3 things you must do to cultivate generous givers in your church

Jim Sheppard, Principal of Generis — a consulting firm that helps churches to inspire and cultivate generosity through giving development coaching and strategy — talks about the best way to create an environment of giving.

Jim Sheppard

What role does a pastor need to play to encourage giving?

Sheppard: The pastor must lead the way. Generous churches are led by generous pastors, and your voice matters more than you realize. You have to have your own giving journey; this journey isn’t finished, and you don’t even have to be the furthest along. Often, this starts in seminary and continues after the leave, as a tithe from everything you have earned thus far.

How does having my own giving journey influence/affect the people of my church?

Sheppard: If giving is a struggle for you, it will be a struggle for your people. I’ve seen this many times while coaching pastors and churches. It comes across as a disconnect. A pastor will sometimes say things like, “We’ve had a lot of financial struggles in our family recently. I have a mother-in-law who had cancer and had a lot of medical expenses that weren’t reimbursed. I’ve got two kids.” I advise them by saying, “It sounds like you’re being held captive by your debt. Let’s get you free and then maybe you can help get your people free.”

When you don’t have a journey, you don’t have the moral spiritual authority to speak to your people about giving. It’s very important that you lead the way.

What could hinder personal giving?

Sheppard: You can’t just assume that somebody knows what you mean when you are talking about giving. Articulate what it means for someone to be a steward. Articulate your church’s beliefs and views on giving. These messages might vary according to church and pastor. The important thing is that you make what you believe known — and again, don’t assume that people know what it means to give and be a steward.

What is an example of a giving journey?

Sheppard: You want to talk about your journey and how it’s impacted your generosity. One pastor I know, who is leading a big generosity initiative, shared his giving journey with his people. He said, “Since day one, my wife and I have given 10% of everything we make back to this church. Most years, we’ve given a little more than that. But let me explain what’s happened over the last two years, as our kids have left home. We have four kids, and over the years, we increased our percentage of giving from 12% to 14% to 16%. Last year, we gave 18% of our income to the church. Over the next two years, with our generosity initiative, we are going to increase that to 30%.”

This pastor was very clear about how his journey had changed and how it was about to change even more. In my book, Contagious Generosity, written with co-author Chris Willard, we point to a specific instance where a member approached their pastor after he had shared his giving journey and said, “Pastor, one of the reasons I give here is because you give.”

How important is a giving journey and message to staff?

Sheppard: If the pastor doesn’t have a giving journey, it’s hard for staff to have that giving journey, as well. This journey must be communicated to staff even more often than with the people of the church. You should make it clear that it is expected that members of staff have their own giving journey. These should be shared from time to time in staff meetings.

In other words, make it a normal part of being on the staff team. Again, this sets the tone.

When speaking about giving, what type of language will contribute to creating an environment of generosity?

Sheppard: Giving is a discipleship issue. I’ve been in many churches that have intended to focus on this, but then it turns out to be more of a financial issue. What I mean by this is that the church holes out its annual budget. Giving is needed to support that budget for next year. Pastors get caught up talking only about funding the budget, and they never really go into the discipleship aspect of giving, and what it means to be a giver from a scriptural standpoint.

Obviously, you want the budget to be funded, but that’s not the main point. The main point is, Where is your heart in terms of discipleship? Have you established yourself as a value in your church that contributes with your own discipleship?

The closer people get to the cross, the more their giving changes. Discipleship is developing a person’s heart. We use the term “discipleship” a lot. You only get so far if you make giving a financial issue. Change will be temporary, not lasting.

How do we talk about giving in terms of a person’s own discipleship journey?

Sheppard: Identifying giving is one of the marks of a mature disciple. We talk about prayer; we talk about scripture; we talk about many different things being a mark of a mature disciple; but we don’t specifically talk about giving as being one of those indicators of maturation.

In your church’s new member and small group classes, identify giving as a part of moving people along on their continuum of maturity.

What is beneficial to encouraging the efforts of a person’s
giving journey?

Sheppard: Celebrate giving breakthroughs (for example, moving from half a tithe to a full tithe). This is something that a lot of churches might not do well. People look for other folks like themselves, and when they see a celebration of giving for their peers, they begin to think, Could we do something like that? Modeling that in front of the congregation, giving all due credit to God and the Holy Spirit, and the moving of the Holy Spirit in their life as something that God did in and through them, is a spiritual breakthrough.

Other kinds of breakthroughs include raising money for disaster relief. Say, for example, your congregation raises 30% more of their goal for a disaster relief fund. Stop and give God the credit — generosity is not as natural to us as we want it to be. It takes God’s grace moving through people’s hearts to make them the generous people that God has called them to be. Celebrate that those who have not been touched by disaster are able to help those deeply affected by it.

In Contagious Generosity, we say “accelerate what you celebrate.” When you celebrate breakthroughs, you will unwittingly be accelerating that cause, and your people will grow through it.

