By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
When Jim Sheppard and I wrote the book, Contagious Generosity, we discovered that generous churches are always led by generous pastors. I don’t think I’ve ever found a generous church that didn’t have a generous pastor at its core.
But there are generous leaders who don’t have generous churches because they’re not talking about generosity. They aren’t modeling it or teaching it. With that formula, they won’t experience it.
The senior pastor has to lead the charge and take on some unique roles in developing Christ-followers with a generous heart.
I recently caught up with Ron Edmondson, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, to talk about some practical ways senior pastors can foster a culture of generosity in their churches.
Ron and Immanuel have a great story of seeing the heat turned up on the church’s generosity. As part of a four-year revitalization, the 107-year-old congregation has gone from nearly $600,000 in short-term debt to having $600,000 in reserves—a $1.2 million swing.
Obviously Ron understands the crucial role senior pastors play in this equation of leading people to develop a generous heart and life.
Here are a few practical thoughts on the senior pastor’s unique role:
Find a variety of ways to talk about generosity
We covered the art of talking about giving at weekend services in our last blog. But Ron says you can talk about it every week without giving a sermon or addressing it on stage:
- Weekly email—It may be a simple thank-you for responding to a need or helping fulfill the church’s vision. But Ron almost always shares something about generosity in each one.
- Weekend service program or bulletin.
- Social media—This is a tricky one because people outside the church are engaging. But Immanuel often uses social media to celebrate something that illustrates the church’s generous nature.
Make it simple for people to give
Churches need to create multiple ways for people to give, and they need to be easy to do. Online giving options are a given, and many churches are deploying mobile apps which allow giving. A kiosk at weekend services is not a bad idea, and there’s no substitute for the tried and true “passing the plate.”
The Giving Kiosk’s at Immanuel Baptist have made it easier for attendees to give.
Help people understand why they’re giving
Immanuel creates an annual report which recaps giving and where it went. They also tell regular stories of the impact of giving. Once each year the church gathers its leaders for an event to celebrate what was accomplished through their generosity.
“These are key investors in what you’re doing,” Ron says. “They’ve bought in to your vision. So we try to celebrate with them and let them know they’re important.”
Ron recently added the top 100 givers to this list of key influencers which includes deacons, Sunday School teachers and other leaders. He discovered over half of the top givers were not on any other leader list.
“These people need to be recognized, because they are leading in the area of giving,” Ron adds. “They may even have the spiritual gift of giving, and may not even know it. To recognize and foster that helps them grow.”
Pastor Ron Edmondson giving the annual update to the Immanuel Baptist Church congregation.
“People have to see you – the pastor – lives it and that you’re a generous person if they’re going to do it,” Ron says.
Ron came out of the business world, where he had a much higher income. He also remembers some lean years financially, and he understands the struggle with giving at times.
“I learned first-hand you can trust God with your resources, and God loves a cheerful giver,” Ron says, “and I want people to know I live that. I want people to know I’m with them in the struggle that if I give this check, I don’t have that money anymore.”
“So I understand it can sound self-serving or like I’m bragging. But I want people to understand we are walking this road with them.”
Ron and senior pastors like him understand above all, giving and generosity are part of spiritual formation.
Sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re talking about generosity just so you can raise more money. But if you believe that discipleship includes generosity—as much as reading your Bible or prayer—that changes things.
“Jesus wrestled with people on this issue all the time,” Ron says. “It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of trusting God to take care of me. If we’re going to lead people to be genuine followers of Christ, then we have to address this issue that has such a hold on our lives.”
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.