Talk About Generosity. Don’t Use The “S” Word.

By Bishop Michael Rinehart & Peggy Hahn, AiM

children sharing cookie
Generosity is a surefire sign that God has touched a heart. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Recently we had the privilege of speaking to the rostered leaders of the Delaware Maryland Synod. One of the presentations was about resourcing the mission to which God has called us. Here are the best practices we lifted up.

1. Talk about generosity. Don’t be afraid to talk about giving. Jesus did. Think about the things Jesus talked about the most. He talked about the Reign of God more than anything else. Then love: loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, loving your neighbor as yourself, loving the stranger, even loving your enemy. Then he talked about wealth, and giving. He talked about materialism and how it will chew up your spiritual life. He talked about building barns, God and mammon, and giving your life away. What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your soul? Don’t lose your soul focusing on profit. If Jesus talked about this stuff, we need to as well. Do it year round. If the only time you talk about generosity, wealth, and giving is during budget time, they’ll know it’s not really about spirituality, but about paying the bills.

2. Don’t use the word “Stewardship.” It comes from the Old English “sty warden.” A steward was a keeper of the owner’s pigs, a manager, later a wine steward, and so forth. It’s an apt analogy in an agrarian society, but we don’t live in that society now. You spend most your time explaining what the word means. It’s a churchy code word that no one uses. Church people will think “money” or “budget.” Non-churchy people won’t know what you’re talking about. Instead, talk about generosity. Don’t have a stewardship committee, have a generosity team. In “Ask, Thank, Tell” Charles Lane suggests three teams: an Ask Team, a Thank Team, and a Tell Team. In any case, kill the word. It has been hopelessly coopted. Generosity has a good feel. Everyone wants to be thought of as “generous.”

3. Talk about discipleship (not membership). Membership makes people think about clubs and dues. Don’t ask people to give because they’re members. Invite them to be a part of what God is doing in the world. That’s a lot more exciting. There are few things that will help people grow spiritually deep more than giving.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Giving is about your heart. Giving will help your people grow as disciples. Use giving to grow your people. Invite them into this exciting world. Remember, the song doesn’t go: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was un-churched, but now I’m a member…”

4. Don’t talk about the budget or paying the bills. Charles Lane in “Ask, Thank, Tell” makes the case that generosity has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by a sinister villain called “paying the bills.” If the goal of talking about giving is only to pay the bills, people will smell that a mile away. It feels like a sales pitch, and no one likes a sales pitch. People aren’t motivated by budgets. Well, treasurers are, but most people aren’t. Think about a time that you were moved to give to something that mattered. Did they show you a budget? Have it available for transparency and accountability, but don’t talk about the budget. Talk about the ministry. Talk about what God is doing.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask. Jesus did. We recently had the gospel reading of the rich young ruler. Jesus invited him to give it all away – 100%. The guy walked away. Jesus didn’t chase him, asking, “How about 50%?” Ask for what is needed. James said, “You have not, because you ask not.” Begging for yourself is hard. Inviting people to give to something that really matters is easy. How hard is it to ask people to build wells in communities where they are desperately needed? Remember, you’re asking people to give to what God is doing in the world, to things that really matter. Then make sure it’s true. Make sure you’re doing things that really matter. What did Jesus talk about the most? Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, love, and money, more than anything else.

6. Ask for specific amounts. Group giving into weekly giving and monthly numbers. People who are new or wanting to grow don’t really know how to give. They don’t know what is too little or too much. Some have no idea. Don’t give them confusing charts. Give them some options. Take a look at the Estimate of Giving Card.

7. Thank. Thank. Thank. Mantra of good stewardship campaigns is: inform, motivate, ask, and thank – don’t forget the young couple who gave some of their inheritance to a congregation they were visiting and never got thanked. This is a crime. Thanking looks differently for each generation as well as asking! New givers need to feel personally appreciated while mature givers need to see the value of their gift.

8. Tell the story. What are you doing that matters? Malaria. Churches are still the #1 recipients of charitable dollars, but this number is dropping with the explosion of non-profits in the last ten years. Do stewardship year-round. Tell the story of what God is doing in your midst – once a month or once a week. Ditch the offering music and tell the story.

9. Use an estimate of giving card. Most people want to give. People will give more if they plan their giving. Invite them to think about their giving for the coming year. Then ask them to indicate it on a card. Don’t use “pledge” or “commitment” language. People are afraid to make a pledge or vow to God, that they might not be able to keep, but to estimate helps them think ahead. People who estimate their giving tend to give more. Then they grow as a result of it. Don’t deprive your people of a chance to grow in their giving. Use a card like this. Adapt it to your needs:

  • Check out the commitment for which you are asking: I accept the invitation to grow in my faith in God by giving generously in support of this vision. I will participate at the following level and hope to continue to give annually as long as circumstances allow.
  • There are dollar recommendations. People new to the faith will not know if you would value their $5 per week, so they keep it in their pocket. It is crucial for the lowest level to reflect an achievable amount – maybe equivalent to a cup of coffee! The highest number should always go a little higher than what your largest weekly gift might be in order to challenge your strongest givers.
  • Vision: Most important is to have an inspiring vision that people want to support. Younger givers aren’t as inspired to support institutions as their grandparents were. They want to support a mission and make a difference. Don’t ask people to give to the clubhouse. Invite them into mission and ministry. The number one thing you can do to increase giving is to clarify why you exist.

