Developing a giving conversation with your church
James Glass shares how to build a culture of generosity and details practical ways to talk with your congregation about giving.
The man who believed in the invisible church
The story is told of a pastor who had been invited to preach at a church as the guest preacher. Before the service began, a young man approached him and began to tell him that he didn’t believe in the visible church, he only believed in the invisible church.
The service began. The pastor preached his sermon. The congregation sang the closing hymn. And the congregation began to disperse.
The young man who had spoken to the pastor before the service approached the pastor once again. This time, he shared that he had a financial need and asked the pastor if there was any chance he could help.
The pastor held out his left hand. Then with his right hand, he pretended to write on it. Then he drew his right hand away as though tearing a piece of paper and presented it to the young man. The young man was puzzled.
“What’s that?” he asked the pastor.
“That’s an invisible cheque from the invisible church,” replied the pastor.
Unfortunately, invisible cheques have no currency in the visible church. They don’t pay gas and electricity bills. They don’t pay salaries. And they don’t increase the offering.
Many pastors and church leaders find it hard to talk about money.
There are often good reasons for this. Some feel awkward about talking about money in general. Culturally, British people are often reticent about talking about money.
Some are afraid of criticism. “They’re always talking about money” is sometimes levelled at pastors who seldom talk about money.
Or, if you are salaried, you might worry that you are appealing to people to keep you in a job. Then there are theological reasons. Perhaps a concern that people will think you are preaching a prosperity gospel.
And I am sure you could add to the list.
Talking about giving
So how do we talk about money?
We need to think more in terms of talking about giving than talking about money.
Developing an approach to talking about giving
I want to share with you what you might call “9 dimensions of developing a giving conversation with your church”
Before we look at some ways of developing the “giving conversation”, let me make some observations, most of them gained through hard experience!
First of all, people in the church you pastor want the church to do well. If you don’t believe that, then you do have difficulty. In many churches, many of the people have been in the church longer than the pastor and will still be there when the pastor moves on. They have, therefore, a vested interest in the wellbeing of the church.
That is not to say that they “get” giving and the crucial role that it plays in not only the ability of the church to function on a practical level but in respect of its spiritual health.
It’s important then that we recognise that even though people might not have an understanding in this area, it does not necessarily mean that they don’t have a heart for the church. And that is an advantage for any pastor. If you believe that people have a heart for the church, it makes it easier to talk about giving.
People also like to know if things are tough financially. I can remember many years ago the church that I was pastoring went through a hard time financially. I didn’t want to say anything, partly because I felt embarrassed that this had happened on my watch, and partly because I believed that as long as God, the elders and the treasurer knew, that was enough.
Eventually, I shared the problem with the congregation. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Some people set up new standing orders. Others said that they had just forgotten to tithe! It was clear that if people had known sooner, they would have given sooner!
Sometimes we assume sub-consciously that people don’t want to give. However, if we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in them, it might be safer to assume that they do want to give. Incidentally, the problem wasn’t fixed with one announcement. We had to develop more of a conversation and manage our way out of the difficulties. Most financial problems don’t happen overnight and they don’t go away overnight. On occasion they do, but often they don’t.
The Bible talks about stewards and stewardship. In contemporary terms, that’s more or less what we would think of as management. And godly management of money is crucially important if we want to build the kind of trust that creates an environment in which giving will flourish.
Another pattern that I have observed when it comes to local church finance, is the temptation to be either extremely spiritual or extremely practical in managing church finance. Those who are extremely spiritual ignore or play down the practicalities of planning. Those who are extremely practical almost rule God out. Neither approach glorifies God. We need to be spiritual and do spreadsheets.
Finally, I would suggest that if the only time we talk about giving is when we announce the offering, we can easily sound as though we are simply making an appeal for people to give donations to a charity. We need to find ways of weaving giving into the life and culture of the church to rescue this God-given privilege from being reduced to a “donation”.
This next section provides some practical ways that I hope will help you to develop the giving conversation in your church.
9 dimensions of developing a giving conversation in your church
To begin with we need to ask ourselves what God says in His Word about money and giving. Unless we have a conviction about what God says, at best, we will end up passing on the ideas of others, at worst, we will avoid the subject altogether.
You don’t have to look too far in the Bible to see what a crucial issue this is.
How we use our money is a basic discipleship issue.
Jesus said that we cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6.24)
The rich young ruler was a challenge about his love of money. The love of money, says Paul, is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6.10).
Family of God
Giving wasn’t just a personal issue. In 2 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul laid a very clear expectation on the whole Corinthian church about what he expected in terms of an offering.
Fighting the world, the flesh and the devil
And of course, there is a major element of spiritual warfare tied up in giving. When Jesus spoke of money in the scripture quoted above, He used the term mammon, which was something more than the cash in your pocket. It referred to a kind of materialistic spiritual power which is opposed to the kingdom of God.
Many of us have taught and teach tithing. Some think that it is legalistic and therefore restricted to the old covenant. This isn’t the place to make a case for tithing, simply to say that Abraham practised tithing and he was pre-law. Also, if you want to be strictly New Testament in your approach, you will have to go way beyond tithing!
