Changing the Weather Patterns of Giving in Your Church: Part 2 of 3
By Dr. Steve McSwain

COMMUNITY PULSE

Do you find it difficult for you to preach or teach on giving?
  • Yes
  • No
For the past 20 years, I’ve crisscrossed this country coaching hundreds of Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant churches and church leaders. In addition to the friendships I have developed with Christian leaders across the denominational spectrum, I have also observed the climate of giving in a variety of congregational and ecclesiastical churches. In part 1, I shared a few of those things I’ve learned regarding the climate of giving, a climate more similar than dissimilar and not too desirable in any of them.

Today, and in Part 3 next week, I’d like to answer the equally important question: “Is there anything church leaders might do to change the climate of giving in their church?”

And, of course, there is. Here are a few suggestions for consideration:

1. Stop being so apologetic about preaching and teaching on giving.

I have always found it a bit odd that the one subject about which Jesus spoke more than any other, save only the Kingdom of Heaven, is the least “talked about” subject in virtually every church in America. That subject is of course possessions, sometimes referred to as “mammon” (Matt. 6:19-24) or “money.”

To speak regularly about money, however, and without apology, would be a dramatic “first step” for many ministers.

Why is this? For the simple reason, most ministers do not. Perhaps too many of them have heard about those results from studies when people are asked, “Is there anything about your church you would like to change?” and they almost universally respond, “Stop talking so much about money.”

This is, of course, not the truth. Churches may be criticized for many things, but for talking about money too frequently? I don’t think so!

But I have more in mind. When I suggest you stop being intimidated about preaching and teaching on giving, I am thinking about something else that I believe will change the climate of giving in your church.

2. Talk more about your giving.

If you’re a pastor, priest or lay leader, talk more about your giving. Much more. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you give.

“But that’s a private matter!” you say.

So say many. But I say, “Since when?”

And, the answer is, whenever the church started misinterpreting – and so misapplying – Matthew 6:2 where Jesus counseled, “And when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do …”

While I discuss this at length in The Giving Myths, here’s a summary.

Based on this single verse of scripture – which isn’t really about giving at all but about what the ones doing it with trumpets were really seeking – “to be honored by others,” is the way Jesus put it. In other words, what bothered Jesus was not the trumpets but the motives of those blowing them. They wanted admiration, a high five for being so spiritual, so generous, so amazing.

And, who among us does not, at least some of the time?

Now, this is how misguided the church sometimes gets in its interpretive hermeneutic. On the basis of this one scripture, and it is almost universally misinterpreted, the church across all denominational lines has created a whole theology we could call the “theology of secrecy.” The church has mistakenly concluded that what God expects is privacy with everyone’s giving.

In fact, the church has perpetrated this misinterpretation of Jesus’ words for so long, churchgoers, even when you point out their hermeneutical error, will still resist – and sometimes vehemently so – if anyone even suggests they share publicly the story of their giving.

If what Jesus was really suggesting is silence about whether you give or how much you give, then I would suggest that the only way to be consistent in scriptural-interpretation is to immediately stop any and all public prayer, too.

“What?” you ask.

Have you never read the next verses in the very same passage of Matthew 6? In 6:5, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to pray in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by others (again, italics mine) … but, when you pray, go into your closet and pray in secret.”

So, why has not the church developed a theology of secrecy when it comes to public prayer? I have worshipped in churches all across America – in Evangelical, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. None of them follow this clear and unequivocal instruction from Jesus.

Now, my point in all of this is simply to say: To insist what Jesus was advocating in Matthew 6 is a new theology about the proper way either to give or to pray is to miss his point entirely. In both instances, Jesus was simply warning that your motive for giving or praying, or for anything else, is all that really matters to God.

There was a time in my life when, as a pastor, I would deliver a sermon but not always with the purest of motives. As important as the sermon topic may have been to me, the truth is I wanted just as much to be liked by my congregants and to amaze them with my sermon and its delivery. I would never have admitted this then, but that’s largely because I was unconscious of my deeper motivations for many of my own actions. On the day I became aware of them, however, I better understood why, on any given Sunday, all but one person could compliment my morning sermon but the one person who complained would bother me more. I would spend the rest of the Christian Sabbath, not resting but replaying that complaint in my head.

Motives.

You must understand, therefore, if you want to change the climate of giving in your church, you are first going to have to change your conversation about it. And that begins by changing your theology about giving, including the mistaken notion that God expects privacy regarding giving.

Talk about your giving, but not to draw attention to yourself. Do so instead to teach others how to give, to demonstrate your joy at having learned the art of giving yourself away. It is the secret to happiness. It is what Jesus called “the abundant life” (Jn. 10:10).

Transparency with regard to your giving will raise the level of giving in your church more than any other single thing. I know this. More importantly, it will free your people to talk about their own giving. Not to brag but build up the body of Christ. The most powerful and transformative annual and capital campaigns I’ve witnessed in churches over the last 20 years have been in those places where the secrecy surrounding giving gave way to the stories about giving as it was changing human lives.

In one of the best, little books on giving ever written, “Creating Congregations of Generous People,” author Michael Durall writes: “The higher the level of secrecy in your church, the lower the level of giving.”

No truer statement about giving has ever been written.

3. Put everything on the table.

Here’s a third suggestion for changing the giving climate in your church. If you err on the side of giving people too much information, then err with confidence, knowing that you can never give people more info than they need.

Gone are the days of giving members, or parishioners, only partial information about why their donations are needed or where their donations are going. It may have been the trend in many Evangelical and Protestant churches to move away from regular church conferences to quarterly, then annually and, for some, none at all. Since few came when it was offered, many leaders mistakenly assumed that meant no one really cared.

How wrong they were. It was the time when most conferences were held that was inconvenient to many people. This must change.

In the church I attend, business conferences are now held on Sunday morning. A brief outline of the agenda is printed in the morning bulletin, a couple of creative teasers are presented during the actual service to spark interest, and, if that were not enough, the service actually lets out a couple of minutes early, offering everyone who stayed a nice buffet luncheon.

Now, admittedly, this would not work in many places. My point is, however, people in the church not only want to know how their gifts are being used but also what difference their gifts are making in the world. It is up to you to find a time convenient, suitable and creative to present the business report if you expect people to come.

Ask the hard questions about how your church goes about raising financial support and reporting on it to parishioners. Furthermore, if your church has been wounded by financial abuse, then my guess is you’ll need a complete overhaul of the church’s reporting system. Expect it to take several years to regain the trust of your people. The only way to speed up the rebuilding of trust is by making transparency in everything the church’s first priority. That includes salaries of all church employees.

Remember this, too: People don’t follow worthy causes; they follow worthy leaders.

In coaching and consulting with church leaders over the past twenty years, I could take a nice vacation in the Bahamas today had I received a dollar every time a pastor or priest asked me, “Do you think my members will buy into my vision for the church?”

Wrong question. The right question is: “Do your people buy into you?”

I’ll have more to say about this in the third and final part of this article next week. I’ll also provide some very specific things you and your finance counsel or stewardship team might consider doing to turn a cloudy climate into a sunny climate regarding generosity and giving in your church.

Dr. Steve McSwain, is the founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Giving. He has provided coaching and consultation to more than 200 churches and parishes nationwide, representing all Christian traditions. As a founding partner with the John Maxwell Team of Professional Speakers, Coaches, and Trainers, Dr. McSwain not only coaches congregations within Catholic, Evangelical, and Protestant traditions, but he also maintains a private coaching relationship with a select group of religious leaders, business and professional people across America. You can learn more at www.stevemcswain.com. Or, call (502) 777-9426.