Potholes On The Road To A Generous Church

By Dick Loizeaux

Potholes on The Road To A Generous Church

Have you ever hit a pothole in the road that jarred you uncomfortably? Maybe the pothole was so bad it delayed your arrival, or even damaged your vehicle? Well, sometimes pastors hit potholes on the road to generosity that jar us, delay our arrival, or damage our church.

Not infrequently I hear a discouraged pastor say, “I captured the vision for building a generous church. I preached on generosity. I implemented Peace University or Crown Ministries. I ran a special giving campaign with a slogan and a logo. I was on the road to generosity. But it was so bumpy it was jarring.  And the increase in giving was barely enough to cover our campaign expenses. Guess I just don’t have generous people.”

Ouch. Have you heard or maybe experienced something like that?

The truth is that while there may be a few ungenerous people in your church, the chances that your entire church are misers is probably the same as the chances that your entire church are lepers.  Isn’t it more likely that we could be doing a better job of avoiding the potholes that jar us and block them from expressing their generosity? I know because I think I hit every pothole. Sometimes more than once.

Here are five potholes I fell into. See if any sound familiar.

1. Failure to compete for attention in our busy world.
The people in your congregation are on media overload. Messages come faster than we can process them or retain them. A message that seems important to us one moment gets crowded out the next moment. A low key, periodic or sporadic reference to generosity will get lost in the media barrage.  That is why we need to keep a regular, even weekly, drumbeat of generosity stories, tips, opportunities and reminders, supported by visual reminders throughout the church building and the website.

I was afraid of being criticized for talking too much about money. I needed to be more worried about Jesus’ message of generosity getting drowned out by the tidal wave of messages of consumerism. If you believe generosity is important for people’s spiritual health and well being, you will pump up the volume.

2. Relying on reasoning and exhortation instead of story and invitation in our relational,
participative world.
I used to be a marketing executive. (Yes, I have repented of that. Many times.) Twenty years ago the principle was “Sell the benefits.” Explain how the product will solve the customers problem. So that is the way I approached “selling” generosity. Sermons like, “What You Get Out Of Giving.” And those sermons worked, kind of, for some people, especially the older people (like me).  But it didn’t create any seismic shifts in behavior.

You see, the marketing principle of today is “Create a story that they want to be part of, and then invite them into the story.” For most people, especially the younger people, the path to getting buy-in is more emotional and relational than logical. Reasons and explanations should be brief and pointed. Spend most of your time crafting the story of how their generosity is changing lives, with personal examples of lives being changed. Then invite them to join the story so they can share the sense of joy and fulfillment. They want to feel their life counts. They want to participate in something bigger than themselves. Generosity allows them to do that.

We pastors call that process vision casting. Create a picture of a preferable future and invite people to join it, right? You have a vision for your church. Do you have a vision for your congregants to have a
generous lifestyle?

3. Failing to live the generosity story.
You can’t invite others to join the story if you aren’t living the story in a way that makes your personal
story compelling.

For a long time, I like many pastors, believed that my income was too low for me to be generous. I drove rust bucket cars, lived in a tiny fixer-upper house, and at times qualified for government assistance. And whenever the church had more money, I invested it in hiring more staff rather than raising my salary. I gave my tithe, but seldom more. My generosity (I rationalized) was working for less than I deserved and giving more time than I was paid for, right?

Wrong. I was robbing myself and my family of the joy of giving and failing to lead by example in my life. It wasn’t until we ran a capital campaign that my wife and I were challenged to move past “I don’t have anything more to give,” take a deep breath, and take a leap of faith. We committed to give to God a category of savings and income that no financial planner would ever support. If I told you what it was you might think I was crazy. And you might be right. All I know is that it was what I needed to do to begin living the story of generosity in a compelling way. Did my children suffer because of it? Yes. Did I wonder if they would ever be able to afford college, if I would ever be able to pay for their weddings, if I would ever be able to retire? Yes. But 25 years later they all have completed college, been married, and are following the Lord. And by God’s grace my retirement is now a possibility.

Your people need role models of sacrificial generosity. You are that model. Your people need fresh stories of generosity in action that you can invite them into. Your life should provide those stories. If you don’t live it, they won’t learn it.

4. Failure to achieve simplicity in our complicated world.
If something isn’t simple, people don’t do it. We are too busy to bother with complexity. And the definition of simple is changing with the younger generation. Checks were simpler than cash. Credit cards were simpler than checks. Automatic deduction was simpler than both. On-line giving was simpler yet, right? And yet, a woman a few weeks ago complained to me, “I tried to give to your church yesterday and that Pay Pal thing was just too complicated so I gave up.” I talked to a thirty something who said, “I can do everything else by my smart phone. Why can’t I give to your church by my smart phone? When you create that, then I will give.”

So, are you offering a variety of giving methods? Is your online giving process simple and quick? Does it take less than 60 seconds? If someone hands you his or her credit card do you know what to do with it? Do you have a giving app for smartphones?  Does it take around 10 seconds? Should you consider installing giving kiosks in your lobby?

5. Failure to build trust in our suspicious world.
People’s hearts may be stirred by the need you present or the story you tell. But people will only give to individuals and organizations they trust. How can your church be that organization?

  1. By transparency in how you handle money. Clear policies and open books.
  2. By security in how you handle money. Is your on-line method secure? Is your giving app secure? Are your records of contributions secure? Does your security policies prevent the possibility of embezzlement, theft, and fraud?
  3. By consistency: telling the truth and keeping your promises. Never collect money for one thing and then use it for something else. Never exaggerate or understate.
  4. By integrity. When we unknowingly violate IRS regulations, Not-For Profit regulations, copyright regulations, or “Standard Accounting Methods,” our sincerity is not enough to make up for the lack of integrity. You will lose trust.
  5. By competency. Consider learning and applying the policies of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA.org) or attending the Converge MidAmerica Church Finance 101 Seminar. To find out more contact Wanda Manning.

6. Failure to take the time and effort to find out what really keeps your people from giving.
Stop saying, “They just aren’t generous” and do some homework. Maybe use an anonymous survey. Maybe some casual chats. 

  1. Is the problem that generosity has such a low visibility or volume at your church that it gets drowned out by competing voices?
  2. Is the problem low trust in how your church specifically, or churches in general, handle money?
  3. Is it the lack of a compelling story (or stories) of generosity, or the lack of leaders who are role models for generosity?
  4. Are your people overloaded with debt and need to learn principles of money management so they can have enough money to be generous?
  5. Do you or your financial team need more training?
  6. Is the problem that people fear, “If I give generously, I won’t have enough to meet my needs?”
  7. Have you over promised and under delivered too often in the past?
  8. Are your methods of receiving contributions too complex, cumbersome, or outdated?
  9. Have your people had bad giving experiences in the past that you need to gently help them
    recover from?
  10. Are your expectations unrealistic for the socioeconomic environment of your church?
  11. Do you treat generosity as a way of raising money, more than as a way of raising disciples?

If we learn how to navigate around those potholes our churches can safely complete the journey to generosity. Now go and pothole no more.

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Church Planting Articles, Generosity, Giving, Dick Loizeaux