As a church, how do we help provide the basis for a
complete journey?

Sheppard: This is about awareness, stories and impact. One way to do that is by informing the hearts, which is discipleship. You need to inform the head — and that is done by leveraging the weekend experience. You can’t do one without the other.

Growing in discipleship only has limited impact. My people might grow into mature disciples, but if they do not have any say in what’s happening in their church — the vision of ministry God has called everyone to, and the impact (and victories) that we have, then it doesn’t help them to fully progress to the place that God wants them to be. They have to be good disciples, and they have to know that their church is making a difference.

What does it mean to leverage the weekend experience?

Sheppard: The weekend experience is whatever you do for your weekly worship gatherings. Whether they are from Friday to Sunday nights, or just Sunday mornings, and whether you are in just one venue or multiple venues, the weekend experience is very important.

Worship service is a prime opportunity. It’s the premier event in the life of a church that occurs 52 times a year. We need to leverage that time where our people are right in front of us to encourage. Let us provoke one another on love and good deeds, as the scriptures say.

Far too many churches want to cultivate generous givers and a culture of generosity, but they’re not speaking about it in the weekend worship environment. It takes money to fund the vision of the church, and yet sometimes we don’t want to talk about it too much that we’re known as “that church” that focuses on money all of the time.

You can’t avoid talking about it. And when you do talk about it, you have to do it appropriately.

How do decreases in attendance affect the message of giving?

Sheppard: The issue of decreasing attendance by faithful people in the life of the church is a hot topic right now. People like myself, who regard church as a priority, would attend roughly 3.2 times a month 10 years ago. There have been indications now that people are now attending church less than twice a month. In a very short period of time, a big shift from a little over three times a month to less than two times a month has happened.

People are mobile, and busier than ever. They have leisure activities and events with their kids. So, when I say “52 times a year,” that does not mean that people are attending each and every time. That makes leveraging the weekend experience even more important.

While people are at church, and you have their attention, you need to communicate and get your message to them. This is called the “power of the pulpit,” which extends to anyone who occupies it during a service. What you’re going to say is going to be heard, and people are paying attention. Every minute is important, and if you’ve allocated time to a topic, people recognize and perceive it as being important.

What are the steps to leveraging the weekend

Sheppard: Build trust. No one gives significantly unless they trust the institution that they’re giving to. That includes the church. People have to know that if they’re giving their hard-earned money to it, you will steward it well.

Use examples of how you’ve stewarded money and resources well so far. Talk about the fact that you have a financial oversight committee, and that your financial statements are audited. If you’re a member of the Evangelical Council and Financial Accountability (ECFA), which has rigid standards about accountability and trust, mention it. Put it on your website. Talk about how you approve expenditures. People want to know that their church is run like a business, and that there is someone at the helm stewarding resources well.

3 key points in cultivating generous givers

• Pastor must lead the way

• Discipleship must be a priority

• Leverage the weekend experience

Cast (and recast) vision. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church has said on many occasions, “Vision leaks.” You can’t just cast vision and assume that it’s always going to be there. Like a helium balloon starts out as full, and then a couple of weeks later it’s not as full — that happens with vision, even in the tightest of environments. You’ve got to cast and recast vision all the time. This is the senior pastor reinforcing who the church is, what God has called it to do, and what the mission is.

Shape culture. The weekend experience helps to shape culture. It helps the people of the church to understand what’s normal, and how things are done. Culture is really a permission system in a lot of ways. It allows things to flow through, or it comes on like a headwind and gets in the way. In shaping a generosity culture, what you want to do is create the idea that generosity is normal. This means it’s not a big deal to talk about money, because generosity is commonplace.


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Demonstrate impact. There are far too many people who, when they give to their church, do not understand what happens. Those who work internally for the church might get some information, but a lot of things might be unknown to other members. The church must share stories in public regularly that demonstrate what happens when you give. Show pictures of ministry victories, and show the impact you’re having on people, groups and local partners that you might be ministering to.

If, for example, your mission is to create a culture where unchurched people feel comfortable, regular stories of how unchurched people came into your environment and got reacquainted with Christ demonstrates your impact. This reinforces why people give.

Enhance relationships. Relationships are built through the weekend experience. It’s not the only way, but it’s one of the ways. If it is the premier event in the life of the church, then we need to spend it enhancing relationships with the church, its people, the pastor and the staff. Make sure that you’re emphasizing community in a way that is important to your culture.

Highlight good stewardship in the life of your church. I had one client discuss something that was small, yet so impactful. It concerned buying office supplies for their church, which is fairly large, so the line item for office supplies was a pretty good-size number. They showed that number to staff and explained how they order everything, to demonstrate good stewardship.

Even small things like office supplies should be regarded as something to be a good steward of. The scripture says, ‘When you are faithful over the smaller things, God will make you faithful over the larger things.’

— Reporting by Joyce Guzowski


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