Where Is Their Wealth Going?

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

In the course of conversation, a young pastor recently asked, “Two-thirds of our church’s members are 65 years and older. What I want to know is this…

“Once they’re gone, where is all their wealth going?”

Whoa! Now there’s a question that doesn’t get asked every day!

Frankly, if I were this pastor, I’d have a hard time going there. Instead, I’d be tempted to pretend this wasn’t a thing. I don’t want to own the painful dynamics of an aging congregation. It’s easier to pretend the future is secure, even when it’s not!

But according to a recent report from FreeWill.com, the instincts of this young pastor are golden (so to speak). Based on over 50,000 completed wills, 14 percent included a charitable gift, totaling an expected value of more than $541 million.

What’s more, the average size of each gift was $78,630 and nearly 20 percent of the wills with a gift included more than one. As a result, the average total giving made in wills with a charitable gift was $108,482.

That’s not chump change! No wonder this young pastor is curious about where the wealth of her aging congregation is going!

But what impresses me more is her ability to ask this question in the first place. Instead of nervously deflecting issues of death and dying, healthy leaders are at ease having difficult conversations about end-of-life – even if it’s the end of their own church!

Most impressive is the ability to imagine tomorrow’s ministry today. This takes tremendous courage because the faces, bricks, and mortar staring us down desire the status quo (and not much more!). Exploring what church looks like once everything and everyone else is gone is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Though it’s easy to talk a good game, few truly dare go there.

But what if you did? What if the dreams for tomorrow’s church moved from the shadows to center stage? Suddenly, asking if 65+ year old members have left a gift in their will to the church isn’t so crazy. In fact, it makes perfect sense! It must be asked!

Truth is, your church members’ wealth will eventually go somewhere. The only question is where. Will their God-given resources be used to support the ongoing mission of your local church and other Kingdom-building ministries?

There’s far too much at stake for today’s church to just look the other way. Young or old, leaders must understand the times and dare to ask, “Where their wealth is going?”

Barnabas Foundation is proud to be your partner in promoting financial literacy and generous giving at your church. Find articles, books, studies and more for your church under Tools and Resources. You can also email me at pleo@BarnabasFoundation.com or call 888.448.3040.

Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil’s online bio.