If I were to ask you for an example of the most generous person you’ve ever encountered, no doubt somebody immediately comes to mind who has modeled for you generosity and stewardship and giving in a very compelling and even contagious or magnetic way.
For me, when I’m thinking about who in my life has modeled generosity for me, it’s somebody that my wife Susan and I met many, many years ago when we were raising money to join the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. We met a man, his name is Mr. Johnson, who was a rose grower. He had a huge rose-growing outfit. In fact, he would always give Susan a couple of dozen roses whenever we would meet him (which it’s a little bit weird when someone gives your wife roses, but he was 85. So I thought if it came to that, I could probably handle myself with him).
Having a conversation with Mr. Johnson was very memorable for me because I asked him why it was that he was so generous. His answer was compelling, too. Mr. Johnson sort of sat back and said, “It seems to me that the Lord has been very good to my family and me.” Then he said this, “The more I give, the more the Lord blesses me.” It wasn’t like he had made some sort of quid pro quo prosperity gospel deal with God. It was more a genuine, sincere recognition that God is a generous God and that he has been blessed to be a blessing to others. It was really a cool moment for me.
For the past 10-plus years, I’ve worked with leaders to try to help them understand what it takes to create a culture of generosity and stewardship and giving in their churches. Through this series of blog posts I want to share a few of the things that I’ve learned from working with hundreds of churches over those years. I’ve framed these as six questions that you’ll want to ask yourself or ask your team as you are working to cultivate generosity and stewardship in your church.
Also, at the end of each post I’ll recommend resources and experiences that could benefit you as you lead your church along this journey of generosity.
Question #1: What do we believe about giving?
One of the things we need to get straight is that generosity and stewardship are not exactly the same thing. Have you noticed that the word “generosity” has become kind of the flavor of the month? Everybody’s using the word generosity but no one is using the word “stewardship.” I believe this is really unfortunate because, frankly, they don’t mean the same thing. They’re not synonyms for one another.
Gunnar Johnson, who was formerly on staff at Gateway Church, was the first person who taught me this. He sort of describes generosity and stewardship as two sides of the same coin, which I think is a nice little pun frankly. You can’t have generosity without stewardship, right? You can’t be truly generous unless you’re a good steward or else you’ll run out of money. You can only be truly generous once, then you’ll be out of money because you’re a bad steward, right? To be a steward without generosity is to be a hoarder of sorts, to be selfish, to be greedy. God wants us to manage our money and then be generous with it to balance both generosity and stewardship with one another.
Once you have defined those two ideas for your church, the question I’m asking you to consider at your church is this: What do you all believe about giving? You ask a typical pastor, “Hey, what is your model for teaching the Bible to your congregation?” Normally, they have an answer. “Pastor, what’s your model for discipleship or for local and global ministry or outreach?” Normally they can explain to you, “This is how we do it, this is our strategy, this is our plan.” Ask them “What is your model for teaching what the Bible says about generosity and stewardship?” and a typical pastor might say “Well, we take an offering” which frankly just isn’t enough, right? One of the key things that I want to encourage you to think about is to sincerely ask what do we believe about giving in our church, and not only what we believe but what do we teach, what are we preaching, and what are we modeling—what are we showing to the congregation about what we believe about generosity and stewardship.
One of my friends, Chad Moore from Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, has done a stunning job of answering the question with his team: “What do we believe about giving here at Sun Valley?” It’s so compelling that if you ask a typical member of their church, not just a staff member, “What do you believe? What does Sun Valley believe about giving?” my guess is they would answer it for you. Because just about every week while they’re doing the offering, Chad or someone will say something like this: “We are going to receive an offering this morning because here’s what the Bible teaches about money, where to give first, save second, and live on the rest. Did you catch that? Where to give first, save second, and live on the rest.”
Then Chad or one of his team members will say something like this: “God gave first so we’re a give first church. Giving first honors God. Saving second builds wealth. Living on the rest teaches contentment.” Now that simple statement that takes less than 30 seconds to say is so ingrained in the life of the church at Sun Valley that people there know the answer to the question “What do we believe about giving?” “Well, here’s what we believe. We believe that we’re to give first, save second, live on the rest. Why? Because giving first honors God, saving second builds wealth, and learning to live on the rest teaches contentment.” I think it’s a stunning way of answering that question.
Go back and think about this with your team. What do you believe about giving? What do you teach about giving? What do you teach about tithing? What do you teach about the priority of giving? What do you teach about giving to your church? It is important that you nail that down and establish your answers clearly. That’s the first big question that you want to ask.
Question #2: What data are you tracking and sharing with your congregation?
