When I became the pastor of my church 10 years ago, our financial numbers were depressing for two reasons. First, because we were spending 99% of everything that came in on ourself; we had NO margin! We weren’t wasting money on glamorous things, it was just normal day to day expenses that had gotten out of hand.
Second, because only a small percentage of people in the congregation were financially supporting the church. Our attendance was 150+ but the giving units were way lower.
Fast forward 10 years later and everything is different. Our church operates on 79% of our income, and our giving/member ratio is much higher. We’ve given away over $500,000 to plant churches, build orphanages, and help families in our local community. God has been good to us.
There are many great blogs with strategies and tactics to increase giving in your church- I’m going to leave that to the experts- (honestly I was too dumb to know how to do it the right way) instead let me give you 3 things that I had to change about my leadership to create a more generous culture in our church.
1. Stop apologizing
When I would preach a sermon about giving I would start with preface statements and apologies. I wanted to make sure no one was offended, or if someone was visiting the church, they knew we weren’t one of “those” churches that wanted their money.
Looking back, I did a major disservice to my congregation because I was apologizing for talking about something Jesus loved talking about. It was also a disservice because I was apologizing for talking about a topic that was most prevalent in the lives of the congregation.
After doing an anonymous survey of the congregation, they said the issue causing their life the most stress and pain was “money trouble/debt.” I had a captive audience desperate for solutions to their biggest problem in life, and I was apologizing for preaching on the topic.
I made a very intentional shift in my mindset to never apologize for speaking on the topic of money again. It’s too important. As a matter of fact, I now do the opposite at the beginning of every message about giving. I say something like, “I’m so glad you’re here today because I’m speaking on the topic of giving and money management. I can’t think of a topic more relevant to your everyday life. If you are a guest visiting today, I’m really excited you’re here because you’re going to hear me speak on a topic I’m passionate about, and you get the chance to hear the truth about money. The culture tells you a lot of things that don’t work, but God teaches us the truth. I think you’re going to like what you hear today.”
The change in language sets the tone for the message. I don’t tiptoe anymore. I passionately preach the truth of God’s word. His way works and my way hurts. Everyone needs to know.
2. Stop Debating
There are people gifted by God to excel at scholastic debate. I marvel at it, but it’s not my gift. I’m not implying I shouldn’t be able to give a sound reason for why I believe what I believe, but you can tell the difference between the people who want to debate for kicks and giggles and those who are genuinely seeking to understand God’s word. I made an important decision to stop debating the validity of tithing.
In my experience, the people who wanted to debate if tithing was biblical were lifelong church people looking for loopholes. You can disagree, and I understand the New Testament doesn’t say as much as I wish it did on the topic of tithing, but I decided Matthew 23:23 was good enough for me to feel confident, “You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” I came to a conclusion: “if I’m right, I’ll be obedient and blessed, and if I’m wrong, I just missed out on more steak dinners and retirement investing.”
Stop focusing on the minority. Stop trying to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. For every person who wants to argue with you about tithing, there are ten more in your church who are looking for counsel and guidance to take the next step in their faith. Focus on them.
3. Have One on One Conversations
It’s tempting to use sermons to relay a message that would be more effective as a private conversation. Whether it’s people’s sin, church attendance, or giving, a sermon allows you to vaguely address the issue, without looking someone in the eye. Jesus was The Great Teacher, but He understood the power of a private conversation.
Once I made the decision to change the culture of giving at our church, I made a bold move. I’m not even sure I recommend this for everyone, but I knew it was something I needed to do. I asked our clerk to give me the names of every active leader/influencer in our church who I assumed tithed but didn’t. Not knowing people’s exact income she had to make a judgment call but decided if someone gave less than $2,000 they were most likely giving less than 10% of their income. After I received the list of 20+ names, I scheduled one on one meetings with each family.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was still a young pastor, in my late 20’s, and most of the people I was meeting with were older than me. Before I tell you what I said, let me tell you why I said it.
I believe so passionately in the power of generosity; it keeps me awake at night. In my opinion, giving is as important a spiritual discipline as studying the Bible, prayer, and fasting. So if I found out one of my leader/influencers wasn’t reading their Bible, I wouldn’t hesitate to meet them for coffee and ask them why? I would do whatever it took to help them. The same is true for prayer. If one of my leaders wasn’t praying, and I found out, I wouldn’t hesitate to meet them, ask why, and help them find a solution. So why should it be different with giving? Yes, talking with people about money, sex, and politics is always uncomfortable but uncomfortable conversations are what sets apart great leaders from average ones.
With that conviction I met with each family on the list, and respectfully asked them why they weren’t tithing and, assuming they believed they should, I offered to help them take the next steps towards obedience to God.
I’m not going to lie. I assumed at least half of the people would be offended and leave the church, but I was wrong. One man left. The overwhelming majority thanked me for having the courage to meet with them and caring enough about them to bring it up. The motive behind your words make all the difference, and thankfully the Holy Spirit helped convey my heart.
Changing any culture is never easy, but if you’re in it for the long haul, stay consistent, and truly believe in what you’re trying to accomplish it will happen. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.
It’s worth mentioning that you can’t change the culture just by talking about it, you have to model it. I wrote more about that in this post, “3 Painful Reasons Your Church Isn’t More Generous” but “don’t get discouraged in doing good” as the Apostle Paul said, “at just the right time” the culture will change and eventually the thing you swore would never happen will be the new normal.