Archive - Church generosity RSS Feed

The Indispensable Ingredient

I was in San Diego a couple of weeks ago to attend the Harbor Presbyterian MultiSite 3.0 conference. It is not a big conference, but I was impressed with the depth and breadth of the wisdom and counsel offered to the attendees, most of whom were planters or multisite campus pastors.

My friend, Dick Kaufmann, is the founding pastor of Harbor Presbyterian. He was Executive Pastor of Redeemer Church in New York before leaving for San Diego a little over ten years ago to begin Harbor Presbyterian. Today, they are a thriving multi-site church reaching San Diego for the Kingdom in a meaningful way. Dick is one of those guys who doesn’t say much, but when he does, you probably ought to pay attention.

The last session of the two days was an open forum Q & A. It seemed to me that a proverbial tsunami of information had been shared, so I asked the question — “Among everything that has been shared, are there any 1 or 2 factors that rank above everything else in establishing a viable, gospel centered church plant?” Dick was the first one to respond and here is what he said.

“To me, there is one indispensable ingredient. It is the personal holiness of the senior leader. Churches do not fail because of the lack of giftedness, bad preaching, poor location, wrong strategy, though these factors can have an impact. However, if the senior leader is not committed to a lifestyle of gospel-centered personal holiness and that leader has a moral or integrity failure, the collateral damage is huge. So, to me, that is the indispensable ingredient.”

Yep, that’s it. Dick nailed it.

The one indispensable ingredient — personal holiness.

Everything else is a distant second.

Thanks, Dick, for reminding us how important this is.

Talking Multisite with Jim Tomberlin

I had a chance to catch up with my friend, Jim Tomberlin, recently to ask him a few questions. Jim is a leading voice on multi-site churches. He began his multi-site church journey in the mid-1990s when he was the senior pastor of Woodman Valley Chapel. In 2000, he went on to pioneer the multi-site model at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Since 2005 he has been consulting and coaching churches in developing and implementing multi-campus strategies.

I posed a few questions and here is what Jim had to say.

A lot has changed in a short period of time. I can remember, not too long ago, when multi-site was a new concept. Now, it seems everyone is talking multi-site. What is a common misconception about multi-site?

When people hear multisite, they tend to think megachurch and video sermons. Yes, some multisite churches are also megachurches. However, the reality is that megachurches (weekend attendance of 2,000+) comprise only a third of all multisite churches nationwide and only half of all multisite churches utilize video to deliver their teaching content.

Is it easier for a new church to start out as a multi-site church or an established church to become multi-site?

In the long run, it is definitely easier to start out as a church with a multisite mindset than to transition a church from a mono-site mindset to a multi-site paradigm. The older and larger a church is going multisite, the more difficult it is to move to a multisite paradigm.

What are the challenges of each?

Older and larger churches will tend to be more “mothership-centric” and view multisite campuses as “satellites” that revolve around the hub campus. They function as a church with multisite campuses. Younger and newer churches that start with a multisite mindset tend be more “community-centric” and see themselves as a church of multisite campuses. Both can and do work, but ultimately a church of multisite campuses will have less inter-campus relationship and management challenges. Starbucks and Target stores have a central headquarters, but you don’t get the sense that their local stores are satellites of headquarters.

If I asked you to name the top 2-3 critical success factors for making multi-site work effectively, what would they be?

The three most critical factors of a successful multisite strategy are a compelling reason/vision for multisiting, a high capacity campus pastor leader who bleeds the DNA of the church, and delivering the overall campus experience as good or better than the sending campus. If any of these three are lacking, the multisite strategy will be an uphill climb.

Okay, so what’s the other side — the most common mistakes churches make in trying to become multi-site.

Not having a compelling vision for multisiting, leading out with a follower rather than a leader, launching too close or too far, under-delivering the campus experience, not embracing the paradigm shift from a mono-site to a multi-site paradigm.

I see you have a new ebook. What’s in it and how can I get it?
My free eBook “125 Tips for MultiSite Churches and Those Who Want To Be” is the distillation of my 15 years as a multisite pioneer and church consultant. My multisite journey began for me as a senior pastor of a megachurch in Colorado, got me invited to pioneer the model at Willow Creek Church in Chicago, and propelled me into full-time multisite consulting nationally and internationally. I have been tweeting a daily multisite tip for several years and have compiled these tips into an eBook in an easily accessible topical manner. The eBook also includes helpful articles I have written over the years and features a snapshot profile of ten successful multisite churches. You can read and download it here:

Great insights, Jim! Thanks for taking the time.

