Who’s Talking About Money?

Talking about money can be challenging — even when times are good.

So when times are tough, it stands to follow that the noise-o-meter readings on money related topics drop to ‘can-even-hear-a-pin-drop’ levels. And there is the conundrum. Just when we should be ramping-up our emotionally neutral money conversation, too often silence is the natural default.

For twenty years, I have been working with faith communities throughout North America on the topic of money, values, and the culture — more specifically how those issues intersect (or not) in our lives. To be clear, this is not about the latest, greatest stewardship program. Rather it is about helping congregations understand the power they have to convene multigenerational educational programs that focus on this simple truth: the choices we make with our money can change the world.

As you can see, that statement is intended to push the boundaries of traditional stewardship thinking. Too often stewardship campaigns are one-dimensional in that they focus primarily on sharing (a.k.a. giving).

My goal in working with congregations is to help them understand there is a deep need to move beyond the status quo and whenever possible expand the conversation to also include discussions on how we save/invest our money as well as how we spend it. I call this the wide-angle approach.

A recent poll by the American Psychological Association stated that seventy five percent of American adults now list money as the number one source of stress in their lives. Given the unprecedented levels of financial anxiety and hardship, it is critical for congregations to step into this void and provide opportunities for folks to talk more openly and intentionally about money and the role it plays in their lives.

And do not forget the youth. They too need places to discuss and think through their emerging money values and habits. Now more than ever youth and adults need forums (preferably together) where they can process some of their financial challenges and also learn new ways for developing and maintaining healthy money habits. 

In a recent conversation with a thought-leading Episcopal priest in Southern California, he shared the following, “the issue of hyper-consumerism is the greatest threat to the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

If you still find that you need additional motivation to embrace this opportunity, I offer the following eye-popping statistic from the consumer research group, Yankelovich. Today in America, youth and adults are subjected to more than five thousand advertising impressions per day.

By any measure, this is nothing short of astounding. It is nonstop consumer messaging delivered with laser-like focus with the goal of super-gluing a telephoto lens to our metaphorical money camera. That is when needs and wants become so blurred we can no longer discern the difference. Or put simply, when ‘see money, spend money’ wins the day.

With so much energy, time, and money focused on getting us to part with our resources, it is no wonder we have little interest in or financial capacity left to save for a goal or share with others.

Like the general population, talking about money, values, and culture does not come easily for most congregations or even most pastors. But if this is ever going to evolve beyond stewardship as an annual obligation, we need to step out of our comfort zone and understand the gift we have been given courtesy of the Great Recession. That is to help youth and adults refocus on what is truly important to them by viewing the world through a wide-angle lens and in turn help them adjust their financial habits accordingly. 

That is not to suggest that congregations and clergy are intentionally defaulting to the ‘less talk about money is more’ plan. In fact, many clergy tell me they have tried to be proactive in expanding their stewardship education efforts, but frequently hit resistance from folks in their congregation who argue, “This is church, we shouldn’t talk about money.”

Au contraire. I believe there are two critical reasons why churches are one of the best places for conducting year-round values-based money education forums.

First, in what other venue can teens, seventy-year-olds and everyone in-between have frequent opportunities to learn from each other about the choices they make with their money?

Second, where else can folks from broad socio-economic and cultural backgrounds come together to discuss and learn from each other about money, values and the culture? For over twenty years I have seen firsthand how beneficial it can be for congregations to convene such multigenerational forums.

To conclude, let me share five ideas for helping youth and adults in your congregation and community develop healthy money habits:

1. Test-drive the concept by downloading and using the My Money Plan exercise (youth and adult version) from our Financial Sanity curriculum in a worship service or educational forum.

2. Integrate multigenerational money education into your faith formation plans ASAP and guard from it becoming a “flavor of the month,” as hyper-consumerism will be with us for some time.

3. View the issue and plan for the future with a wide-angle lens.

4. Invite lay-leaders in your congregation into dialogue on this topic — you will find strength in numbers.

5. Be bold — now more than ever we (youth and adults) need courageous leaders

It was my grandparents and then my parents, grounded in their faith tradition, who taught my siblings and me that the choices we make with our money can change the world. But it started with a simple conversation when I was young and then evolved to more substantive discussions as an adult. And that has made all the difference.