In the dark ages, we called it Prove the Tithe Day. It was an effort to raise money for the church’s operating budget on a single Sunday.

This same idea is back in popularity as church contributions run behind budget needs in these challenging financial times. As the story goes, the pastor or church finance committee announces a special day “to catch up on the budget,” and church members are encouraged to bring a special offering to “close the gap” between receipts and needs-to-date.

This is a really bad idea for several reasons.

First, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t significantly increase total receipts to the congregation; it only “moves money forward.” For example, the finance committee announces Oct. 15 as “Catch-Up Sunday.” And sure enough, a large offering comes in that day, 162 percent of a “normal” Sunday’s offering. Victory is declared and everyone feels good. They proceed to spend the remaining money in the church budget before the end of December.

However, receipts from the big October Sunday are offset by weaker-than-normal receipts in November and December. On Oct. 15, people simply gave money they were going to give anyway in November and December; they just “moved money forward.”

Catch-Up Sundays rarely increase total gifts to the congregation. They simply move money forward.

Second, Catch-Up Sundays divert attention from where it really belongs: stewardship education in season and out. Relying on “special stewardship days” will drive the church in a financial ditch. Ongoing regular stewardship education is the solution in an instant-gratification consumer culture.

Churches can respond to the culture by providing an increased number of designation options for members, as well as allowing members to pick giving plans offered by the congregation. Even so, there is no substitute for stewardship education in preaching, teaching and living.

Personal testimony: My son and his pregnant wife have just joined a church. So, over dinner the other night my daughter-in-law asked, “So, Ron, how much do people actually give to their church?” She simply wanted to know the norm. She is not going to give away the farm, but she wants to do her part. And (my point), she grew up in church and didn’t know what she should give.

Stewardship education in preaching, teaching and living is part of the answer to our financial challenges. The other part of the answer is living within our means.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

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