Organizations Are The Way They Are…

…because of the way they are.

I have seen it any number of times but it really crystallized for me in the last few days. Organizations, including and especially churches, do not end up the way they are by accident. It happens on purpose. The excellent church continually finds ways to do things better and reach more people. Other churches struggle just to maintain whatever they have and some do not even do that. Why does the excellent organization seem to make the right call almost every time and the mediocre entity seem to seldom make the right call?

The people, theology, thinking and systems all contribute to it. If nothing changes, nothing changes. The entity becomes stale and replicates itself over and over. On the other hand, the excellent entity keeps itself fresh and continually reinvents itself to adapt to changing circumstances. Whatever your church or organization is — for better or for worse — will replicate itself internally until there is a significant change of some kind.

You could peg it all on leadership and, to some extent, that would be true. But leadership alone is not the issue. I could show you churches who have had several leaders in recent years and the result of the church is the same. That begs the question of culture. Yes, that is probably an issue, too, in a number of cases. Culture matters more than vision. Bad culture trumps great vision every time. But there is more.

Churches make choices. Remaining the same is a choice for the most part. Challenging the status quo to effect change for the better is a choice, too. For there to be change, something has to change.

Sometimes, the change that is necessary is “major surgery” of some kind. More often, it is something not so major. Perhaps just a change of perspective for the senior leader or a team of leaders. Conferences are good and can provide a spark. Consultants can provide an additional perspective. But real change is more grass roots than that. You have to see it in action to be persuaded it will really work.

There are any number of ways you could do that, but here is one suggestion.  Find a church that is like what you want your church to become — missional, evangelistic, global missions, community outreach, worship and arts. Whatever it is you want to see change in your church, find a church who does that well and go spend time with them. Better yet, if they are local, arrange to swap places with the senior leader for a couple of days. In other words, you go see what makes their church tick and vice versa. Then sit with each other and share your observations. You’d be surprised how illuminating this can be.

Change does not happen all of a sudden. It takes time. But the decision to change can happen right now. For Christ’s sake, if your church is stuck, find a way to get unstuck. You don’t have to be the way you are. You can effect change.

Organizations are the way they are — because of the way they are.

Should The Jobless Tithe On Unemployment Benefits?

The Village Green section of Christianity Today magazine which presents answers from leading Christians to pressing questions. CTI asked me to contribute to this question for their March 2011 edition. Here is what I said.

Yes, with generosity!

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent economic meltdown is long-term unemployment, a reality in which many thought they would never find themselves. For the first time, hardworking, well-intentioned individuals are paying their bills with the income they receive from government checks instead of their profession or trade.

During these tough times, it is easy for churchgoing, typically responsible Christians to fall off the radar as they deal with the shame of being unable to provide for themselves or their families. In these times, it is more important than ever that Christians seek out pastors, leaders, and friends who can provide loving community and accountability to be faithful stewards in times of hardship.

Scripture does not speak directly to the topic of tithing on an income that is not your own, so I am reluctant to say firmly, “Yes, give this much.” But the Bible has much to say on the subject of generosity and gratitude.

There are four questions church leaders and others can ask to help someone struggling with tithing on their unemployment benefits.

• Do you see unemployment benefits as part of God’s provision for your life?

• Are you continuing to practice generosity in every area: time, talent, and treasure?

• How does giving a portion of your unemployment benefits differ from giving apportion of your “employed” benefits?

• Would giving a portion of your unemployment benefits demonstrate gratitude that God is providing for you in this season of your life?

Generosity is a condition of the heart. As resources come into the hands of a generous person, he or she can’t help giving them away. It’s second nature. A lifestyle of generosity should not stop when times are hard. If anything, tithing when income is low reinforces gratitude and trust, as it reminds the giver that God can use even the smallest gift to accomplish his will. It also reminds me that I am always dependent on God for my sustenance, whether I have savings in the bank and a regular paycheck or not. This is where Christian community should be most apparent, in encouraging and supporting each other to live out generosity in tough times.

I’m not going to argue that a specific percentage be given, just as I wouldn’t in responding to an employed individual. That is between the individual and God. Living a generous lifestyle is not an obligation but rather an opportunity. It is something I get to do for God’s kingdom, not something I have to do.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7–8, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 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.”

GENERIS Expands Leadership Team

Allen Walworth, co-owner of Generis with Jim Sheppard, is transitioning his share of Generis to Brad Leeper, who becomes President and Principal. Brad joined Generis in 2001 and quickly became adept at working with churches in their generosity and stewardship matters. In his 10 years with the firm, he has established himself as one of the top stewardship and generosity consultants in America. Allen will remain as a consultant working with church and ministry clients and will continue as part of the management team of Generis.

