There is much talk today about changing a church’s culture of generosity. A church’s culture is built up over years, embedded with heritage and history, and is not easily or quickly changed. Identification, diagnosis, strategy, and focused implementation are essential stages required to effect real cultural change in any organization. However, I know from years of experience and observation that a church’s giving can be quickly and dramatically upgraded with no more than three very simple and easily implemented steps of action. These first steps can be foundational for the long-term process that can lead you and your church to be as generous as you want to be.
1. TALK ABOUT GIVING
Some congregations only hear about giving/stewardship/generosity on a one-Sunday a year emphasis or when the budget if being presented. This is a serious mistake on several levels. Most significantly, it categorizes giving and excludes it from every day life. This violates the teaching ministry of Jesus and the content of the New Testament. Jesus talked more about money than he did about heaven, hell, and prayer combined. A full one-third of his parables deal with wealth-related issues.
Sensitive, caring, and intentional discussions about financial stewardship must become a consistent and normative part of the congregational conversation. Failure to do so will be to:
- Obviate a major portion of God’s Word.
- Deprive the people of the opportunity for true spiritual growth and transformation. Jesus asked, “If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:11)
- Weaken the ministry. A ministry that matters must be adequately funded. The more the ministry, the more the funding required.
The churches that are hurting most in today’s unusual economy are those who have, sometimes for very noble reasons, failed to talk about giving.
2. FOLLOW THE MONEY
As families need to know where their money comes from and where it goes, so does the church. Church leaders must have awareness of their source(s) of revenue. “What demographics define our revenue?” “Who is supporting the ministry?” “Who isn’t and why not?” But beyond the leadership, the church at large must know where the money is going.
Many contributors have little idea where their money goes once they donate through the offering plate or online giving. It goes from their account to the church’s account and disappears as if into a black hole. That can be fixed easily and quickly with two simple steps.
First, “show and tell” them where their dollar is going. Give them more than a pie chart; give them a name and face. Instead of saying “We gave $10,000 to missions in India,” introduce them to the family whose life was changed. Give them names, and faces, and personal stories. They don’t have to be “tear-jerkers.” They just have to be authentic.
If the money goes to the children’s ministry then let the children demonstrate their ministry and make the appeal. Whether the money is needed to fix the bus or pay the electricity bill, it must be linked to people. If you can’t put a human face on it, then you might need to reconsider your cause.
The second quick fix to eliminate that black hole of the disappearing dollar is to acknowledge and appreciate every gift. Find creative ways to express the church’s appreciation for the support it receives. Mail letters, send emails, tweet messages, use the website and the worship offering time to show the direct linkage between people’s contributions and the church’s ministry. Demonstrate what their dollar does.
Send an acknowledgement letter to a first-time giver. Hey, they have just taken a first step in a vital Christian discipline. Encourage them. Tell them they are on the right track. How about a cute thank-you card to a student or child who gives? How encouraging would that be for a child just learning to be generous? (Heaven knows they are getting plenty of messages encouraging them to be selfish, greedy, and covetous.)
Show and tell people where their money is going, who and how it is helping, and thank them for making a difference in the world.
3. DEMONSTRATE GENEROSITY
Giving, like most disciplines, is best learned by example. The disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus prayed.
Nothing teaches better or most quickly than a true-life example. I learned it many years ago. Without going into the complicated details, I once found myself in a situation where I truly needed to announce publicly what I was giving to a special church offering. This wasn’t for the purpose of boastfulness for I was only giving $25 although, at that time, that was significant me. It was just an awkward occasion and my only recourse was to announce that I was giving a $25 check to the cause. No big deal. That Sunday afternoon I asked our church treasurer how much the congregation had contributed to the cause. He mentioned that it was a good offering but then added, “There is something unusual about the offering.” When I asked what he meant, he explained, “We got an unusually large number of $25 checks.”
People want guidance in their giving and the best way to do that is with personal examples. Not only do people need to see the personal examples of their peers learning to give, they must also have the corporate example of a generous church. Is your church generous? Do you give to those from whom you will never see a return? (Luke 6:34) Has your church ever promoted a one-time cash offering that would be given away to an important need for which it would receive no headlines, no credit, and no anticipated return?
Jesus was generous with himself every day. He gave away good every day of his ministry. When the stricken woman touched the hem of his garment he felt the good go out of him. (Mark 5:30) Is our generosity that touchable? Are we that available to those next to us? Who are those straining to touch the hem of your garment? Or, your church’s garment? Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)