Thoughts on Falling Short of the Goal for this Year's Thanksgiving Offering

 

INTRODUCTION

This year, for the first time ever, the amount given/pledged for the Thanksgiving Offering fell short of the goal we had set.

Many of you have asked me how I feel about that. Here are my thoughts.

First, it’s legitimate to be disappointed.  Over the past several weeks, I haven’t yet publicly mentioned the fact that we fell short because I didn’t want to overshadow the remarkable results of the offering — results which were, by any other standard besides the goal itself, absolutely astounding. But despite the amazing outcome, it would be odd to pretend like we hadn’t set a goal or to totally ignore the fact that we didn’t meet it. In prior years, we’ve always made a big deal over surpassing the goal — it has always felt like a major component of the ‘success’ of the offering. So now that we’re facing a new situation of falling short, we should be consistent and acknowledge that it’s perfectly OK (and perhaps even appropriate) to experience some disappointment.

Second, it’s also legitimate not  to be disappointed. Different people will have different reactions, which is perfectly fine. While some will feel let down about falling short, others will feel like, “We just gave 1.25 million dollars! How could you possibly be disappointed!?!” Both perspectives are 100% valid, and there’s no need for people who feel differently to try to convince each other of the rightness of their view — a diversity of opinion should be welcomed.

Third, it’s appropriate and important to ask why we fell short of the goal. This question matters for the following reason: in the past, we have always looked at surpassing the goal as a sign of God’s faithfulness and a sign of our church’s obedience. In other words, we said that we surpassed the goal for a reason and that surpassing the goal mattered. If we still believe that to be true, then it means we must assume that this year, we likewise failed to surpass the goal for a reason and that failing to meet the goal actually means something. The rest of this post will be concerned with exploring this idea.

 

WHY WE FELL SHORT

As far as I can tell, there are three possible explanations for why we may have failed to reach the goal this year (there could be more, but these are the three main ones that come to mind:)

Explanation #1: We as a church didn’t sacrifice and step out in faith enough.

Explanation #2: We as a leadership team set the goal too high.

Explanation #3: God allowed us to not reach the goal in order to teach us something new.

Of these three possible explanations, I want to emphatically reject Explanation #1 and accept Explanations #2 and #3.

 

Rejecting Explanation #1

The first possible explanation for why we didn’t reach the goal is that people simply didn’t give enough — they didn’t sacrifice as much as they had in prior years. According to this view, we ‘lost’ this year because we didn’t try hard enough.

I cannot state strongly enough how false I think this view is. The one thing I am convinced of is that people dug deep and stretched this year to the same extent that they had in prior years.

As you all know, I never look at the giving data. But those who tallied the offering have told me about how common it was for those who gave in last year’s offering to have doubled their gift for this year’s offering. In other words, the same bold, audacious faith that you have shown in prior years was once again on display this year. You voted with your wallets once again, choosing God over Mammon. You gave violently and sacrificially once again, in order to break the grip of materialism in your life. You gave ambitiously and expectantly once again, looking forward to God’s reward and provision. I simply have zero doubt about this.

In talking about this offering, I have always been clear that the individual, spiritual ‘win’ is far more important than any collective ‘win’ we may experience as a congregation. At the end of the day, this offering is about you and God. It’s about your relationship with him, your commitment to his Kingdom, and your willingness to trust him with your life. When you give sacrificially, violently, and aggressively — when you stretch your faith and give more than you ever thought you could — this is always a huge ‘win’ for you, and a huge ‘win’ for God and his Kingdom, regardless of how much others give or what ends up happening with the money. These individual, spiritual wins are what the whole thing is all about — the only reason we make a point to celebrate the total amount given is because the total represents all these individual stories and sacrifices.

To state the obvious, whether we make the goal does not in any way affect (or even reflect) whether these individual wins happened. My view is that they did happen just as much this year as they had any other year. I am fully confident that the personal stories which are sure to result from this year’s offering — stories of profound spiritual growth and of God’s miraculous provision — will be just as numerous and moving as ever before.

