As seminary leaders engage with donors, many find a reluctance about investing in theological education. North America’s changing religious landscape means that there are fewer people in the pews, at least in many churches. A growing number of seminaries is recruiting potential students, but the absolute number of seminarians has remained essentially flat over the last 20 years. Furthermore, the prohibitive cost of the traditional master of divinity degree can all lead potential donors to question whether their gift might be better given elsewhere.
Some of the reading sources for these assertions include:
The bottom line is this: Donors are discerning when it comes to how they invest their dollars -- as they should be. Denominational loyalty is no longer sufficient to entice people to give. School loyalty by itself is not persuasive. Many donors are well informed about the issues facing theological schools and have critical and important questions.
The best way to address these concerns is to meet them head on. Share your mission and be specific about how your school is living it out. A great example of this “head-on approach” is Lancaster Theological Seminary’s “Leadership Letter,” a quarterly publication aimed at the school’s friends and stakeholders. President Carol Lytch directly addresses the Pew research, statistics and all. In response to the trends, Lytch speaks of the character of the gospel, the need for leadership to address younger generations, and the mission of Lancaster Theological Seminary. Very persuasive.
The key to dealing with gloomy trends and statistics is this: don’t avoid the information that’s out there. Address it. Donors know the field, so let your school’s mission speak directly to the issues, statistics, and trends in ways that point to what the Spirit is doing.
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