Jim Sheppard, CEO and Principal, said, “I am grateful for Allen’s contribution to Generis. As a result of our three years of partnership, Generis is strongly positioned to continue its momentum and influence in this important Kingdom work. I am delighted Allen will continue to be part of our team. Generis is very fortunate to have someone of Brad’s ability to assume Allen’s position and responsibilities. We have a strong belief in collaborative strength — the power of ‘we.’ The reality is it expands our leadership team and makes us stronger. I look forward to many years of successful partnership with Brad and to working with our expanded leadership team in serving churches and ministry organizations.”

For video message, click here: GENERIS Expands Leadership Team

Home Field Advantage

The World Series started this week and there is a lot of talk about who has home field advantage. There is a distinct advantage to playing at home. In fact, the benefit of winning the annual major league baseball All Star game is that your league gets home field advantage. There are 7 games, so one team gets 4 at home and the other team gets 3.

In the world of non-profits, the church has a home field advantage of sorts. The church is the only entity in the not for profit world that has the opportunity to look its people in the eye 52 times a year. Yeah, I know people are more mobile than ever and the definition of a regular attender is now 2 times per month, which is a lot lower than it was 8-10 years ago. But the fact remains, the church sees its people face-to-face more than any other entity in the non-profit world. This is what I call the “home field advantage.”

This advantage has always been important, but it is more critical then ever to developing and growing generosity in the post 2008 era. The effect of the economic meltdown of late 2008 has been to reframe the rules for raising ministry support. Donors are still willing to give, but they are vetting the choices they have for their charitable giving more than ever. Because of the home field advantage, the church has a distinct opportunity to stand out.

The question for church leaders is, what do I do with that advantage? Six things come to mind as important.

  • Build trust: All charitable funding is given in an atmosphere of trust. Leverage the weekend worship experience by building trust in all you do.
  • Cast (and re-cast) vision: People have to be constantly reminded of the vision of ministry of the church. There are three types of reminders — blast (fire hose), soak (garden hose), drip (soaker hose). There is an appropriate time for each. Use the blast sparingly and follow with soak and drip to make sure your people absorb it.
  • Shape culture: You can have great vision, but bad culture will cause problems in implementing it. Culture is never neutral — it is either for you or against you. Make sure you are always shaping culture so it is working for you.
  • Demonstrate impact: More than ever before, in the post 2008 money environment, givers are vetting the choices for their charitable dollars. Impact is like “ROI” — where givers see it, they direct their charitable giving. You have the stories of impact, but they are probably hidden in the numbers. Make sure you pull back the numbers and tell the stories of impact.
  • Enhance relationships: After trust, relationship is one of the most important factors in a giving decision. Build relationships while people are on site at your church. Make sure there are ample “met and greet” type spaces throughout your facility or campus.
  • Highlight good stewardship: Churches that practice good stewardship with the money that is given them earn the respect of givers. Let your people know about key decisions you make to be more effieient in the use of the funds entrusted to your church.

Check yourself against this list. Which of these things are you doing? And not doing?

Don’t ignore the home field advantage. Let it work for you in the post 2008 era of developing and growing support for your church.


I had a lot of choices for what I might talk about on Leadership Network’s “The Nines.” I spend a lot of time in churches with church leaders and their people. I gave a lot of thought to it and I have chosen one that is simple and, to a lot of people, pretty obvious. It is right under their nose. My only fear is that it is so simple, you might not see the great potential of it.

The reason I chose it is that hardly any churches are doing it. For the few that are, it is a game changer. I mean a TOTAL game changer.

So here it is.

I call it UNLEASH. Simply put, it is releasing the full potential of the high capacity people God has placed in your church. People who are pure difference makers — wherever they go, they make a difference with their leadership, their influence and their finances. In many cases, there is latent, powerful potential waiting to be released and these people are waiting for the church to make the first move.

First and foremost, let’s get one thing clear. This is not a money ploy. Though these people are probably the most financially blessed in your church, this is not about reaching them for their money. It is about reaching them for the difference they can make. It is a ministry strategy that will enhance the lives of these people and will greatly enhance the ministry effectiveness of the church.

This is a total win/win. They need the church and the church will greatly benefit from what they have to offer. It is a match made in heaven!

So what does this look like?

First, they need the church. Because of their success, our tendency is to believe high capacity people don’t need a lot of attention from the church. Wrong! They have all the problems of people who have less capacity. They have children issues, spouse problems, addictions, relational issues and spiritual malnourishment just like everybody else. And they have a whole host of issues that are unique to them.