It is so important that as a ministry leader in your church, you are keeping track of data that will help you to see how well you’re doing in this area of generosity and stewardship. I don’t have a seminary degree, but I did get an MBA. It’s sort of iconic, this idea of somebody in business school saying you can’t manage what you don’t understand and you don’t understand what you don’t measure. But I did actually hear that when I was in business school and I believe it to be true and experienced it as a truth even in ministry when I was the executive pastor at Discovery Church in Orlando.
Think about this: if it is critical for leaders to understand data, why is it so common for many leaders in the church to ignore giving data or to not look at giving data or to be nervous or afraid of giving data?
I think it’s important for pastors to have giving data because giving data reveals something very important. I like to put it this way: Every change in giving is a pastoral issue and you won’t be able to identify a change in giving if you’re not looking at giving data.
Did you catch that? Every change in giving is a pastoral issue.
We’re not looking at giving data just so we can be better fundraisers. We’re looking at giving data so that we can be more effective pastors. It is so true that often when someone’s giving craters, it’s because there’s something happening in their life spiritually, something happening personally. The statistics will indicate the people’s dollars tend to leave the church before they do, so getting a hold of this data can be very, very helpful.
A number of years ago, one of my friends called an individual in his congregation who’s giving had really cratered to find out what was going on. The question was simply “How are you?” It wasn’t “Hey, I’ve been looking at the giving data and you guys are behind. What’s the story?” No, it was just “How are you?” What he heard was “Well, we recently had to put on our 27-year-old son into drug rehab. When you put a kid in rehab who has no insurance and no job, we had to write a $40,000.00 check. So it’s been really, really difficult for us as a family.” The pastor’s response wasn’t “No wonder you’re not giving.” No. He basically said, “Okay, let’s get some people around you, let’s get some people praying for you and supporting you.” It was the change in giving that revealed this pastoral issue. That’s why it is really important that we keep track of that and pay attention to that idea.
Good data is also important so that you can keep an eye out for first-time gifts and larger than usual gifts. Many churches I work with have some sort of a standard response for any gift above $X. For some it’s $5,000.00. For others maybe it’s $10,000. Who knows what it might be. The problem with that model is that if a person faithfully gives $100.00 a month and then writes a $1,500.00 check, they probably wouldn’t trigger your large gift special letter. But for them, that is a huge special gift and it would be great if somebody could follow them up and say something like: “You need to know that we’re not staring at giving data all day long, but we do get alerted when someone gives a very, very generous gift. I want to ask you something: What is God doing in your life that caused you to give that gift?”
Wouldn’t you love to ask that question to someone who’s just given a large gift in your church so that you can encourage them and just say, “Listen, I just want you to know as one of the leaders here in our church, we’re really, really grateful and proud of you, and we’re thankful for your partnership in this ministry.” Very seldom will you have somebody be upset about congratulating them or thanking them for that kind of thing.
What data are you tracking but also what data are you sharing with your congregation. I hope you aren’t doing this, but many churches are still reporting giving data in printed weekly bulletins. “Last week’s expected giving was X but what was given actually was Y.” What’s really kind of crazy about that is in many churches, what gets reported as last week’s budgeted giving is really just 1/52 of the total annual budget. But I have news for you, as someone who has done this for a long time. I have never worked with a church that got its entire budget in 52 equal installments. It doesn’t work that way. So when you communicate “Our budget was this but we got that,” your budget really wasn’t that. You didn’t actually expect to get that much money that week. You had some other number that you expected to get based on several factors: what month it was, what week it was, whether it’s the first week of the month, whether it’s the third week of the month, etc. As a team you have better way of tracking that number, but what you’re reporting to your congregation is actually not very helpful.
So it’s not only important that you track giving information, but it’s equally important what are you reporting about giving information. Are you providing quarterly updates to the people in your congregation? Do you do an annual report that shows “This is everything that we did as a church last year. This is where all the money went. We’re so grateful for everybody’s partnership with us in this effort.” It is really important that you both track and share good giving data with your congregation.
These first two questions alone will generate a great amount of healthy dialogue within your leadership team, and can provide you with months of actions steps as you choose to implement new ideas. I will give you a few days to chew on these before I bring you the next two questions. I’d love to get your feedback and questions as you work through the first two. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for an opportunity to journey with other leaders as you learn and experiment in the area of generosity and stewardship, this may be for you. We are putting together a select group of large churches to participate in our next Generosity and Stewardship Accelerator which launches toward the end of this year. We have partnered with Generis to bring leadership teams like yours an experience you won’t find anywhere else. Through our 12-month Accelerator you will receive the connection to peers, access to trusted experts, coaching and accountability you need to have your best year in generosity and stewardship. Ever. I’d love to connect with you to see if this one-of-a-kind experience might be a fit for you and your church. Simply email me or complete the form below and I’ll reach out to you.