Is anyone feeling generous?


Churches need money to do their work.

Most people seem to know and accept that.  However, many pastors hate to ask for money, and many church members don’t like being asked.  Which would seem to present a challenge.

Every year my church has a month-long campaign to accumulate pledges toward its annual budget.  Not all churches raise money this way, but a lot do.  The budget then is based on what people promise they will give during the coming year.

It’s not a fool-proof method.  Some people don’t or won’t pledge (studies show that 20 percent of all Christians give nothing).  Others will never bother to complete their pledge.  Still, we can usually estimate within about three or four percent of the pledge total what our annual budget will be.

I served a church early in my career that used what they called a “faith giving” system.  As far as I could tell, “faith giving” meant that we guessed every year about what our members would give and then prayed that we would receive it.  I think the faith involved was mainly that of the leadership.

But here’s the thing.  Like so much else in the church, stewardship is changing.  A recent book title echoes the old Oldsmobile commercial (“It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”): Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.

An older generation saw value in institutions, and so they gave money to preserve those institutions and sat on their boards and otherwise devoted themselves to them.  A younger generation by and large doesn’t have much use for institutions, but they do like to make investments in things they believe in.  And of course they like to see a return on those investments.

The speaker at a stewardship seminar I attended recently recommended that churches like mine send separate mailings, ones that appealed to different age groups and beliefs about giving.  So, one mailing, for example, might go to older members and might appeal to their love for this church.  Another mailing might go to younger members and might appeal to their desire to furnish the new youth center.  (I can’t say I like this trend.)

One thing about giving has apparently not changed.  The best givers are those with generous hearts, those who have cultivated over the years a spirit of generosity.  (Giving is apparently a learned behavior, as opposed to something that comes naturally to us.)

And yet the church continues to use language like tithe (actually a good biblical term), fair share, first fruits (another good biblical term), stewardship, and sacrificial giving.  All of this language suggests that giving is an obligation, which it may be, but obligation does nothing to stir the heart.  On the other hand, there’s no telling what a generous spirit might be willing to do.

I like to give.  I have enjoyed giving ever since I was a young boy and my father would press a quarter into my hand before the offering plate came around.  Something about dropping that quarter into the plate left me with a glow which I have not forgotten.  I knew already then  that I had done something that would make a difference.

As our stewardship month approaches, I’m tempted to hammer home the theme that my people had darn well better step up to support the work of the church (and pay my salary).  But I know that the better strategy is to cultivate a few more generous hearts.

What we need, what all churches need – more than anything else – is a few more grateful people.  And how hard can it be to feel grateful?

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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7 Responses to Is anyone feeling generous?

  1. Diane Brucks McDonald January 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Realizing I am not part of the youth you have described, I feel like the BIble tells us what our view, response and obligation should be. Call it what you want…. I still like tithe…. but we are called to give to God. We do that through our church and other Christian based charities.
    Jesus was not afraid to ask. We as believers like to be blessed. Let us all come full circle.

  2. mike January 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Suggestion: “Ask Me Again In 3 Months” campaign

    We are one of those families that – over the last couple of years – has been hit very hard by financial loss. We have faith that things will turn-around, but until they do we are cautious about committing beyond our certainty of our ability to deliver.

    So…perhaps taking a page from the speaker at the stewardship you attended might not be a bad idea (I know you won’t be keen on this) .

    How about a customized stewardship mailing to a sub-group (the speaker’s idea) to those folks who have limited capability to give at the moment but are optimistic that they can pull their weight in the near future (my idea).

    Call it the…”Please Get Back To Me In 3 Months” campaign. Gives both giver and receiver something to feel good about. Of course, you’ve got to make sure that everyone remembers to circle the 90th day out on their calendars. And this clearly is not an approach you want to take at the start of a stewardship drive. Just a thought.

    BTW – I bet a pile of Morgan silver dollars or Susan B. Anthony coins pictured at the head of your blog might have been more inspirational than the small change shown in that pic.
    Oops did I say “I bet”?….I meant “I think”

    • Doug January 30, 2013 at 6:54 am #

      Mike, the idea of a targeted campaign might work well in a larger church like ours, and I’d like to think we already know about situations like yours where the giving will return eventually. As for the photo, I’m glad you liked it. I consciously decided NOT to show a photo of bills (or silver dollars) to avoid the suggestion that the church looks like a casino.

      • Bob Sadowski January 30, 2013 at 8:25 am #

        a casino night/monthly might not be a bad idea for fundraising.

  3. BOB Sadowski January 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I will pledge half of all winnings at track or casino, so far I am $20- in the hole, but will also continue to pledge my regular amount. I am still shocked at how little most people contribute to the church. I guess they think Obama will cover the other expenses, like he does with 41% of the population, oh wait, that is our money too.

  4. Sue Brandon January 29, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    We plan to increase our pledge and continue our Capital Campaign Pledge. Sure wish more of our friends will join us.

  5. Kathy Craven January 30, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Thanks Doug for a great way to kick off our March campaign and to get people really thinking about generous hearts. After all, God gives us everything by giving us life. It only makes sense for us to give back for that great gift. Let’s go 1st Pres. and make this a very special pledge campaign!

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