Now, just so we are clear, this is not about violating the teaching of favoritism presented in the book of James. On the contrary, it is about reaching out to a category of people who are more like to fall through the crack of the church than to be shown favoritism.

Jesus suggested in 3 of the 4 Gospel accounts  that these people are so at risk that they need extra spiritual care. You know the teaching. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Financially blessed people are high risk for missing eternal life. It is important for the church to reach out to them.

The other side is that high capacity people — difference makers — have a lot to offer the church. It is important to hear their voices as you lead your church.

They are successful. For many of them, they lead large organizations and they know how to make big decisions. They can empathize with the Senior Pastor who sometimes feels “lonely at the top.” These difference makers have a very high percentage of being right. They weigh risks and examine ideas carefully. In short, it would be foolish to ignore them in leading the church.

So how do you go about doing this?

First, you have to find them. This is pretty easy. Most of them have identified themselves by who they are in the community and other places.

Once you find them, you have to create environments where you can build relationships with them. It might be a dinner gathering or something similar. Don’t let the group get too large. If you have too many of them in your church (that’s a good problem to have!), break them up into several smaller gatherings. Get them together periodically — not too often, but just often enough. Use this time to cast vision (and re-cast vision), build trust, enhance relationships. Let them see the ministry from the Senior Pastor’s cockpit to give them a glimpse of where you believe God is leading your church. They are used to the view from the cockpit — trust me — they do it every day.

Most importantly, create opportunities where you can listen to them, especially when embarking on new initiatives. Let them help you vet key moves before you pull the trigger. These people can help you see the full spectrum of the good, the bad and the ugly about new ideas. You may not always like what they say and you may not always agree, but you will never regret listening. I promise you that.

So that’s it. UNLEASH. Releasing the latent potential of the difference makers in your church.

Very simple, but very powerful.

Good for the people! Good for the church!

A total game changer.

Try it!

God bless you.

(This post was transcribed from the vidoe I did for Leadership Network’s “The Nines. Here is a link to the video: )

The Greatest Obstacle To Living Generously

We spend a lot of time worrying about stuff we have no control over. The economy is a GREAT example. Too many waste too much time in worry and fear about the future and the future of their money. For those of us who are Christ-followers, there is no precedent for this way of living.

Jesus knew about worry. He speaks about it very specifically, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?”

From our time in English 101, we know when we read “therefore,” we need to look back to see what it is “there for.” In the previous verse, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. You will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

When Jesus says “Mammon,” he is talking about money in the strongest possible terms–the false god of riches. When riches become an object of worship and greedy pursuit, mammon becomes a deity, meaning it has the power to be a god. In other words, it has the power to become another altar where we might worship. Nowhere else in Scripture does Jesus describe anything on earth using deistic terminology.

He knew money would be a serious problem for us, so he prescribes the solution: “Stop worrying, I will take care of you.” In reality, it works in reverse. I have to get to the teaching behind the “therefore” before I find the source of the strength to stop worrying. I have to stop trying to worship at two altars. I need to get myself up from that other altar and worship at the one true altar.

It’s easy to understand but very hard to do.

As church leaders, we must remember that the people in the pew are very perceptive. We can’t fool them. They will follow what we do closer than what we say. We can’t expect our people to live beyond the example the church leadership is setting for them.

Is our leadership posture about money perpetuating fear and worry or is it projecting bold confidence in the providence of God?

Fund Your New Church: 6 Questions For Church Planters

As we head to Exponential 2010 this week, I asked Brad Leeper of our GENERIS team to help me take on 6 key questions for church planters as they look to fund their new church plant. Here is our dialogue.

1.    How much money could we possibly need to simply launch a church?

Brad: Depends upon how much leadership want to align the launch with the mission. Financial resources must align with the vision in the context of the community. Otherwise, you as a leader are creating a very steep climb for yourself to most likely not break the 200 barrier.

Jim: Launching a church is more expensive than you think. Raising the initial funding entails a lot more than just the initial gatherings. There are salaries to pay and expenses for weekly services. Many church plants grow quickly and the growth puts a lot of pressure on the church to keep up. It is best to have an upfront strategy that raises not only the launch funding, but also some measure of support over the first 1-2 years.

2.    Are there outside sources besides friends and family to support my church plant?

Jim: Yes. Many church planters find financial support from people other than friends and family. You have to be intentional about finding these people. They probably won’t just land in your lap.

