Teaching Faithful Generosity
By Andy DeBraber
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 22, No. 2 in 2020. You can access the full issue here.
Every Sunday after worship, about fifteen people from our little church took over the back room of the Riverview Restaurant. The smell of good food and the sound of even better conversation filled the room.
As the new pastor of a small church in a small resort town, this weekly brunch was a great opportunity to break bread and build relationships with parishioners. It was also not financially sustainable to take our young family of four out to eat each Sunday. Others were altogether excluded by the price tag.
So we brought brunch in-house. Our Second Sunday Potlucks filled the Friendship Hall each month. Whether you brought a bag of chips or the best brisket money could buy, you were welcome. If you were visiting or forgot it was the second Sunday, you were welcome, too.
The quality, quantity, and variety of food that filled our bellies was no match for the Riverview Restaurant. The communal joy that filled our hearts deepened our formation into the living body of Christ. This was faithful generosity in action, from the loving care that many people took in preparing and sharing their prized dishes to the wide welcome offered at no cost.
Teaching faithful generosity in our churches boils down to:
We hold everything in trust
Nothing is ours alone but given to us for the sharing of life with others, from potluck dishes to pocketbooks. While our culture and economy preach that we will never have enough and must hoard more for ourselves, we as the church must regularly preach this counter-cultural message of communal hope. Jesus talked about money and possessions second only to the reign of God.
Giving is living
All living things are generative and we are made in the image of God the creator. Not only do people enjoy giving to others but social science shows it’s good for us, positively impacting our mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as even our financial wellbeing. Yet, as Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson ask in The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, if giving is so good for us, why don’t we do it more?
One reason is that half of our people are living on 110% of their income. We have an amazing opportunity to walk our congregations through the fear, shame, baggage, and guilt many feel around money. Offering courses in personal financial stewardship is a great blessing to our members and to the wider community. In partnership with others in our community, we can teach not only how to be faithful stewards of money but also how to be generous philanthropists.
Generosity is Discipleship
Being generous is
- loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves
- meeting the needs of those around us
- living our mission as a church—there is no greater love than to lay down our lives for others (John 15:13)
Generosity must be incorporated into all our forms of discipleship, most importantly as a regular topic in worship and preaching, but also in Bible studies, new member classes, newsletters, children’s curriculums, youth group planning, and end- of-life workshops. We must be clear about our need as humans to give. We must also be clear that people’s financial gifts to the mission of the church are crucial to our thriving: “No money, no mission,” as one church member regularly reminded us. Our delight is to live into Jesus’ invitation to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) rather than the culturally dominant scarcity mindset.
Asking people to give
Consider how often someone asking you to do or be or give something has changed your life for the good: sometimes in major ways, from marriage to your career choice to meaningful volunteering. Asking is where we as a church often fall short when it comes to money. We must ask more explicitly. We do this by having a clear call to the offering in worship: “Here is the good news of what you are doing in the world by making this offering of money!”
We do this by providing guidance about what is a good or expected amount to give. Many of our people have not grown up in the church, or even if they did money wasn’t talked about at church or at home. Ask for an amount that will make a difference to the giver. And ask them to give it as the first fruits of their labor: often today that means doing so as a weekly or monthly automatic payment from a bank account or credit card. Call or visit people in person to ask them to give or increase their gifts each year: this will increase generosity more than any other activity! Be willing to call your top givers both during a financial crisis and during times of visioning and dreaming. They are invested in you and want to help you succeed!
Recognize that people give differently and so offer different avenues for giving, from the different methods people can use to give (electronic, offering plate, planned giving, text to give, credit card, recurring giving, etc.) to the different types of offering they can give to (pledge campaign, capital campaign, special offerings, mission offerings, new projects, etc).
Celebrating all forms of giving
My favorite story of how to teach faithful generosity in our congregations comes from the church that decided to offer its space free to the community. This building, they said, is so important to the vitality of our neighborhood that anyone should be able to use it free of cost or expectation anytime, with church events taking priority.
People don’t know what to do when they get something so valuable for free. Transactional relationships become mutual partnerships to benefit the common good, the kin-dom of God.
Like many of you, this congregation relied on rental income. Once they started giving their building away for free, their revenue and their membership increased. Those in the congregation, those around the congregation, and community philanthropists saw how integral this church was to making this a great place and gave generously.
Be sure to celebrate the financial giving to the church, from the weekly offering to the annual congregational meeting. Then be sure to also celebrate all the volunteers. Faithful generosity is about creating a culture of generosity throughout your organization, spreading out into your community.
Celebrate the ways that you give your building away to the community, from AA groups to special events. Compliment people regularly. Celebrate the ways people give and volunteer to support other organizations in the community. It’s amazing to see the great impact the people of the church have. In your social media, celebrate not only your work and mission but also other organizations doing tremendous work. Have your pastor and church leaders take a few minutes each week to send hand- written thank you notes.
A special note here: Recognize and honor people when they make a gift for the first time to your church. They have just given you a piece of their heart (Matthew 6:21). Treat it as such. Don’t wait until they get the next regularly scheduled giving statement. Send them a note. A first-time gift is the hardest to acquire. A second-time gift is the next hardest. Once two gifts are given, the chances of more gifts goes up substantially.
Finally, if I could wave a magic wand and have churches do one thing to teach faithful generosity, it would be to have someone from your church or community stand up in worship each Sunday and say “I give to this church because…” or “I love this church because…” We are inspired by regularly hearing the good our generosity accomplishes in the world and in the lives of those sitting next to us.
Andy DeBraber is a Generosity Officer for the United Church of Christ. He is the former Executive Director of Heartside Ministry and former pastor of the Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ
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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