Sixty-eight percent of American church members reported that they had not heard a sermon on the relationship between faith and personal finances in the previous year! Robert Wuthnow discovered that fact in a study a few years ago. Wuthnow stated in his report that “clergy often tiptoe around the topic of money as if they were taking a walk through a minefield.”
My own personal experience in the stewardship ministry confirms what countless studies have found. Simply put, sermons on stewardship and giving are rarely heard if ever from the pulpits across America. While there are some exceptions to this, on the whole the vast majority of preachers ignore the topic like a plague.
At the beginning of every engagement with a church, we probe to discover what kind of stewardship climate exists in the church. Sadly, we find that most rarely if ever talk about stewardship. At best, it might be an annual sermon, or for the rare few, a series of sermons on giving.
Americans used to give 3.11 percent of their incomes to the church, but now give only 2.4 percent. I believe our failure to teach stewardship is a leading reason for this decline. What is the result of this failure? Here are a few that are impacting the church:
We are in danger of losing a generation of stewards. It has been said that Christianity is always one generation away from extinction. While Christ ultimately sustains His church, there is indeed a kernel of truth to the above statement. Perhaps nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the area of stewardship.
Multiple studies have shown that giving as a percentage of one’s income has declined significantly since the Great Depression. Each succeeding generation of Christians appears to be less committed to giving than the last. One cannot help but think that the failure to talk about money plays significantly into this decline.
Our offering plates are emptier as a result. It is no revelation that giving as a percentage is declining in America. The lack of stewardship education and expectation are leading reasons. In the book Passing the Plate, the authors found “good evidence to think that low expectations in Christian churches for financial giving contributes toward the unimpressive financial contributions of American Christians.”
We have robbed people of one of the great joys and rewards of the Christian life. Either we believe the Bible is true or we don’t. We cannot pick and choose the passage we think our people might like. Avoiding preaching on stewardship ignores the truth that giving brings great joy and blessing to believers. We are made to give, and not teaching people how to be responsible in this area robs them of a crucial Christian discipline. Giving is not only about the church, it is also about the giver. I need to give for my own well-being, not simply to add to the church’s coffers.
We endanger our ability to do ministry and missions. At the end of the day, if you do not effectively teach stewardship you will find yourself limited in the amount of ministry you can do. In the current economically challenged times that we are going through, the ministries that are suffering the most are those that have not focused upon stewardship. They are the first to have to cut staff and ministry. While no church is immune to recessions and giving challenges, those that are consistently preaching stewardship raise more funds to fuel more ministry than those that ignore the topic.
A few years ago, Bill Hybels, in a roundtable discussion with pastors, made the following comment: “If I could do one thing differently at Willow Creek it would be how we would approach giving and offerings.” He recognized that in our rush to avoid criticism of talking too much about money, we have not talked about it enough. It is not that people mind that you do talk about giving, it is more in how you do talk about it that matters.
Cast a compelling vision, and you can talk about giving to support it.