Brad: Financial resources are available from many surprising sources.  It is important to tell your story in a compelling way to these different kinds of potential financial partners so that they are inclined to give to their greatest capacity.  You can raise significant financial resources from more than just your friends.  You will need to do so if want to abundantly fund your new church.  Or even more practically, if you want some level of income while you work to build the church plant.  Having a conversation with a close friend for a $100 investment is much different from the conversation with the person who could invest thousands.   Learn how to have those different conversations that will catapult your new church to abundant funding.

3.    Don’t we just send out letters to our friends?

Brad: This practice is the default standard and what most will do without a formal connection to a church.  The letter strategy will work because people love you.  The letter strategy tends to be minimally effective in the results based on a realistic budget of what it takes to launch a new church. You can learn the number of options for developing financial resources from a number of sources.

Jim: That is one part of a funding strategy, but not the only part. The most strategic gifts will likely come from a relatively few persons with above average capacity. You will need to cultivate the relationships and make the ask in person.

4.    Will we have the money we need when we need it?

Many church planters spend a lot of time worrying about this very question. It is a natural part of our human nature. There is a God-inspired shaping and pruning that takes place as the church plant is launched. The reality is that most church planters have the money they need when they need it, even if it was not the same amount they were originally thinking.

Brad: Most new churches start with some funds, but can run out quickly.  The lack of adequate can be the largest obstacle to launching the new church with passion, excellence, and effectiveness.  Many effective church plants can plan for and have adequate cash flow for the length of time to plan and to launch the church. Perhaps the biggest winner in this process?  Your spouse.  Often, it is the spouse who bears the brunt of inadequate funding creating emotional turmoil and long term baggage from the launch season. The leader is out having all the fun in leadership while the spouse is left with minimal funding to handle the household.  Is the lack of funding worth the unnecessary wear on the marriage?

5.    Can’t I as the Senior Leader delegate the fund raising role to someone else?

Brad: The senior leader sets the tone for the generosity culture of the church from the very beginning of this process.  Understanding your leadership in generosity will make a huge difference in the quality of the new church plant process and will free you emotionally to invest in the actual execution of the ministry plan.  You can delegate the expression of the church core value of generosity.  You cannot delegate the passion and align of financial resources and the new church.

Jim: You could, but that is probably not the wisest choice. Some things should be delegated and some should not. Several factors are important to consider:

  • If it is not a high priority to the Senior Leader, it will probably not be a high priority to everyone else.
  • The launch team and key supporters have to know the Senior Leader is on board with his support.
  • The initial funding effort will set the tone for the generosity culture in the church. Rarely does a leader have a second chance to shape this culture so it is important to get it right on the front end.

6.    How do I ask people to give to my church plant when they already give to another church?

Jim: From the start, the church planter has to be prepared for the reality that not everyone will say yes. It may take a number of asks to get one supporter. The role of the Senior Leader in the church plant is to find enough opportunities to make the ask. Do not worry about the response, just make the ask.

Brad: Raising financial resources is so much more and more fun than asking for funding.  It is a rare privilege when you as a new church leader can align a donor’s vision and passion with the mission and vision of the new church.  There is more money available for new churches than you can imagine.  Learning how to align those funds with the new church vision will make a huge difference in the long-term health and vibrancy of the new church.

You will find a brief video and other resources at the web site we have set up for our time at Exponential 2010:

Notes From My Keynote Talk At LCI 2010

Today, I am in San Antonio where I will be speaking to a group of large church pastors in the United Methodist Church. It is an annual gathering called Large Church Initiative 2010 (LCI 2010). Among others, Will Mancini spoke on Tuesday and Reggie McNeal was here on Wednesday. Chances are , they are still recovering from Reggie’s message this morning. If you have ever heard Reggie speak, you know what I am talking about! He challenged pretty much all their assumptions about church in the USA. Nancy Ortberg will wrap up the conference this afternoon.

My words to this group will focus on generosity from the perspective of getting past the (mainly) self-imposed limitations we have placed on our churches. A key point I will make is that, when it comes to funding, we have a tendency to let “just enough be good enough” and, in doing so, we place a limit on the financial generosity of the people of our churches.

My speaking notes are attached below. I’d welcome your comments.

LCI 2010 Keynote Talk 04.15.2010

(Note: I would be remiss if I did not express a word of thanks to my colleague, Ben Stroup. His phrase “pushing the limits of church funding” is compelling. I have borrowed it here for the main thought and have added my own take on the topic. I also borrowed a few of his key points as a wrap up to the message. Thanks, Ben. You are reverse mentoring me!)

Page 2 of 3«123»