Review: Extravagant Generosity

July 18th, 2011

Since May of 2007, many church leaders and congregations have been prodded and guided by the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations written by United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase. In that first book, Bishop Schnase outlined what he described as five fundamental practices that underlie congregational health and vitality. These he identified as Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

In the intervening years, Abingdon Press has published a wealth of accompanying materials—DVDs, small group guides, etc.—to assist congregations in the implementation of each of these five practices put forth in the original book. Published this year is the latest in this series, a program focused on Extravagant Generosity. Building on the themes of Extravagant Generosity, the underlying concepts are expanded out into a prototype stewardship program, designed to move a congregation in the direction of goal-oriented, mission-minded giving.

A small book of daily meditations is intended for congregational use over the course of a four-week period. The worship and small group DVD provides a video introducing the theme and video clips to be used in worship, as well as video meditations for small groups and Sunday school classes. The Program Guide and Small Group Leader Guide spell out the stewardship program, with schedules and timelines, teaching plans and discussion guides, and sample giving letters and commitment cards. The accompanying CD-ROM adds planning tools, art and PowerPoint slides to be customized in the local setting.

Whereas other available stewardship programs may be long on technique and tips but short on theology, the real value of the Extravagant Generosity package is found in its underlying theology of grace and of God’s extravagant generosity which precedes our giving. At the base of Schnase’s perspective is the shift from ‘stewardship’ to ‘generosity.’ The first devotional reading exploring that shift will in and of itself challenge many pastors and church leaders to re-examine their underlying assumptions and perspectives. Stewardship is about doing. Generosity is about being and character. This basic insight marks the Extravagant Generosity approach as one of Christian formation, rather than yet another programmatic approach designed to increase congregational giving.

Generosity goes to the heart of every disciple growing in the fullness and likeness of Christ. Schnase emphasizes our relationship with God, ways in which God works through our giving and our generosity to change us and grow us in faithfulness. The readings move through a spiritual “generosity/giving” inventory and house-cleaning with a hefty emphasis on self-examination and reflection. The reader’s relationship to money, to giving, to contentment, to consumerism, are examined and challenged, as well as our “worship of the vain world’s golden store and each idol that would keep us,” as the old hymn puts it.* Extravagant generosity points towards a new orientation, a turning, and a transformation of heart and life.

This is actually pretty radical stuff for a society that measures people in terms of accumulation, financial success, and bling. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is simply a new program that will take the pressure off planning this fall’s pledge campaign. It is an invitation into the Way of the One who came to turn our hearts to God. And if we choose to go down that path together, who knows where God might lead?


* phrase from “Jesus Calls Us”, words by Cecil Frances Alexander, 1852.

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