Generosity during a seismic shift

September 15th, 2021

How does a church leader build and sustain generosity and stewardship in the world of Covid 19? How does one build and sustain generosity and stewardship in the digital world? Due to pandemic and acceleration of streaming technology, this monumental shift in the way we do church is having an uneven effect on churches. Some struggle mightily, while others thrive and grow in financial discipleship.  What might affect these the outcomes, and what could that teach us? Let’s consider two churches very different from each other, who each found new ways to encourage generosity and growth.

One church was quick to move to digital worship and was able to offer a high-quality service different enough from what they were doing before in person. They attracted folk far from their physical mission field every week. Their church is in an urban center and is known for its compassion and outreach. As they shared the story of their ministries with a broader audience, folk from neighboring cities wanted to support their work. They are ahead of their budget for the year. They credit the growth in giving from outside the existing membership in the congregation.

Another church that grew in giving during the pandemic made the decision early on to add a staff person whose primary job was to connect folks that attended digitally to others in the church and in the community. This changed the focus of the existing staff. Digital small groups were formed that met during the week. Every member received a personal phone call. Student and youth ministries were reconfigured to have a digital component. Children’s and family ministries were done in a digital format with curricula and needed materials distributed in advance, so the whole family could participate. The digital community is fully particpating in the life and ministry of the church.

Both churches have a common emphasis—connection. Connection to the mission of the church and connection to each other.

When anxiety is high and the future uncertain, we tend to go back to old ways of doing things.  Among them is the temptation to revert in emphasis on the church’s financial need instead of the church’s mission. In the book Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance, Lovett Weems and Ann Michel remind us of two important principles:

Never talk about people’s money apart from discipleship, and

Never talk about the church’s money apart from its mission.

People don’t give to churches. If they ever did, they no longer do.  People give to change lives and make a difference.  Helping people grow in generosity begins with helping folks draw a straight line from a dollar given to a life changed. 

People will not give to maintain a building—especially when many of them have not seen it.  

People will not pay for staff—especially when they don’t know them and cannot see what they do.  

Due to the ease of duplication and the collapse of distance, the expectation in today’s world is that content should be free or very close to it. So if worship is all your church is offering to a digital audience, they will not be motivated to give. The question becomes how are you connecting people to the ministry of the church? How are you connecting people to each other?  How are you communicating the difference that the church is making in the community? These are some of the questions that guide our way forward.

Generosity always begins with the person’s need to give and not the church’s need to receive. People are hardwired to give. It is part of our discipleship and part of God’s image and grace that we carry. To become a generous person brings joy.  How are we inviting every person to deeper generosity? Do we provide settings for a story from someone who has been changed by the practice of generosity? Can people give to your church digitally? Can people give online? Are they invited to do so?  

While the pandemic challenges all of us, it brings with it a great outpouring of creative generosity both within the church and without. It is impossible to write in mere words the depths of generosity that I have seen in the local church during these trying times. We have several small churches (less than 20 in weekly worship) who are feeding hundreds of families experiencing food insecurity every week. One church damaged by the Texas freeze this year was not upset about the interruption of worship but about where they could send the people that depend on them for food and shelter each week. Another church tripled the number of families they were helping to feed. This resulted in long lines of cars waiting to be served. Members of the church went up and down the lines visiting with the folks, listening to their journeys and stress, and offering prayer for them as they waited. The result is not only a greater number of people fed but new relationships and a new worshipping community started primarily of the folks who receive assistance. These are the stories that inspire generosity and teach stewardship.

Our generosity is the first word of our witness to the world of God’s grace and love for God’s creation.

God is at work in amazing ways in these times, and God is working through the local church to bring redemption and healing to a hurting world. I want to be a part of that, and I know you do to.

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