10. Read. The best thing you can do for your congregation is to read a book on giving. It keeps your head in the game. Consider one of these books:

In “Ask, Thank, Tell,” Charles Lane suggests ditching your “S” Team and having three teams: ask, thank, and tell. He talks about how generosity has been hijacked by “paying the bills.”

In “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate,” Clif Christopher helps us understand how giving patterns have shifted in the last 20 years. Young people want to know exactly where their giving is going and what it’s doing. He also talks about how important it is that the pastor knows what is going on with giving and is the lead generosity coach.

Also check out “Preaching and Stewardship” by Craig Satterlee and “Passing the Plate” by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson.

11. Tithe and talk about tithing. Don’t beat people over the head with law, but invite them into the biblical vision of tithing. For those of us who have so much, in the face of world in which half the population live on $2/day or less, giving a tenth of our income is a good barometer. Lead by example. If you tithe, you will find it easier to talk about giving. You will be speaking from experience. If you do not, you will find it very hard to ask people to give sacrificially.

12. Don’t treat all the generations the same. The “veterans” give differently than Boomers or Millennials. Those born before 1946 give because you are supposed to. Younger generations give to make a difference. Read “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate” to understand how different generations approach giving and what motivates them.

13. Don’t treat all your members the same. New givers need to be taught stewardship in small groups by the pastor. They need an invitation to start giving with a plan for incrementally increasing their giving. People with means need one on one conversations about the vision of the congregation from the pastor. They need to be invited into partnership with an understanding of how they are furthering the vision. The biggest givers need to be challenged to give more. People need to give, but how you ask matters. Don’t send the same letter to the person who gave nothing and the person who gave the most. Scale the way you ask.

14. Make sure the pastor knows what people give.This is a matter of pastoral care. If someone gives generously and suddenly stops, something might be wrong. Did someone lose their job? Did something happen? Has there been a divorce or separation? Are they angry about something? A contact needs to be made. When people change their giving and no one notices, they figure no one cares one way or the other. Likewise, if someone makes a generous gift, it is appropriate to say thank you. In any other organization, when someone gives a gift, they’re likely to get a letter from the leader. If the pastor doesn’t say anything, they’re likely to get confused in this day and age. Did they get the check? Did they notice? Did they care? Some people will say, “I don’t want the pastor to treat high givers and low givers differently.” A pastor who would do that should not be a pastor. Most of our leaders already deal with people’s varying levels of time commitment. The pastor can handle it.

15. Listen to your donors. People will tell you what is moving them. They will tell you where they sense God at work. Another reason why the pastor needs to know the giving of the congregation is to invest in listening to these people. They will teach you volumes about your congregation that you will never know without their perspective. Your people will teach you not only what they value and will invest in, but how to approach others. They will reflect back to you the vision of the congregation in a way you would never imagine without this investment.

16. Throw a party. Once you’ve gathered the estimates of giving, throw a party to celebrate what God is doing in your midst. Don’t be afraid of talking about resources. Jump in with both feet. Let people celebrate what is happening.

17. Send out quarterly statements. This does a number of things. First, it protects you from fraud and embezzlement. If money gets stolen, it won’t show up on the giving statement and people will notice and call you. This is a best practice. Second, it keeps giving in front of people. Third, it gives you an opportunity to include stories and quotes from people in the congregation about the good that the giving is doing. Invite these people to give verbal encouragement at worship throughout the year. Include stories in your church’s other communications.

18. Be transparent. People need to hear more than “we need more money.” They need to hear how the money is being spent. How much on staff, on the building, in mission? Most people under age 55 will not be inspired to increase their giving unless they see that the congregation is investing outside of itself.

19. Be prepared to be surprised. Resources may come from unexpected places. Think of the women who funded Jesus’ ministry. Sometimes you’ll receive gifts from people outside your congregation who see what you’re doing in the community and want to support it. Make sure to thank them profusely. Something is going on there.

20. Think about good old Bacchus. Jesus comes into Jericho and saw a guy in a tree. Zac was unpopular he made his wealth collecting taxes for an occupying army. He admits he has been cheating people. And yet, Jesus went right over to him, the despised, corrupt, rich guy. What would happen if you did that? We don’t know what was said in this conversation, but at the end of it all, Zaccheus decided to give away half of his possessions and to repay those he had cheated four times. This is more than the law required. When we are touched by grace, it’s not about fulfilling the law. We are moved by love, which always goes beyond the law. Then Jesus said something astounding: “Today salvation has come to this house.” That’s what it’s all about. Generosity is a surefire sign that God has touched a heart. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


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