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Money Makes Us More…

Money does not change us. Not really. It only makes us more of what we already are. We think having more money will change us, but it is a rare occurrence.

The greedy person only becomes more greedy.

The generous person becomes more generous.

Money makes us more…

Think about that.

Generosity Is Systemic

What if you could punch the “increase giving” button in your church and watch generosity happen. That would be nice, wouldn’t it, but it doesn’t work that way.

The reality is that generosity is systemic. Everything affects it. Generosity to a church is the result of a number of factors.

In a previous post, I indicated that the economy might be a factor in giving, but generally it is not the key factor. The economy does tend to expose those churches that are not healthy. Good times and increased giving obscured underlying issues for a lot of churches.

Internal factors are a lot more important to the long term giving health of a church than are external factors like the economy. In other words, there is greater risk from factors inside your church. Churches with that are unhealthy on the inside are vulnerable. Healthy churches generally are not as exposed. In other words, they do well in good times and bad. They have learned that there are ways to “recession proof” your church.

What does that look like? I do not pretend to be an expert on church health. The folks at TAG Consulting are very good at assessing that. Their “Transforming Church Index” is excellent — like an MRI on the church. But a few things are critical.

Many would say vision is at the top of the list. I agree it is hard to attract generous givers without vision of ministry. However, there are a couple of things that are important and have to be considered.

The first one is clarity. It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of clarity. You can have a vision of ministry for the church, but is it clear enough for people to understand it and own it? In other words, can you state the mission and vision of your church in an “elevator pitch” (not an elevator in an eighty story building!)? If, as a church leader, you want your people to truly own the vision of ministry you believe God has placed before you, it must be clear and concise. It is fine to have a longer version for strategy and execution purposes, but keep that in your office. The main version your people see has to be easy to remember.

In laying out the vision of ministry for you church, you also have to make sure it is original and authentic. I see a lot of church leaders who go to a great conference and see a presentation on that church’s vision, then try to make it theirs. In other words, they change a few words and proclaim “this is our new vision.” Wrong. That is merely photocopying what someone else has done. What may work well for Andy Stanley or Bill Hybels or Rick Warren (or any other church leader) in their church will probably not work in yours. There are too many differences. If you have not read “Church Unique” by Will Mancini, get it. He spends a lot of time talking about this topic.

The second thing is this — culture. As important as vision is, culture is even more important. Why do I say this? You can have the greatest vision on earth, but, quoting Sam Chand, “it will die in a toxic culture.” Bad culture trumps good vision every time.

Culture, according to dictionary.com is defined as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular group.” The culture in a church does not happen overnight. It is an accumulation over the years. Some pastors inherit it when they go a to new pastorate.  Other pastors see it get shaped around them. Others, like church planters, get to create it from day one. That’s why it is so important if you are a church planter to pay close attention to the culture of your church in the early years.

No matter which category you fall into, culture will play a significant role in what you can accomplish.

What kind of culture do you have? Clearly vision is important. If vision is king, culture is the ace that beats it! You will never advance your vision beyond what the culture will permit and the result will be that the potential for generosity will be restricted.

Remember – generosity is systemic. Everything matters.

The Intersection…Where Generosity Flows

The research is pretty clear. Some churches are up, some down and some about the same. Generally, the economy is not the main issue. Sure, there are some areas that have been severely impacted by the effects of the economy the last 16-18 months. However, even in a city as hard hit as Detroit, I am aware of a couple of major churches that have fared well. One of them told me they are down 3% in offerings while down 8% in attendance. If my simple math is correct, that would probably be a net increase in giving on the smaller number of people. Nothing is wrong at the church, people are just leaving Detroit because they think they have a better chance starting over somewhere else.

During the time when the economy was good and offerings were increasing in many churches, the often ignored statistic is that offerings were not increasing on a per giver basis. Yes, they were increasing in aggregate, but not increasing when measure based on the larger number of people. In other words, lots of churches grew their operating budgets just by growing the number of people. There is nothing at all wrong with that, but we need to be aware of it.

If the economy is not the main issue for most churches, what is?

There are two sides to the church giving equation. One is the givers — when their hearts are afire for what the church is doing and how it is doing it, generosity is the normal response. The other side is the church — it must keep the vision fresh and present itself as healthy to attract givers. The church must be able to demonstrate that a gift here really counts in terms of its impact.

The main issue, for many churches, therefore, is how to do this.

The reality is that givers have many choices for their funding. It is not unusual for me to hear a church leader lament that a certain person in their church gave a large sum to a charity, often an alma mater. When gifts like this occur, it is now clear that the person has the ability and willingness to make a gift like that. Gifts to one’s alma mater are noble, but why did the person not think of the church?

When faced with choices to allocate their resources, givers will almost always choose the place where they can see the highest impact. The fact is that the college or university took seriously the relationship with the alumnus and helped them understand the impact their giving could have. In other words, they found the place I call “the intersection.”

What is this place? Simply put, it is the place where the vision and mission of a church intersects the passion of a giver’s heart. Find this place and the result is always generosity. It is the place where givers will release resources again and again as long as the church remains faithful in stewarding the gifts. This intersection is the place where generosity flows! Said another way, if you cannot find this intersection, it is generally fruitless to think the giver will participate significantly. It’s just not a fit.

Givers want impact. It is the responsibility of the church to do that. You cannot just expect givers to keep filling the annual budget bucket. You have to make the case that a gift here is a worthy investment. If you can’t show it, another charitable cause can! Impact =”ROI” and givers pay attention to that.

Can you show how a gift to your church will impact the life of a hurting, hopeless, helpless person? If you cannot, it might be worth taking a hard look at what you’re doing.

No More Talk About The Economy And Churches

It’s official. As of today, I am no longer talking about the effect of the economy on church giving. There is enough research and plenty of articles, but I have had enough. Some churches are up (yes, that is right – some churches have giving that is up), some are down and some are flat. We know that. We have spent enough time talking about the economy and how it has affected churches. Now we need to start talking about solutions.

With the exception of the people who have been totally flattened by the economy since fall 2008, the problem for the church is not the amount of money in its members’ bank accounts. By any measure, America is still one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. The problem is not how much money we have, it is what we have chosen to do with it.

Our money goes to one of three main categories: giving, saving or living. Wise counsel is to give first, save second and live on the remainder. In America, we have been conditioned to practice it in reverse: we live first, then save and give. The problem with that is, if you are living on 100% or more, there is nothing left for the giving or saving categories.

The main enemy for many of us is lifestyle. To the extent we can live under some form of restraint, we are freed to give more and save more. Though the case could be made that it is simply a matter of discipline, I submit that it is deeper than that. It is about our hearts. Our hearts are more consumed with “what would make me happy” (yep, it happens to me and I spend my whole life trying to help people understand generosity). As a result, we forget our greater responsibility to manage what God has put under our care. In essence, our hearts become lukewarm to what God wants to do through us. When our hearts are on fire and we are convicted about something, we find a way to get it done. For almost all of us, we can give more if we really want to.

What would happen if, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we would be willing to completely reassess our lifestyle with the goal of unleashing additional giving for the furtherance of God’s work? What would my church look like if we could release an army of people like this? My guess is we would not be talking about “the effect of the economy on my church.”

Worth considering, isn’t it?

Stay tuned. I’ll continue the conversation.

P. S. Appropriate credit must be given to Don Linscott, who planted the original idea of lifestyle stewardship with me.

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