Facing the Truth about Poor Giving and its Devastating Consequences

by | April 25, 2018

When confronted with poor giving and lackluster stewardship, church leaders often try to justify their situation rather than face the truth. Of course, it is easier to justify poor giving than to address it. However, the long-term consequences of believing the excuses are devastating. I’ve heard many justifications from stewardship chairs and pastors in my decades of working with churches. Here are a few of them.


“Our people are giving very well. We are meeting our budget.”


Making budget sounds great. There are many churches that would like to make a similar claim. However, meeting a budget is not reliable evidence that your people are giving well. I have encountered many churches that, in order to meet the budget, reduced expenses to match the level of giving. It might be good money management, but it is still poor giving. Even when church giving meets or exceeds the budget, most churches have a third or more of its members who contribute little or nothing at all. Churches who consider funding the budget as the ultimate objective have lost sight of their real mission—to make disciples. The truth is we are called to grow in giving, not to meet a church budget.

“Our people are very generous. Every time we ask them to step up for something, they do.”


Special projects can be a perfect opportunity to ask members to “step up” in financial giving or volunteer support. For some church members, special projects provide a chance for them to contribute beyond their annual giving and support a ministry they are passionate about. However, how many of your church members participate in your special appeal? Most of the time, only a small percentage of donors “step up” to make a special project successful. Poor giving remains a concern when only a few members are motivated to step up for special projects. While some are stepping up, others are giving little or nothing at all.


“We are so blessed to have two families who pay for the majority of our needs.”


It is, indeed, a blessing to have church members who have with worldly wealth and are willing to give it to the church. However, the consequences of this situation can be devastating. While these two generous families are funding your ministries, are the remaining members saying, “We don’t need to contribute. The big donors will take care of it?” What happens when either or both of the families leaves, dies, or moves? Finally, the other members may be missing out on opportunities to “excel in the grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.)


“Sometimes I preach about money and giving at budget time.”


While preaching about giving once per year may be better than never preaching about giving, the truth is preaching around budget time is the worst time to do it.  Giving should never be about what the church needs. Giving should always be about what the giver needs. Preaching on giving to fund your budget is uninspiring and will result in poor giving.  Jesus had a different idea. Jesus suggested people should give to show they trusted in God more than they trust their money. Preach on money as Jesus did and you will be right on track. Jesus taught more about money than any other subject, except the Kingdom of God. Help people understand giving as a part of their discipleship journey and preach on giving year-round.


“I don’t want to know what my members give. I may treat members differently.”


When the pastor chooses to be unfamiliar with the church’s giving list, she/he is choosing to ignore important information about the discipleship journey of her/his church members. In his book, Rich Church, Poor Church, Clif Christopher suggests not knowing the giving list puts the pastor at a disadvantage. The pastor may treat members differently as a result, but that does not mean preferential treatment for big donors and poor treatment for smaller donors. Knowing the giving list enables the pastor to guide those who need to understand giving as a spiritual discipline and thank those whose generous gifts provide support to life-changing ministries. [For more insight on the pastor knowing the giving list, get the free download here of Chapter 8–Knowledge or Ignorance, Rich Church, Poor Church by Clif Christopher] 


Facing the truth about poor giving can help you avoid the devastating consequences. Creating a culture of generosity in your church requires open and honest reflections about giving and the involvement of your entire membership.




  1. How important is it to keep your congregation informed, week to week, month to month, or quarter to quarter how well they are doing on giving, meeting the pledges, not on an individual basis, but generally church wide, in some form other than a sermon. Or is it better to keep them completely in the dark?

    • Kristine Miller

      Your question focuses on the need to keep congregants informed about how giving is keeping pace with expenses. First, transparency is important for keeping trust and is always better than keeping people “in the dark.” However, giving is not inspired by your budget, but rather by your vision! To encourage people to fulfill or exceed their pledges, help them see how your ministries are transforming lives. Tell the story of your ministry and how you are making a difference in your community and around the world. Budgets do not motivate people to higher levels of generosity. Your VISION is the key to increasing support. For more on vision, go here: https://horizons.net/are-your-people-stumbling-why-vision-clarity-matters/. Have you tried this approach?


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Everything you need to inspire generosity.


Register for our Rich Church, Poor Church Seminar by Oct 2

Rich Church, Poor Church – Keys to Effective Financial Ministry Seminar

with Dr. J. Clif Christopher


Registration Due by Oct. 2


If you have ever struggled with how to grow generosity in your church, you won’t want to miss one of these two upcoming one-day stewardship seminars.

You and your team will receive valuable insights and knowledge of best practices from Clif Christopher, founder and president of Horizons Stewardship. Clif is the author of several stewardship books and is a sought-after speaker on this important topic. This seminar has received the endorsement of Bishop Trimble and is co-sponsored by the United Methodist Foundation of Indiana.

More details can be found by clicking here or the clicking the “View Event Flyer” button below, including the very economical pricing for individuals and teams ($100 maximum/church).

If you have any questions, email Greg McGarvey (gmcgarvey@horizons.net) or Herb Buwalda (hbuwalda@horizons.net).

We are looking forward to seeing you there!


Click here to find out more and register for the Oct. 10 Seminar in Warsaw, IN.

Click here to find out more and register for the Oct. 11 Seminar in Indianapolis, IN.  