Those are just a few highlights to remind us that a biblical foundation for our thinking and practice when it comes to giving is essential. Developing biblical convictions about giving delivers us from thoughts like “They’ll think it’s all about me” or “This is a necessary evil to keep the church running”.
Instead, we will see giving as God’s idea. We will see it as an opportunity and a privilege instead of a duty and an obligation. And people will feel the difference as it will manifest in the way we communicate.
We now come to some of the more practical aspects of developing the giving conversation.
Stating the obvious
One of the things that I have found is that sometimes we have to state the obvious when it comes to giving – or at least what we think is obvious.
I can remember a conversation explaining to a church member that the tithes paid for the upkeep of the building and paid the salaries and the utility bills. He was shocked. He thought all that was paid by the council!
I can’t imagine anyone is under that kind of illusion any longer. However, people don’t always “join the dots” when it comes to money and church. It’s as though somehow the bills I listed above no longer apply.
It helps to explain what ministry costs in the UK in the twenty-first century.
Setting out spiritual principles
We also need to explain how giving works. God has an economy that functions along different lines to the economies of this world.
God’s economy works with concepts like sacrifice, sowing and reaping, generosity, promises. That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in what the Bible says about giving. Think of yourself as a minister who has to explain the Kingdom of God’s economic policy.
After an explanation, we must provide information.
I know that this sounds basic. But I have found that people need to be reminded over and over again about the ways they can give.
It’s worth keeping an eye on the appropriate section of ElimNet to make sure that you are up to speed with the most recent developments in giving vehicles. This has become even more apposite in a time when we are not able to gather physically and physically give our offering.
Once again, I appreciate that some people feel awkward about this. But remember, you are helping people who want to give. Do all that you can to provide people with the necessary information so that they can have the privilege of giving.
Again, this is biblical. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul instructed the Corinthians how they were to make up the offering. It was to be done on the first day of the week. It was to be appropriate to their level of income. This was the arrangement that he had come to with the churches in Galatia (1 Corinthians 16.1-2)
We have to find ways to extend the conversation about giving that extend beyond the offering and beyond the annual sermon or series on giving.
By the way, please do preach on giving. Preaching elevates a subject. Lack of preaching on subjects relegates them. We can’t allow giving to drop into the second division of Christian values. Letters, emails, videos, testimonies, pages on websites, social media, PowerPoint slides in the announcements. The list is endless. Of course, each of us has to find what approaches fit our context best.
In 2 Corinthians 8.1-9 (N.I.V.), Paul is encouraging the Corinthian church in their giving. In so doing, he relates how the churches in Macedonia gave way beyond their ability, even though they were very poor.
As you read through verses 1-9 you find Paul associating giving with grace, generosity, love, sharing. And he even relates this all to the ultimate act of giving, Christ giving His life for us.
The picture that he paints sets giving in a much bigger context. It’s set against the backdrop of practices and attitudes that we value highly as Christians. And of course, he connects it to the very centre of our faith, the self-giving of Christ in His incarnation and death on the cross. It’s a very powerful piece of scripture about the value of giving. One of the things that I think we can learn from it is the power of associating giving with values that every Christian holds in high esteem.
We can elevate the value and worth of giving by including it when we talk about other Christian values. Giving is an expression of love. It is an expression of grace. It reveals generosity. It enables us to share with others and connect with others. It’s a privilege, not a duty. It belongs with faith, hope, love, joy and all those other evidences of the Spirit’s work in our lives. So let’s make that association, just as Paul did.
In verse 7 of 2 Corinthians 8 Paul says the following:
“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.”
This is another example of an association of giving with other godly values. And it is also an exhortation for the Corinthians to “raise their game” in giving.
It’s as though Paul is saying “You’re brilliant in these particular areas, how about being brilliant at giving?”
To exhort people to get better at giving is something positive. Especially if you are doing it based on something at which they already excel.
How does this kind of approach sound: “We’re are so good in our worship, in small groups and children’s work. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we became just as good at giving?”
That’s celebration and exhortation all at once! You are building people up when you approach the subject in this manner.
Note that in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul openly celebrates the giving of the Macedonian churches. And he celebrates the areas of strength in the Corinthian church.
It’s easier to talk about giving in an atmosphere of a celebration than an atmosphere of desperation!
Showing appreciation is very important. I believe we need to affirm the church over and over again in its giving and generosity. Even when things are tough, lines like “Thank you for being so faithful in tithes and offerings” send out such a powerful message.
And it’s so important to acknowledge that God is our provider and to give thanks for His provision. Paul does just that in Philippians 4.10-19. When you read it slowly and think about the depth of connection he has with the Philippian church, you begin to feel something of the impact giving has on those who give and on those who receive.
Paul is clearly expressing his gratitude both to them and to God for their generosity.
Finally, the expectation that God will bless us for our giving is part of the economics of the Kingdom of God that we talked about earlier.
Many verses provide a basis for believing that God blesses givers. One of the most powerful is 2 Corinthians 9.8: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
All things. At all times. Having all that you need. Three “alls”!
We can expect to see God’s hand move in provision when we give. Building that expectation into people will help them to see giving as more than just making a donation or even making a sacrifice. It will enable them to see that they are unlocking the grace of God over their lives and His church.
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