By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
When your church is kicking into its next generosity campaign, you might assume your paid staff is gung-ho.
“If I had to do it over again, I would put more time and focus and effort in bringing the staff along early,” says Sherri, the Executive Director of Stewardship and Generosity at Oak Brook. “It was a little disappointing at first; I thought all the staff would be on board because this was going to benefit their ministries.”
“But then I realized we’re just like everybody else. We all wrestle with what God says about money. I don’t know why I thought staff would see it differently.”
That’s one of Sherri’s “aha!” moments after serving in this unique ministry role for two-plus years: Paid staff, and especially senior leaders, must understand the vital nature of generosity as part of spiritual growth. But they also need to live it in front of people, or it won’t take hold.
“We don’t want to ask our congregation to do something we’re not doing,” Sherri adds. “So it’s important not only that senior leadership and staff buy into it, but that we’re living it. I can’t stress that enough.”
Sherri is spot-on. You and your staff may struggle with generosity-as-discipleship issues. But the last thing you need if someone in your church complains about “the church talking about money again,” is for a staff member to side with them and not get the big picture. Your staff needs to be able to confidently say, “This is about so much more than that. This is about growing in Christ and being the people God wants us to be.”
Sherri has three more discoveries she shared with me recently that will help your church build a culture of generosity:
The primary goal is to cultivate discipleship, not to generate more funding
Stewardship and generosity are spiritual disciplines, so that makes this whole discussion about discipleship—building stronger and more passionate followers of Christ who are generous because of the bigness of their faith.
“The focus needs to be on cultivating the faith of people in the church, and generosity is an outflow,” Sherri says. “That naturally happens. The key is that we see that it’s all about discipleship.”
Christ Church is in the middle of a two-year initiative with two goals. The secondary goal is the amount of money they raise for kingdom work. Their primary goal as the church states on its initiative website, www.takerootccob.org, is to “root our lives more deeply in Christ for the sake of others.”
Sherri says, “Our primary goal is not raising money but rather it’s to help people grow in their discipleship and because of that, generosity becomes one of the outflows of that transformation.”
A communication plan is key to changing culture
Christ Church has a multi-pronged communication strategy that includes testimonial videos and regular updates on the work that’s being funded by people’s generosity. Video stories highlight peoples generosity journeys, and are shown in weekend worship services , on social media and on the church’s website.
“We can stand upfront and talk about generosity and stewardship, but it’s really the stories that inspire people to take the next step in their journey,” Sherri says. “People identify with the stories they hear. And they think if that person can do it, and I see myself in that person, then I may be able to do it, too.”
Christ Church also uses compelling stories to show the congregation where their money is going. “That’s another way to inspire people to be generous when they know their money is being used wisely for good purposes,” Sherri says. “When we’re talking about stewardship, we need to be great examples of how we use the resources people are entrusting to us.”
Sherri says thank-you letters are big, especially for first-time givers. “I don’t think we do enough to thank people who are giving,” Sherri says. “For those folks who are stepping out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m putting my name on this and I want to be recognized,’ we need to make sure we’re recognizing our givers.”
Use a variety of settings to teach—weekend worship services aren’t enough
Sherri has found that big worship settings alone aren’t enough to drive deep discipleship and generosity messages. Having people process what generosity means to them also requires small groups, classes and even one-one-one mentoring.
“I think sometimes we default to a sermon or worship services being the only place to communicate about stewardship and generosity,” Sherri says.”
Small groups and one-to-one coaching allow people to wrestle with issues they can’t in a large public setting. “Money is as difficult a topic as there is to deal with,” Sherri says. “In small groups, we can be open with each other about where we’re struggling and hold each other accountable.”
Andy Williams contributed to the writing of this article.
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.