View Event Flyer  

Ways to Increase Donor Motivation



That is how many times I have donated blood. My first donation was through a blood drive when I was in college. It was a relatively painless experience and home-made cookies were offered as motivation! I started donating after that, but for years I did so sporadically.  At some point, I learned my blood type was O negative, a classification fitting only 7% of the population. As a universal blood donor, anyone in a medical emergency could receive my blood. After a brief uptick in my donations, life interfered and my motivation to donate waned.

When I was making my 50th or so donation, I learned something else. In addition to being O negative, I am also CMV negative.  Blood with these two qualities is the only type that can be given to newborn babies. As a donor, I am referred to as a “baby quad” because one pint of my blood can be divided and given to four different babies! After I knew this, I began to make the effort to donate every six weeks. I did this for a time until life got busy again.

Eventually, donating felt more like a duty than a joy and my motivation dwindled.


Months would pass without a donation. Finally, after several reminder phone calls from the blood center, I scheduled a time to donate. On the morning before my donation, I spoke with someone on the phone and happened to mention I was giving blood later that day. When I revealed, I am a “baby quad,” the voice on the other end got quiet. After a brief pause, through tears, she said, “Thank you.”   She explained that a few months earlier she had given birth and her baby daughter had required over a dozen blood transfusions. And then she said, “My daughter is alive today because people like you are willing to donate their blood.”


That moment reminded me of the reason I donate: giving blood truly is the “gift of life.”


Regardless of the type of donation, the primary motivation for giving is belief in the mission the gift supports. Knowing that my blood donation could help save the lives of newborn babies inspired me to donate again! It is up to church leaders to help donors connect the dots between their gift to the church and the church’s ability to do life-changing ministry. Showing your donors how their gifts are making a difference in the world will motivate them to give again.

Here are some ways to increase donor motivation.

  • Keep your mission front and center as a reminder of the importance of giving. The mission of your church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Do not assume everyone understands this single purpose. A recent study by Barna found that 51% of churchgoers state they have never heard of the Great Commission.
  • Have a clear and compelling vision that lifts up the unique ways your church is living out its mission in your context.  Without a clear vision, the church can become inwardly focused and self-serving. A clear vision has the power to shape and connect everything that the church does, both uniting and energizing the congregation in its life and purpose.
  • Create a Vision Statement that is simple and easy to memorize. State it regularly in sermons, in the liturgy, on communication platforms, and on the website.  In 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, author Bishop Bob Farr says “I have never seen a church grow by hanging a mission and vision statement on the wall. On the other hand, I have never seen a growing congregation that didn’t deeply understand their mission and vision.”
  • Share stories of lives impacted and changed through your ministries. It is interesting to learn that 15 or 30 or 100 students went on a mission trip. But it is inspiring to hear one story of how a student’s faith was impacted by that experience. It is rousing to hear a story from someone whose life was changed forever by those students. Facts and data inform the mind but stories touch the heart. Donor motivation requires both.

Help donors stay motivated by connecting their generosity with your mission.

  • Preach on the theology of money and giving. While people will not contribute to the church because it needs money to pay its bills, they will be moved by a biblical message that shapes values and offers guidance on how they can faithfully use their resources.
  • Express gratitude. While receiving thanks may not be the only reason why people give, donors do want to feel their gifts are appreciated. A personal thank-you note is an opportunity to let your supporters know you value them and what they do. Gratitude is key to donor motivation.


It was just a simple, heartfelt “Thank you,” but it reminded me of the importance of my donation and reconnected me to the joy of giving. Maybe those who support your church need a reminder as well.


Donation #173 is already on my calendar.




To access Horizons’ free stewardship resources, click here to sign up for Giving365.


Horizons Announces the Addition of Dr. Rhodes Logan to the Team

Horizons is delighted to announce that Dr. Rhodes Logan, former Chief Development Officer for the United Methodist Church Development Center, has joined the Horizons team.


As the CDO, Rhodes oversaw the development activities of eight ministries of the United Methodist Church including annual, capital, and planned giving. Rhodes is an experienced development professional having also raised funds as a Campaign Director for the University of Tennessee and as the Director of Development for the United Way (Knoxville and Oak Ridge) and Carson-Newman University.


Through his ministry, Rhodes discovered his passion for working with local churches and religious non-profits. As a Vice President and Ministry Strategist with Horizons, he will continue to capably guide his clients to achieve funding for their missional objectives. Dr. Logan’s expertise spans all areas of development including capital campaigns, major gift solicitations, planned giving, annual giving programs, and development communications. The transformation of individuals and, in turn, the body of Christ, drives and inspires Rhodes’ development ministry.


Horizons’ founder, Clif Christopher says, “In my twenty-five years guiding Horizons, I do not think I have ever seen someone with the diverse skill set that Rhodes brings to the team. Not only is he highly committed to the mission of the Church, but he also brings a high-level of skill in all phases of capital acquisition. He joins Horizons as a proven professional.”


Horizons’ Managing Partner, Joe Park stated, “Rhodes began his development career in secular higher education but has followed his heart into serving the church at the General Board and conference levels and with faith-based non-profits like Africa University.  Now through Horizons, he brings his formidable skills to serve the local church as well.  We are thrilled to welcome Rhodes Logan to the Horizons Stewardship team!”


Dr. Logan can be reached at rlogan@horizons.net.


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