The Gratitude Campaign

August 11th, 2015

I have served as pastor in a two-point parish in a rural area, a suburban congregation, two downtown congregations, and a large regional church of over six thousand members. In every congregation the issue was the same: How do we best enroll people in giving time, talent, and treasure to support God’s work through the congregation?

Since I retired from appointment to a local church, I now serve as the volunteer Gratitude Coach for the eleven hundred United Methodist congregations in Indiana. This means I coach pastors and stewardship or finance committees in how to change the paradigm about giving to support God’s work.

Frequently, I am invited to work with congregations who have financial challenges. I discover that many of them have no plan for giving and don’t want anyone to talk about pledging or being generous in support of God’s work. They simply receive an offering every Sunday and hope that it will be enough to cover their expenses. But as the congregation declines in membership, income goes down and they have to go to a part-time pastor and reduce their mission giving because they don’t have the necessary resources.

I invite congregations not to start the conversation about giving with the needs of the congregation. I encourage them to start talking about the blessings God has already given each of us. I ask finance committee members to mention some of the ways God has blessed them with family, health, resources, and the ground we walk on and the air we breathe. I ask them to consider the blessing God gave all of us when God sent Jesus into the world to offer us unconditional love and forgiveness and to give us an eternally meaningful life now and forever.

When people begin to count their blessings, they realize that God has blessed us abundantly. And if we feel any sense of gratitude for these blessings, we want to give to God in appreciation for all God has first given us.

When a child receives a Christmas or birthday gift from someone, the parents will say to the child, “What do you say?” And the child will remember to say “thank you” to the person who gave the gift.

In a similar way we have all been given countless gifts from God and need to be reminded to say “Thank you, God” for all the gifts we have been given by our gracious God.

However, we are often reluctant to invite people to give generously to God out of gratitude. Consequently, giving in local Protestant congregations has declined as a percentage of income for many decades. The Empty Tomb is a stewardship research group located in Champaign, Illinois. The Empty Tomb’s research indicates that among church members of eleven Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada, per-member giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2011 than in 1933 at the depth of the Great Depression. Per-member giving in 1933 was 3.3 percent of income while in 2011, after decades of unprecedented prosperity, giving to congregations had fallen to 2.3 percent of income.

People often say that if we had more income we would give more to support God’s work through the church. How­ever, the truth is that it’s not the amount of money in our wallets that determine our giving but the amount of gratitude in our hearts that determines how much we give to support God’s work. I believe God has given the followers of Jesus a message that is essential for people to hear if they want to find meaning and purpose in life. I believe God has entrusted to us God’s message of the unconditional love and forgiveness that comes to us in Jesus Christ. I believe there is a God-shaped hole in the soul of every person that can only be filled by God.

It breaks my heart to see churches declining when the people in their communities and people around the world need the life-giving message of Jesus that we are failing to deliver in life-giving ways.

My prayer is that congregations of all denominations all around the world will begin focusing on God’s abundant blessings in our lives and our grateful response to those blessings.

I would encourage pastors and local church leaders to consider leading a Gratitude Campaign in your congregations. I believe that when we start counting our blessings rather than our problems it will lift the spirits of the people in the congregation and bring renewal and revitalization to all of the ministries of a local congregation.

When I was a district superintendent, a local congregation in my district neededa new pastor. The lay leader of the church told me that he wanted a “Bible-preaching pastor.” We had a new seminary graduate who was a superb Bible student and thought he would be a good fit for this congregation.

However, about three months after the new pastor began serving at that congregation, I received a call from the lay leader. He was upset with the sermon the pastor had just preached. I asked what the sermon was about. He explained that their new pastor had preached about tithing and how important it was for faithful followers of Jesus to give 10 percent of their income to support God’s work through the church.

I reminded him that he wanted a “Bible-preaching pastor” and that tithing was a part of the biblical message. He responded, “But I didn’t want him to preach that part of the Bible!”

Many local church leaders do not want their pastor or anyone else to preach about giving our resources to God to support God’s work. They may feel it’s “unbiblical” to talk about giving in a congregation.

However, Jesus talked a great deal about our use of resources. Jesus knew that our refusal to give to God can be a huge block in our spiritual relationship with God.

The basic thrust of the teachings of Jesus was that God has given us all that we have and we are to use all that we have in ways that glorify God and serve others.

I served as lead pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis for eighteen years, and during that time our giving to the annual budget tripled and people gave an additional $21 million for building expansion and missions.

The focus of our giving was on counting the blessings God has given us and giving back to God out of gratitude. We discovered that when we followed the Gratitude Path of thanking God for all our blessings, we arrived at the garden of abundance, and there was always more than enough to support God’s work through our congregation.

My prayer is that when congregations decide to conduct a Gratitude Campaign where people are invited to count their blessings and fill out a Gratitude Card to lay on the altar on Gratitude Sunday, they will experience the joy of giving and the congregation will have more than enough to provide for the ministries of their church.

However, no stewardship campaign will be very effective in a congregation if there is not also vibrant worship; loving pastoral care; Bible study and prayer groups; fellowship opportunities; growth opportunities for children, youth, and adults; and effective mission outreach programs to the community. The Gratitude Campaign is most effective when the church is a place where people experience the living presence of God in worship and are growing in their faith through Bible study and mission outreach. Good stewardship in a congregation is not just a once-a-year program. Living with an attitude of gratitude toward God year-round is the best way to make a once-a-year Gratitude Campaign most effective.


This article is an excerpt from Kent’s new book “The Gratitude Path: Leading Your Church to Generosity.”

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