Facing the truth about poor giving and its devastating consequences

October 1st, 2019

When confronted with poor giving and lackluster stewardship, church leaders often try to justify their situation rather than face the truth. Of course, it is easier to justify poor giving than to address it. However, the long-term consequences of believing the excuses are devastating. I’ve heard many justifications from stewardship chairs and pastors in my decades of working with churches. Here are a few of them.

“Our people are giving very well. We are meeting our budget.”

Making budget sounds great. There are many churches that would like to make a similar claim. However, meeting a budget is not reliable evidence that your people are giving well. I have encountered many churches that, in order to meet the budget, reduced expenses to match the level of giving. It might be good money management, but it is still poor giving. Even when church giving meets or exceeds the budget, most churches have a third or more of its members who contribute little or nothing at all. Churches who consider funding the budget as the ultimate objective have lost sight of their real mission — to make disciples. The truth is we are called to grow in giving, not to meet a church budget.

“Our people are very generous. Every time we ask them to step up for something, they do.”

Special projects can be a perfect opportunity to ask members to “step up” in financial giving or volunteer support. For some church members, special projects provide a chance for them to contribute beyond their annual giving and support a ministry they are passionate about. However, how many of your church members participate in your special appeal? Most of the time, only a small percentage of donors “step up” to make a special project successful. Poor giving remains a concern when only a few members are motivated to step up for special projects. While some are stepping up, others are giving little or nothing at all. 

“We are so blessed to have two families who pay for the majority of our needs.”

It is, indeed, a blessing to have church members who have with worldly wealth and are willing to give it to the church. However, the consequences of this situation can be devastating. While these two generous families are funding your ministries, are the remaining members saying, “We don’t need to contribute. The big donors will take care of it?” What happens when either or both of the families leaves, dies or moves? Finally, the other members may be missing out on opportunities to “excel in the grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7 But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in this grace of giving.) 

“Sometimes I preach about money and giving at budget time.”

While preaching about giving once per year may be better than never preaching about giving, the truth is preaching around budget time is the worst time to do it. Giving should never be about what the church needs. Giving should always be about what the giver needs. Preaching on giving to fund your budget is uninspiring and will result in poor giving. Jesus had a different idea. Jesus suggested people should give to show they trusted in God more than they trust their money. Preach on money as Jesus did and you will be right on track. Jesus taught more about money than any other subject, except the kingdom of God. Help people understand giving as a part of their discipleship journey and preach on giving year-round. 

“I don’t want to know what my members give. I may treat members differently.”

When the pastor chooses to be unfamiliar with the church’s giving list, she/he is choosing to ignore important information about the discipleship journey of her/his church members. In his book, Rich Church, Poor Church, Clif Christopher suggests not knowing the giving list puts the pastor at a disadvantage. The pastor may treat members differently as a result, but that does not mean preferential treatment for big donors and poor treatment for smaller donors. Knowing the giving list enables the pastor to guide those who need to understand giving as a spiritual discipline and thank those whose generous gifts provide support to life-changing ministries. 

Facing the truth about poor giving can help you avoid the devastating consequences. Creating a culture of generosity in your church requires open and honest reflections about giving and the involvement of your entire membership.

Gary Ealy blogs at Horizons Stewardship.

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