Urgency vs. Agency
Rev. Andrew Warner, Generosity Outreach Officer, Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity, & Communication — United Church of Christ
Does your stewardship campaign use the language of urgency?
Urgency, from the Latin “to pressure,” involves a moment or problem that insists or compels our attention. You might hear it in the church treasurer who says at the annual meeting, “Given our financial trends, we will be closed in five years.” Or the consistory president who announces, “We face a $30,000 deficit. We need everyone to give to keep the lights on.” I hear the language of urgency showing up in church when leaders put the emphasis on financial problems.
Urgency can be motivating because it names an immediate and large problem. But it can also leave people overwhelmed and uncertain about their ability to make a difference. For this reason, we often do better to use the language of agency.
Agency, rooted in older words that meant “to act,” names our capacity to make a difference. Framing questions in terms of agency names the ways the choices we make can change the outcome of a situation. Facing a budget deficit, a consistory president might say, “We face some choices because of the gap between our financial resources and our vision of ministry. We could increase our individual giving. We could adjust our vision of what God calls us to do as a church. We could think about new ways to do ministry together. We could look at what we can each do personally to help grow the church.”
Using the language of agency shifts the conversation from a balance sheet to people’s own behaviors and actions.
Urgency uses fear – “this awful thing will happen” – to motivate people. Fear provides the pressure. The language of agency reminds people of their inherent ability and power to choose their future. Instead of fear, agency speaks of capacity. It helps us imagine what we could do together.
The immanence of some situations demands urgency; sometimes we must act quickly. But most challenges in the church require cultural shifts. Empowerment, not fear, sustains change over time.
Many of our congregations will make stewardship appeals to their congregations this fall. Will you speak with a voice of urgency or agency? Pressure to meet the budget or possibility to shape the future?