From my experience, there are some specific things a church can do to influence its culture of generosity. Here are five (in no particular order):
1. Become a generous pastor and build up generous leaders
Generous churches are led by generous pastors and leaders. You can’t take people where you haven’t been … especially in the area of finances, which so often gets a bad rap in the church context.
Chris Willard of Leadership Network’s Generous Church Leadership Community notes, “I’ve seen generous pastors without a generous church, but you cannot have a generous church without a generous pastor.” Indeed, generous giving should be a characteristic of your entire leadership team.
Jimmy Seibert of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, is an example of a pastor who truly practices this principle. He and his wife Laura have given sacrificially for more than 20 years, and their life example of biblical generosity and God’s provision are known by both church leaders and members alike. One member of Seibert’s church recently told him, “I give because I see you give. That’s what motivates me.”
A key question to ask yourself, as the church leader, is, “If everyone in my church gave like I do, would that be a good thing for the Kingdom?”
2. Adopt generosity as a core value
An excellent example of this is Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tenn. Around three years ago, the elders were struggling with the question of whether to do another capital campaign to fund expansion. Like many churches, they found that a campaign motivated people for a short season but had very little lasting impact on most of their members’ giving.
After much prayer, the church felt like God was calling them to adopt generosity as a core value of the church and to call all people to “raise the tide” of generosity at their church to what they deemed the “training wheels of giving,” the traditional tithe of 10%.
The church developed a campaign known as “G3” (generational, global, generous) but instead of calling for a three-year pledge, the church called every steward to raise their giving by 1% per year until the average giving of the congregation based on per member projected income reached 10%.
At the start of G3, the average giving per member at Brentwood annually was 4.6%. Over three years, per-member giving increased by 19.1%. The church estimates that if it can reach its goal within 10 years, it will be able to build out all of its campus, pay off all existing debt, and give more than $70 million away to Kingdom work globally.
3. Focus on the Gospel
Giving must be connected to the Gospel. Plans for ministry expansion must be a logical extension of God’s vision for the way your church should carry out the Gospel. Any project that does not meet these criteria will not connect in the hearts of your people and, as a result, will not connect with their treasure either. There must be a clear explanation of how anything you are asking them to fund—be it buildings, programs, or people—will help accomplish the ultimate goal of helping lost and hurting people.
“A culture of generosity emerges out of a culture of the Gospel,” says Pastor Leo Schuster (Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Houston). “People give when their hearts are melted by the overwhelming gift of God’s love and grace.”
4. Start a generosity ministry that reaches every steward in your church
The cornerstone of a generous culture is stewardship education. Pastor Scott Ridout of Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz., explains, “One of the greatest paradigm shifters I see among my people when it comes to financial faithfulness and generosity is this simple principle: God owns it all. When they begin to grasp this, things change.”
And it’s important to recognize the different types of stewards in your church and minister to them uniquely. Remember, it’s not about what you want from your people, but what you want for them. Here’s an overview of the three categories of givers:
• Scarce stewards – Whether it’s poor habits, poor choices, or a background of poverty, these members usually need immediate help. While it’s essential to address their current needs, it’s equally important to uncover the heart issues that are at the root of many financial woes. Debt has endangered many normal middle-class families to the point of scarcity. That’s why many churches provide financial counseling through lay volunteers while using Scriptural small group stewardship studies such as Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org), Good $ense (www.goodsenseministry.com), or Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (www.daveramsey.com) to teach basic biblical principles regarding money.
• Stable stewards – David Wills, president of the National Christian Foundation in Alpharetta, Ga., says the needs of stable stewards should not be overlooked, especially in the coming years as baby boomers grow older. Wills says, “We are in for the greatest transfer of wealth America has ever known, and most of it will be from average families who have never made more than $80,000 a year. As strong supporters of their church during life, churches could be the main beneficiaries of the wealth that stable stewards pass on. But they have to be educated on how to continue their legacy of giving to their church after life.” Good sources to help in this area include Kingdom Advisors (www.kingdomadvisors.org) and The National Christian Foundation (www.nationalchristian.com).
• Surplus stewards – While it seems that those without are in precarious situations, those entrusted with much could be in the most danger—for the power of wealth is one of the greatest temptations of all. Pastors often overlook the needs of wealthier members because they don’t want to show preferential treatment, but they are in need of genuine ministry.
• Pleasant Valley Church in Kansas City, Mo., takes groups of surplus stewards every year to a special conference designed for high capacity givers by Generous Giving (www.generousgiving.org). Todd Harper, vice president of Generous Giving, explains, “It’s an eye-opening experience for high capacity givers to see hundreds of other givers with similar struggles and opportunities. And it’s often a big surprise when they have the opportunity to meet someone who gives more than they do.”
Pleasant Valley follows the Generous Giving conference with a Crown Financial Ministries’ Special Edition study. This 10-week small group study addresses unique high capacity giving needs such as wealth transfer, charitable planning and determining a “financial finish line.”
5. Put your money where your mission is
Communicating mission and vision goes beyond printing your mission statement in the bulletin. The main problem is that churches aren’t clearly connecting their mission with the daily programs of the church. For example, if your mission is “passionately reaching out to unbelievers,” that should be clearly represented in the budget. Does your spending match your words?
Remember to apply this principle to generosity itself. How much is in the budget to encourage generosity? What are you spending to encourage healthy giving vs. keeping track of how the money is spent?
If people understand what their church is about, where it is going, and how it plans to get there—most often they will choose to be part of the financial engine that makes it happen.
For example, Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill., held a special campaign in February 2009 called Celebration Generosity. Pastor Dave Ferguson led his congregation through this four-week generosity experience, which culminated in an offering where they gave away the entire amount to four missional causes outside the church.
The offering was over $400,000—four times their regular weekly offering and by far the largest single offering they have ever received. Ferguson says, “Each and every one of those dollars will be used toward our [teams’] effort to reach the 20% of the world living in poverty and the 67% of those who have yet to find their way back to God.”