Have you seen the national news lately? Did you see that Christian giving is in decline, and churches are beginning to cut programs and staff? While many of America’s pastors and church leaders have wanted to avoid the growing economic storm clouds, it now appears that God is using The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS, NBC, CNN, Time magazine, and many major newspapers to sound the wake-up call on what is happening with church giving.
The media is reporting that the percentage of income Christians give has been steadily declining over the last 40 years. They are also highlighting Barna’s latest report that indicates only five percent of people now tithe at least ten percent of their income to Christian and charitable causes.
What can you do to help face the growing economic storm and downward giving trends?
1. Conduct a churchwide family-friendly generosity initiative.
The generosity message must move from the finance committee’s boardroom table to the family dinner table and personal devotional time. I personally believe every Christian home needs a helpful biblical resource that encourages them to think and talk about money, generosity, and materialism from God’s perspective. In addition to reaching adults, we must also empower them to raise up their children to be a new generation of faithful and generous givers to God’s work. After I released the 40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life devotional, I heard from many people that this was the first time they had ever talked about finances and generosity together from a biblical perspective.
2. Help people get out of debt and financial trouble.
Many people sitting in your church are drowning in a sea of red ink and financial mismanagement. Today, churches can offer financial classes and counselors that give people the time, space, and place to move to higher and drier financial ground. In my church, these classes have become a great outreach tool. In one recent financial course we offered, 40 participants were from our community, and only four were from our church. The Bible has the financial answers people need, and we can be used by God in our community and church by making these answers available.
3. “Make your offering baskets bigger.”
When I taught on finances and giving in India, I noticed they had the largest offering baskets I had ever seen. When I asked them why, I was told that they made the baskets big enough so that people could put in a portion of whatever the Lord had blessed them with during the week. Their offering baskets were big enough to hold bread, rice, eggs, money, and more!
In America, I’m afraid our baskets are “too small.” We need to create “bigger baskets” by giving people more ways to give. The issue in generosity is not in the method someone uses to give, but the fact that they are faithful in their giving. Online giving, electronic funds transfers, giving kiosks, stock brokerage accounts, and Christian community foundation accounts are all part of a growing trend to allow Christians to be more faithful in their generous giving to the Lord’s work.
4. Focus stewardship activities towards the 90 percent of a person’s resources.
Research shows that 90 percent of a person’s financial wealth is NOT in his or her cash flow but in assets and estate. Yet nearly all of a church’s stewardship activities concentrate on getting money into the Sunday collection plate. The biggest gifts a person will give to the church are from assets and estate (property, vehicles, investments, business interests, jewelry, artwork, life insurance, etc.). Yet 90 percent of the people in your church will pass away without giving to your church from their assets, wills, or estate plans. Churches can provide resources that help people properly steward the assets God has entrusted to them over their lifetime. Consider offering a financial organization tool that helps people remember the church when planning their estate.
5. Preach God’s Word on finances.
Studies have shown that 85 percent of pastors are uncomfortable preaching on money. Most seminaries over the last 40 years have not taught a biblical approach to personal and church finances. The good news is that God included 2,350 verses on finances and material possessions in the Scriptures. When you examine the Word, the Bible provides a veritable “Who’s Who” list of spiritual leaders who encouraged financial teaching and generosity in their generation. While it was common in the past for churches to have one annual stewardship message, many pastors today are teaching whole series on finances covering a full range of topics: earning, savings, debt, materialism, generosity, investing, and more.
6. Use inspirational generosity materials.
In some churches, mentioning finances in the worship service means something dull and boring, like having the church treasurer stand up to tell everyone the church is behind in their budget. While this may shake a few shekels out of some tight-fisted people, this approach doesn’t help people see their giving as an act of worship. People need to know that giving is more than just writing a check or putting cash in the offering plate; it’s about involvement in the Lord’s work – and that alone can be rewarding and joyful. Consider using creative programming materials such as PowerPoint slides, videos, bulletin inserts, testimonies (live and via video), or well-placed cartoons.
7. Become familiar with best church practices on giving.
Years ago, there were very few resources available to help churches inspire people to become more generous. But by God’s grace, there is a growing generosity movement in our country, and teaching tools are much more available.
If you start practicing any of these seven church stewardship ideas, you will leap forward in inspiring people to live more generously and increase their giving to your church.