Ten years ago, in Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, I voiced my concern that giving to religion, as a share of overall giving, had fallen significantly over the last several decades and was half of what it once was. At the time, the giving trends indicated that if we did not change the way we do overall stewardship in the church, the decline in giving would continue. Well, now it has happened!
For 2018, Giving USA reports gifts to religious organizations are down 1.5% to just 29% of total charitable giving. Total giving to charity rose to 427 billion dollars, but this came more from foundations and corporations and not from individuals–the church’s primary revenue source. On average, Americans gave away only 1.9% of their disposable income.
These giving trends are as alarming to me today as they were back in 2008 when I first rang the bell of concern. Financial resources are not our mission, but they are the fuel that propels the mission.
What caused the latest decline? Some will blame the last tax law changes that significantly increased the standard deduction and thus reduced the number of people who itemize. Others will say that it just reflects that fewer people are in church and the world is more secular. I do not buy into the theory that the causes are all external and thus any solution must be external. I still hold to the conviction that the solution is within the church to save the church, but we have avoided the hard work necessary to make the cultural adjustment to get it done. In the strongest possible way, I am encouraging you to re-examine how you are teaching and preaching financial stewardship. How are you moving your church away from the stewardship methods of the 20th century and responding to a new 21st century culture?
You do not need the new 2019 annual campaign in a box. You may not even need a capital campaign. What you do need is a systematic long-term culture shift that creates not just funds for the budget but generous hearts and minds. As I shared in my latest book God vs. Money, you need a Battle Plan.
Right now, many of you are thinking about what you are going to do for a fall stewardship emphasis. That is fine, but that is not going to fix the problem. Let me encourage you to form your fall campaign committee and put them to work if you must, but at the same time form another group that will go to work on a Battle Plan for generosity to change your whole church. If you are brave enough, go ahead and start to execute the plan ASAP and just skip the old approach. Why would you think just doing the same old thing will produce a different result? You may not be able to change America’s giving to religion, but you sure can do something to change your congregation to be generous followers of Christ.
Horizons’ Next Level Generosity (NLG) framework can help you create and carry out your Generosity Battle Plan. Beginning with a comprehensive 360-degree analysis, your Horizons Ministry Strategist will create a clear and effective strategy for shifting your generosity culture. The result is more money for ministry and authentic life-change for your congregation. To arrange a free 20-minute consultation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my over forty years of ministry, I have never heard a pastor say he/she has more money than the church needs. I have certainly found pastors who shared that their people were very generous or that they had out-given their budget, but never that they had too much. The mission is too big and the need is too great to not always need more. Yet every year I come across dozens of pastors and laypeople who are doing things that absolutely reduce church giving.
Here are five ways to accidentally reduce church giving:
I have seen so many pastors encourage their people to give “an increase,” “do 3% more,” or “help us balance the budget.” The facts are that people today just do not care whether you achieve some arbitrary target or not. They want their gift to have impact and change lives. Spend your energy sharing with people how their giving to the church will make the world a better place.
This sends a signal to all that this is what you really are about. You are wanting to bring in more than you send out. It says nothing about your mission and it usually appears to reflect an unhealthy church because you are behind for the year. Facts are 90% of all churches are behind until December. It is normal, not a sign of impending death. Just stop doing it.
There is nothing about a line item budget that helps your people understand what you are truly doing in ministry. From appearances it seems that all that you are supporting are some people and a building. Line item budgets should be used only by the finance people. Distribute a missional budget to the congregation.
When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf that the people had made to worship, he did not make a joke about it or apologize for what he was about to say. He was forceful and direct and they knew he meant what he was saying. There was no misunderstanding that he considered this a very serious matter. They had put worshipping a golden calf ahead of worshipping God. Your people are doing this every day that they choose money over God. It is a big deal. People need your help to give up that which they love more than God. Quit acting like it really does not matter.
For some reason pastors think people will think more of them if they deny themselves knowledge of individual gifts. This behavior will keep you from putting the right people in leadership, being able to diagnosis spiritual health in persons, and thanking people when they truly need and often expect thanks.
Now, go forth and quit doing those things that hurt the Kingdom!
The blog was updated from the original published April 29, 2017.
The Village Inn in Malawi, Africa, provided attacking wolf spiders, bats, bed bugs, holes in the ceilings, broken bathroom fixtures, and all the cold water you could use—free of charge. Most of us on the mission team “stayed alert with eyes wide open,” but certainly not in gratitude. Our eyes were wide open in worry and fear and discomfort.
Colossians 4:2-4 (The Message)
2-4 Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.
As we gathered for breakfast, in the midst of complaining, we heard the quiet voice of Emily, a Malawian traveling with us, say, “I saw the face of God in my motel room.” Having never slept in a bed before, Emily’s eyes were “wide open in gratitude.”
In that moment, I knew. Here was a child of God, created in the image of God with a loving and generous spirit. With her “eyes wide open in gratitude,” Emily made “Christ plain as day” to us. Emily’s gratitude taught me a critical lesson. We are all born in the image of a loving and generous God. However, we choose daily whether to live out of this loving and generous spirit. Often, we choose to live out of a resentful and bitter spirit instead. And in making our choice, we either make Christ plain or not.
Can you think of someone recently who made Christ plain to you with a loving and generous spirit? Can you think of a time when you had the opportunity to respond either with eyes wide open in gratitude or with eyes wide open in bitterness or fear? What did you choose? What were the results?
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A Generous Life reminds readers that we are all born in the image of a loving and generous God. The 28 devotions center around four weekly themes using generosity principles of gratitude, prayer, and faith. The journey that is “grounded in gratitude, revealed through prayer, and sealed by faith” will help people return to the generous life they were born to live. The daily readings are written by the Horizons Stewardship Team–a diverse group of pastors, church leaders, speakers, and authors. All profits from A Generous Life will be donated to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) to support global missions.