9 Ideas for Practicing Faithful Generosity in Your Congregation
By Margaret Marcuson
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 22, No. 2 in 2020. You can access the full issue here.
What is faithful generosity? It’s not generosity out of duty. Instead, it’s generosity practiced in the light of our faith, from a heartfelt response to God. I’d like to suggest some ideas for congregations of any size to cultivate the practice of generosity, even in uncertain times.
1.Choose a new congregational giving project for such a time as this. I recently asked my email list of pastors and other church leaders what they are doing to keep going at this time. Someone replied, “Donate (even if small gifts) to nonprofits on the “front lines” of this crisis.” Consider choosing one new local program to support in this new context.
2.Be generous to those within your midst in this crisis time. Faithful generosity at this crisis time may include sharing with those in your own church community who have been most impacted by the crisis. This might happen through the generous sharing of time by keeping in touch with those who are isolated or ill, as well as sharing of financial resources with those who have lost jobs.
Here are some additional ideas, for this time and any time:
3. Offer every request to give in the light of our faith. If you are sending email or mail reminders to give, use this opportunity to share the faith context for giving. Tell the story of how faithful ministry is happening in this new context.
During worship, virtual or later in person, tell a story about the faithful use of these funds for ministry. Say a short prayer. Share one Scripture verse. Help people learn that the offering time is not just rote but an expression of faith.
4.Tell stories of generosity. Tell stories of faithful generosity, from the past and present. People emotionally connect with stories. Share stories of people of all ages. The most proportionally generous givers are almost always the most joyful about it. Invite them to share their stories (and their smiles), in video now and later in person, and invite others to share the joy.
5.Celebrate the generosity of time. Generosity is not just about money, although money is important. Highlight the many ways generous members share their time as an outgrowth of their faith. Right now, celebrate the staff and volunteers who check in with people and make virtual connection possible. Then find ongoing ways to lift up those who share of their time. One pastor recently mentioned to me the thank-you lunch they have for all their volunteers every year.
6.Offer a seasonal generosity emphasis. Use a season of the year like Lent to highlight faithful generosity. Include practical items that people can commit to, like a daily or weekly giving calendar with inexpensive suggestions, or a daily reading calendar with Scriptures about generosity. Invite people to make a commitment to generosity in some way as their Lenten practice.
7.Experiment to reach new groups within your congregation with the message of generosity. For those who are not currently responding to invitations to give, the same old approach repeated will not work. See the chapter “Reach New Audiences” in the excellent book Embracing Stewardship by Charles R. Lane and Grace Duddy Pomroy. Among several other recommendations, they suggest churches listen deeply to these audiences (rather than thinking our job is to instruct them), and innovate with that audience at the table. (p. 119-130)
8.Include children and youth in the congregational practices of generosity. Don’t assume kids can’t give. Some teens have more disposable income than their parents do, so don’t leave them out. If the congregation is engaged in a specific project like a local homeless program or food pantry, specifically invite them to learn about it and give to it. You can do this even if you have only a few kids in your church.
9.Create a sense of meaning for generosity. Remember that if people didn’t learn to be generous when they were young, they need to be invited into the practice. They will be more likely to respond to the invitation when there is meaning attached to it, as a heartfelt response to what we have received. That’s more motivating than a duty- driven or practical message (“we have to keep the lights on…”).
We are all facing the current challenge and considering our future as church, financially and otherwise. But this is not unprecedented. Ecumenical Stewardship Center director Marcia Shetler reflected recently on the church closures during the 1918 flu epidemic. She also shared a recent conversation with her mother about the challenges of World War II and family separations. In addition, Shetler said, her mother “reminded me that there were no visitors in the delivery room when my sister and I were born, not even the spouse. So for most if not all of us, this situation is unprecedented, but there have been those kinds of unprecedented situations before (never mind the biblical ones) and yet the church lived on because of faithfulness, including faithful generosity.”
Margaret Marcuson offers a way pastors can bring their best to their ministry without giving it all away, so they can have a greater impact and find more satisfaction. An American Baptist minister, she is the author of Leaders who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and Money and Your Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance. Find out more about sustainable ministry at margaretmarcuson.com.
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at email@example.com.
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