By Kent E. Fillinger
Here’s how four churches are creating a culture of generosity among their members.
In their new book, Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church, Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard define generosity as “a lifestyle in which we share all that we have, are and ever will become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace.”
Willard is the director of generosity initiatives for Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org). He oversees the Generous Churches Leadership Communities and Innovation Labs that work with a cohort of 10 to 12 churches over a two-year period to address three questions: What is your current generosity strategy? What are some possible generosity strategies? And what will be your new generosity strategy?
The goal of the program is to inspire generosity. And, while the stated goal isn’t to increase giving to churches, a consistent by-product for churches completing the program is increased per capita giving and more giving units. Willard has consulted or collaborated with the following four churches to achieve an enhanced focus on generosity.
Community Christian Church
Jon Ferguson shared how the church teaches generosity as a lifestyle and a mind-set. The church wants its members to develop a “generosity reflex,” where the natural reaction is to look for opportunities to give based on an “as you go” view of generosity.
Community Christian strategically uses the weekly offering time in its worship services to cast the vision for generosity and to reinforce this cultural value. The church even renamed its offering as the “giving back to God time.” The church shares a story, testimony, or video example of people living generously, or those impacted by generosity, while collecting the offering.
The church also regularly says “thank you” to its financial contributors. Community Christian specifically thanks all first-time givers with either a note or phone call, and it also identifies and thanks members who increase their giving and who excel in their giving over a period of time.
When the recession hit five years ago and offerings at Community fell below the budgeted needs, the first inclination was to pull back on ministry initiatives. The leadership asked the staff to fast and pray to better discern God’s direction for this challenging season.
“The least likely guy on our staff spoke up during a meeting and said he sensed that God was calling the church not to shrink back, but rather to step it up,” Ferguson said. This comment quickly birthed the idea to give away an entire week’s offerings to ministries outside of the church. The church called the week “Celebration Generosity,” and on the inaugural weekend $250,000 was raised to give to four ministry partners. Immediately, the church’s giving went from sagging to supplying the ministry needs as the generosity wave continued.
The church continues this generous practice annually, resulting in more than $500,000 given away to missions outside of the church each of the last three years. New people start attending as a result because they want to be part of a generous church doing significant ministry.
Real Life Christian Church
Executive minister Mark Montemayor says the church’s giving growth continues to outpace its attendance growth, even during a difficult economy, which is noteworthy considering Real Life has grown 126 percent in the last three years. The church has invested more than $650,000 in helping people in the community and around the world during this time. In spite of all this, Montemayor said the church needs to focus more on teaching and modeling generosity. Real Life is in the midst of developing a new strategy to create a stronger culture of generosity.
Real Life wants to assist its members in connecting the spiritual dots between one’s relationship with God and his or her generosity, because every aspect of generosity is really an issue of one’s spiritual condition.
The church invests heavily in meeting the needs of the hurting in its local community, and as a result, community leaders consistently recognize the church’s contribution. Real Life employs both dollars and disciples to meet needs locally and globally.
Even with a strong track record of outreach and giving, Montemayor feels as though the church’s generosity potential is still emerging.
Summit Christian Church
Steve Bond started Summit Christian Church 14 years ago, infusing stewardship into his annual teaching calendar from the beginning. Bond has updated his giving language over the years because he realized his congregation zoned out when he taught tithing.
Three years ago, he called the church to “purposeful giving” and asked each person to start giving something. Bond told the church he did not want them “to leave their leftover lunch money” in the offering plate, and challenged everyone to give at least $100 a month to “get into the game” of giving. The language shift combined with the specific, achievable challenge spurred many to start giving for the first time. Additionally, Summit targets its top 100 givers and makes a direct annual appeal for a specific project to cultivate sacrificial gifts.
Bond says, as lead pastor, he is responsible for what he calls the “stewardship of the ask.” Bond understands the critical importance of giving people the opportunity to engage generously in the mission of the church, and realizes this only happens when people are specifically asked to give. Bond says it is his role and responsibility to present a vision that people can invest in to make an eternal impact.
Bond defined generosity as going beyond what is expected, or giving more than the minimum. The church worked on a plan this year to raise $10 million over the next two years, with $1 million dedicated for compassion and outreach efforts. This goal reflected a 60 percent increase in giving. Bond told about a game-changing staff meeting in the late spring where the youngest staff member asked if he could say something about the giving goal. The 25-year-old said that planning to give 10 percent of the church’s capital campaign to outreach did not seem generous because the church had always tithed to outreach. The rest of the staff quickly rallied around this sentiment, and Bond said within 5 minutes it was obvious the church needed to do more. The church revised its goal to $11 million, and committed to give $2 million, or 18 percent, to compassion and outreach ministries outside of the church.
Mountain Christian Church
Ben Cachiaras summarized the progression of giving into three helpful stages. Stage one is when someone asks, “How much of my money do I have to give back to God?” Stage two is when a person asks, “How much of God’s money will I give back?” And stage three is when a disciple asks, “How much of God’s money do I need to live on so I can give away the rest for kingdom impact?” The final stage reflects the spirit of generosity.
Cachiaras connects giving in the church to both personal worship and corporate mission. The church mentions giving weekly, preaches about giving annually, and studies giving regularly in small groups as part of the discipleship process.
Mountain Christian employs the following strategies to instill generosity throughout the congregation:
• Tell stories of generosity and make heroes out of people who give so that living generously becomes the norm that everyone strives to reach.
• Give money to mission partners publicly in weekend services to allow members to celebrate their contributions.
• Make it easy for people to give online and at kiosks in the lobby.
• Remain open and transparent about finances and spending practices to demonstrate trustworthiness.
• Encourage people to give to missions unrelated to the church; if this helps people learn to be generous, then it serves to advance their discipleship. The church wants its people to realize it is not about what the church wants from them, but what it wants for them.
• Say “thank you” privately and publicly to those who are giving.
• Promote child sponsorship. Mountain members give more than $1 million annually to sponsor children. This is money the church never sees. Cachiaras said the church discovered this giving “primes the pump and doesn’t run the well dry. The more we give away, the more God replenishes.” Child sponsorship giving also helps people learn the discipline of regular giving, which results in helping people grow as givers.
• Send giving reminders and letters of encouragement to people who fall behind on their giving commitments to the church.
Cachiaras said developing a culture of generosity does not happen by accident and that generosity must be repeatedly modeled. The church discovered generosity is contagious.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.