Giving Metrics that Tell a Church’s Generosity Story

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By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

Growing your church and your people in generosity is important to you—and us. That’s why Leadership Network has developed HUB:Generosity for larger churches who want to accelerate generosity and stewardship. For more information, go to leadnet.org/generosity-hub.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked pastors, “How’s the financial giving going in your church?” And they reply, “Giving is great!”

Too often it’s not. What’s actually happening is that attendance is up (which makes pastors feel better), and a few people are giving at a high level. Since a large percentage of the church budget is being met, all seems well from a giving perspective.

But too often pastors don’t know about underlying problems because they are missing some key data points that more fully tell a church’s generosity story. They need metrics that show the giving patterns of most people in the church.

I discussed this issue recently with David Thoroughman, CEO of the donor analytics firm MortarStone, a company that helps churches maximize their financial potential. He shared three key giving metrics that tell church leaders how they’re really doing in discipling people in this vital area.

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david-thoroughman-familyDavid is the co-founder of MortarStone, a data analytics company located in Reno, NV.  His mission is to resource the church by way of its leadership with actionable internal and external data insights. David enjoys thoughtful discussion on the ethical and practical use of data to reach, teach and grow along a discipleship and leadership continuum. MortarStone serves thousands of church leaders nationally, tracking billions of dollars, for the benefit of spreading the gospel through local and para-church ministries. David is an avid snow skier and married to his high school sweetheart (and prom date), Melissa. He and his wife are blessed to share their lives as parents to their nine-year old daughter, Madison and their four legged son, Sebastian. 

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Focus on Giving Units

David says the first thing to know is the performance of the giving units in your church. He defines a giving unit as a person (or household) who gives $200 or more per year to a church’s general budget—a fairly low bar. David’s research shows that 99% of a church’s total funding comes from people who give $200 or more a year, but those giving units represent only 55% of the total attenders.

That means 45% of people who attend weekly and engage with ministries are giving less than $16/month!

For perspective, Starbucks gold card members spend $1,200 a year in their stores. Thus if a church’s gold-card standard is $200 a year, then almost half our people aren’t there!

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“Every church leader should have a clear understanding of who their giving units are—period,” David says. “We should be aware of who we should be engaging to help grow them on their spiritual journey.”

“Giving Bands” Another Piece of the Puzzle

David also recommends segmenting giving units into four “giving bands” to show the level of givers. This method allows for the purpose of developing a unique strategy for spiritually discipling each level of giver.

Giving an alarming statistic. David says for every 100 giving units in a church, 6 of them are financial leaders who give over $10,000 a year to the general fund. In other words, 40% of a church’s funding usually comes from 6% of its attenders!

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The following chart illustrates the reliance on a few. The average weekend attendance for this church is ~2,000, yet over 91% of funding is coming from 597 people. This begets the question, “If generosity is, in fact, a spiritual discipline, then how are we connecting with the remaining 1,400 people?”

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What about those of the other 94% who are not giving as generously but readily could? How do you encourage and challenge them in this vital spiritual discipline? And what about the 6% who are pulling a huge weight financially? We owe them a strategic approach that helps care for them spiritually.

It’s my contention that large givers are largely under-served people in our churches. Many pastors don’t want to show favoritism or they’re intimidated by them. However, having a ministry focused toward giving leaders who largely fund the work of your church is just being wise and helping them to grow in their journey.

“The financial leaders are uniquely blessed and uniquely positioned to carry the torch of your mission and make sure it’s funded,” David says. “They want to be pulled in, and they want to know what they can do.”

The Front and Back Doorretention

Last, David says we need to keep an eye on giving retention in our churches—how many people are starting to give, and how many are walking out the back door with their checkbooks.

Studying both those who start to give and those who used to give can reveal plenty about ministry programming, systems and processes for engagement.

“Ultimately, people want to stay where they buy into the vision,” David says. “If you’re not aware of your retention rate, you have a major gap in your strategy and your key performance metrics.”

The bottom line: If we have more people going out the back door than coming in the front door, we have a problem—and it’s just a funding problem. It’s a ministry problem. It’s a discipleship problem.

“It’s not about the money,” David concludes. “We don’t care about the money. It’s about, are you connected with us on mission and are you growing people to be stewards?”

For more on this subject, see the special report Leadership Network published, “How Can Big Data Increase Generosity at Your Church?” (also at leadnet.org/downloads).

Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.

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