Three "I's" of stewardship

February 12th, 2020

One of the newer college majors to emerge in universities across the country is philanthropy. Organizations, from non-profits to foundations to the university endowments themselves, are all looking for an edge when it comes eliciting and inspiring givers to give. And this widening embrace of philanthropy across the country is no doubt having an impact on churches when it comes to the traditional stewardship drive. 

Usually based upon pledges and commitments of time, talent and treasure, the stewardship of God’s resources has morphed from a seasonal event to an annual emphasis in many congregations — with year-round presentations, special offerings and creative approaches designed to help church members direct their gifts to God’s work through the local congregation. In recent years the old words (“duty”, “obligation”, “sacrifice”, “giving” and “money”) have been replaced by the new in-vogue words touted by philanthropists; words like “gratitude”, “generosity”, “joy”, “resources”, “relationship” and “impact.”

Chances are, most larger congregations across the country have embraced these new approaches to stewardship, offering members many ways to give, emphasizing generosity and connection, and shying away from conversations or messages that smack blatantly of “money.” 

Nevertheless, if you ask many lead pastors to describe what they believe are the greatest challenges facing the church, many will come around to issues related to stewardship (or the lack thereof). The truth is, it is difficult to raise capital for a budget, and with the growing disinterest in the church — or misunderstanding about the church — many people would rather give to other organizations or feel that their financial gifts can have a greater impact elsewhere. The church is still a powerful body when it comes to the resources available to accomplish God’s work, but most pastors can see the landscape changing...and rapidly.

There are many ways to describe these changes. Some involve the widening circle of organizations that people give to. In fact, most church members today give to a panoply of causes and interests, not just to their local church. As philanthropy has grown across the country, so has the widening circle of organizations competing for people’s generosity. Church leaders can no longer assume that their members give their largest gifts to God’s work through the local congregation. These gifts may, in fact, be going to national organizations, to universities or even to initiatives they are helping to sponsor through the workplace.

Other changes involve what used to be described as a family’s “disposable income”. But with wages stagnant and many families on edge about the future, gifts — even to God’s work — may be more difficult to come by. Likewise, statistics continue to show that fewer people tithe than a decade ago, and many families, though involved in a church, give little or nothing of their finances (for a host of reasons).

Today, church leaders must appeal to the congregation from a variety of vantage points and must also remember that the new words like “generosity” and “gratitude” don’t have a magical and immediate impact on stewardship. There are no magical programs, processes or words that fund a church budget automatically.

But some broad understandings of what people are looking for can help. Here are three essential aspects of stewardship; being aware of them, year-round, can certainly have an impact when it comes to helping people give generously.


It’s true: a great many people out there won’t give anything to God’s work unless they know specifically how their gift will be used. They are information people. They want the facts. 

Information people want to know:

  • What is the church budget? How is it used? 
  • What is the vision, specifically, that is driving the church?
  • How large of a gift will I need to give in order to fulfill this vision?

Information people want statistics, percentages, info on increases and decreases. They want facts and figures and formulas. These people know how to read a bar graph and they are very likely “numbers” people. Sharing accurate information with this constituency in the church is vital to helping them to give generously. Many information people won’t give anything until they have the information they need.


Other people don’t care about information at all. They want to be inspired to give. They want to hear stories, testimonies, first-person accounts of how financial gifts have changed lives or otherwise impacted the ministry of the church. Inspiration people aren’t so much facts- and figures-driven as they are relationally-driven. They crave connections and relationships. They like the idea of being a part of God’s work, of seeing how their generosity has impacted their community, their world.

Inspiration people want to know:

  • What is the narrative budget? Tell me the stories behind the numbers.
  • What difference do my gifts make?
  • Where can I have the greatest impact through my generosity?


Finally, many people will only give through invitation. In years past, many stewardship drives have been relationally-based, with people meeting in homes or, at times, inviting the pastor in to share the vision and make “the ask”. 

It is the case that, with some people, the invitation to give must be heard loud and clear. Invitation people won’t give, won’t usually make any move, until someone shares the story and asks, “What can you give to God’s work?” 

Many lead pastors can share stories of making “the ask” — of creating a list of givers who are then visited in the home, or taken to dinner, or gathered together to hear a presentation before making the lead gifts to a new initiative or drive.

Invitation people want to know:

  • Why are you asking me to give?
  • Who is going to benefit from my gifts?
  • Why is my gift important?

This year, keep this three-tier approach to stewardship in mind as you plan your information, inspiration, and your invitation. It’s not magic, but it is meaningful.

A version of this article originally appeared on Ministry Matters on October 14, 2016. 

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