hand-in-hand and go both ways.

Therefore, Reese continued, African Americans give as an investment in the future, Asians out of an obligation to help their family and community, Latinos to preserve culture and kinship and Native Americans to redistribute wealth and resources around the community.

Those varying cultural dynamics have to be taken into account when addressing stewardship issues.

There’s at least one common thread, Reese said. “For all people, stewardship is a spiritual matter, a demonstration of commitment.”

Leave a comment