So, to sum up, it would be ridiculous to suggest that we somehow ‘failed’ as a congregation, or that people could or should have given more. That’s just not the case.

 

Accepting Explanation #2

The second possible explanation for why we didn’t reach the goal is that we as a leadership team set the goal too high.

In my opinion, this is exactly what happened. We simply got it wrong.

As I’ve shared with you before, our leadership team sets the goal each year during an invigorating no-holds-barred meeting in which we think, debate, and pray about what that year’s goal should be. Ultimately, we are trying to hear from God, but we are only human, and the process for determining a goal is an imperfect one.

I have always been very forthright about the fact that the goal isn’t set by looking at the church’s vision or needs, but rather by looking at what we think an appropriate ‘stretch’ would be.  This year, the debate about the goal amount came down to two numbers: we went back and forth between 1.2 and 1.5 million. The leading contender for most of the discussion was 1.2, but toward the end of the meeting, consensus swung toward 1.5.

Looking back, I wish we would have gone with 1.2! I believe that this would have been the ‘right’ goal for this year, just as 840k proved to be the ‘right’ goal for last year.

Though we may have gotten it wrong, I think it’s important for you to know that our hearts and minds were nevertheless in the right place. We were seeking God for an answer this year just as in prior years. And the higher goal was chosen as a statement of faith — it came from a place of not wanting to arbitrarily limit what God was capable of.

 

Accepting Explanation #3

The third possible explanation for why we didn’t reach the goal is that God allowed us to fall short in order to teach us something new. I think that’s true.

There are a number of different potential ‘lessons’ I could mention, but speaking personally, two come to the forefront of my mind:

 First, this has shown me that not making the goal isn’t the end of the world.Since we had never fallen short before, I had always wondered what it would feel like — sort of like an undefeated team that has never experienced a loss. Now that we’ve been through it, I was surprised at how non-eventful the whole thing seemed. While I still believe that setting a goal is an important part of the offering, and while I still want to try for an ambitious goal again next year, I’ll nevertheless admit that falling short has helped me to see that reaching the goal is perhaps not as important as I might have previously thought it to be.

Second, one of the main take-aways from this whole experience for me was realizing again, in a new and deeper way, how much I love our church. In prior years, I have deeply enjoyed getting to share the experience of surpassing the goal together. It’s been a lot of fun, and I feel that it has drawn us closer as a church. But this year, I was surprised to discover that I also enjoyed sharing the experience of not surpassing the goal. It’s been a different sort of enjoyment, but not necessarily lesser.

As a church family, different types of experiences can bring us together in different ways. I’ll never forget the first Christmas I was at LMCC. At that point we had about 30 people coming on an average Sunday, and we decided to set an audacious attendance goal of 200 adults for our upcoming Christmas service. We prayed for weeks and mailed out thousands of postcards, which was a huge expense for us at the time. The night before the big day, the largest blizzard in recent memory hit the city. In the morning, the entire city was shut down — every store was closed until at least noon, and no one left their houses. Instead of 200 people showing up, we had 50.

At the time, we were all severely disappointed, but looking back, I can see how God brought us together through that failure in ways that he never could have through a success. Many of the people who worked and prayed for that first ‘failed’ Christmas service were still involved at LMCC last Christmas, when we finally eclipsed the 200-person attendance goal we had set years earlier. You can imagine how sweet this was for those of us who had been through the prior experience together.

Obviously, our falling short of the goal for this year’s Thanksgiving Offering is different from that Christmas story in many respects. As I said already, there is no possible sense in which this year’s offering can be considered a ‘failure’ — we set an absurd goal, and we almost surpassed it. I’d call that a huge success. My point is just that falling short of a goal together can end up being a meaningful experience in its own right — an experience I feel privileged to share with a group of people whom I deeply admire and care about.