Have you seen any of the recent survey results on church giving? In a 1,000-church survey my organization recently conducted on church giving, nearly 30 percent of churches saw offerings decline in 2008. In 2009, this number had increased to the point where more than 50 percent of churches were not meeting their giving projections this year. National news stories are reporting on churches beginning to cut programs and staff.
While many of America’s pastors and church leaders have wanted to avoid America’s economic problems, it now appears that God is using CBS, NBC, CNN, Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other major newspapers to sound the wake-up call on what is really happening with church giving. The media is reporting that the percentage of income Christians give has been steadily declining over the last 40 years. They are also highlighting Barna’s latest report that indicates only 5 percent of people now tithe 10 percent or more of their income to Christian and charitable causes.
What can a church do to help face the growing economic storms and the downward giving trends? Here are five recommendations based on training seminars I have done with thousands of pastors and church leaders across the United States and around the world:
1 — Conduct a churchwide, family-friendly, generosity initiative
The generosity message must move from the finance committee boardroom table to the family dinner table and personal devotional time. I personally believe that every Christian home needs a helpful biblical resource that will allow people to think and talk about money, generosity and materialism from God’s perspective. In addition to reaching adults, we must also empower adults to help raise their children to be a new generation of faithful and generous givers to God’s work. After I released the “40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life” Bible devotional, I heard from families that this was the first time they had ever talked about finances and generosity together from a biblical perspective.
2 — Help people get out of debt and financial trouble.
Many people sitting in your church are drowning in a sea of red ink and financial mismanagement. Today there are resources that churches can use to offer helpful financial classes and counselors that will give people the time, space and place to discover they can move to higher and drier financial ground. In our church, we have also found these classes to be a great outreach tool to the unchurched. In one recent financial course we offered, 40 people attending were from our community and four were from our church. The Bible has the financial answers people are looking for, and we can be used by God in our community and church by making classes available.
3 — Make your offering baskets bigger.
When I taught on finances and giving in India, I noticed they had the largest offering baskets I had ever seen. When I asked why, I was told that they made the baskets big enough so that people could put in a portion of whatever the Lord had blessed them with during the week. Their offering baskets were big enough to hold bread, rice, eggs, money and more! In America, I’m afraid our baskets are too small. We need to create “bigger baskets” by giving people more ways to give. The issue in generosity is not in the method someone uses to give but the fact that they are faithful in their giving. Online giving, electronic funds transfers, giving kiosks, stock brokerage accounts and Christian community foundation accounts are all part of a growing trend to allow Christians to be more faithful in their generous giving to the Lord’s work.
4 — Focus some stewardship activities toward the 90 percent of a person’s resources.
Research shows that 90 percent of a person’s financial wealth is not in their cash flow but instead is in assets and estate. Yet nearly all of a church’s stewardship activities concentrate only on getting money into the Sunday collection plate. The biggest gifts that individuals might give to their church during their lifetime or at their death are from their assets/estate (property, vehicles, investments, business interests, jewelry, artwork, life insurance, etc.). Yet 90 percent of the people in your church will pass away without having given anything to your church from their assets, will or estate plans. It is time for churches to provide resources that help people properly steward all the assets God has entrusted to them over their lifetime. In our church, we developed and distributed the “Because I Love You FAMILY ORGANIZER” to help people get their house in order and to provide a friendly reminder that they need to honor the Lord from their assets and estate.
5 — Preach God’s Word on finances.
Studies have shown that 85 percent of pastors are uncomfortable preaching on money. One of the main reasons for this is that most seminaries over the last 40 years have not taught a biblical approach to personal and church finances. The good news is that God included 2,350 verses on finances and material possessions in the Scriptures. When you examine the Word for spiritual leaders who helped encourage financial teaching and generosity in their generation, the list is a veritable “Who’s Who” of Bible characters. While it was common in the past for churches to have one annual stewardship message, many pastors today are teaching whole series on finances covering a full range of topics from a biblical perspective: earning, savings, debt, materialism, generosity, investing and more.
If you begin to practice any of these five church stewardship ideas, you will leap forward in your ability to inspire people to live more generously and increase their giving to your church.
Dr. Brian Kluth is a pastor and generosity minister-at-large from First EFC of Colorado Springs. He is also author of the bestselling 40-day devotional at www.GenerousLife.info; speaker for www.GiveWithJoy.org radio program and eDevotional; founder of the www.MAXIMUMgenerosity.org Web site and free e-newsletter; and author of www.MyFamilyOrganizer.org. This fall, Brian will be a plenary speaker and seminar presenter in six cities for Recession-Proof Your Ministry regional conferences.