Webster’s Dictionary defines the word gimmick as “an attention–getting device or feature, typically superficial, designed to promote the success of a product, campaign; any clever little gadget or ruse.”
Churches use money gimmicks all the time. I don’t like them. Not simply because they are “gimmicky,” but because they cheapen biblical stewardship.
The heart of biblical stewardship is not complicated.
There are three principal truths:
God owns it all.
Since God owns it all, He has all the rights as owner, and we operate solely in the realm of managerial responsibility. Therefore, the question is not “God, what should I do with my money?” but rather “God, what do You want me to do with Your money?”
Every spending decision is a spiritual decision. God cannot be shut out of any transaction.
When it comes to giving, the Bible teaches about tithes and offerings. A tithe is 10% of all that we earn, given to God through the local church of which we are a part. Offerings are those gifts that are given above and beyond those tithes in relation to special events, projects or memorials.
The Bible is also full of wisdom on limiting debt, saving for the future, and working hard with our God-given time and talents in order to maximize earning.
The Bible also offers basic application principles, like the 10-10-80 principle where the soundest management of our funds involves giving 10% to God through the local church, 10% to savings and then living off the remaining 80%.
Those new to the Christian faith may have a difficult time adjusting to the 10-10-80 principle, which is why my pastoral advice is always to start where you are. If you come to Christ and have financial realities that war against these plans, you should begin with a blend of realism and faith. Start by giving and/or saving 1% (though even that may be sacrificial), then 5%, working your way up to the percentages that will both fully honor God and optimally serve your life.
God cares more about our heart and intent than a legalistic percentage. The amount matters, to be sure, but only as it reflects a true barometer of our life. Which is why, for many of us, giving 10% is far too little.
(Legalism cuts both ways).
That is the essence of biblical stewardship regarding our finances.
So where do church money “gimmicks” fit in?
But that hasn’t stopped leaders from using them as shortcuts to true discipleship. Here are four of the most common that I’ve witnessed:
Refunding the Tithe
Many churches give in to the gimmick of offering to “refund the tithe” if somehow God doesn’t provide for someone’s needs after they’ve tithed. In other words, the line is, “Tithe, and if God doesn’t supply your needs on the 90% leftover, we’ll return what you gave.”
I get the point. In Malachi, there is a promise that giving will never outrun supply. By employing this gimmick this is the church ponying up and saying they have so much trust in God’s provision, they will “insure” your tithe. But that isn’t discipleship.