In the 1946 Frank Capra film, It’s a Wonderful Life, when Uncle Billy loses the $8,000 deposit, it causes George Bailey to lose hope. In the movie, God sends Clarence, George’s guardian angel, down to earth to help restore his hope. In their first encounter, George asks Clarence if he has $8,000. Clarence responds that they do not need money in heaven. George responds in a way that would make any church financial leader proud, “Well, it comes in real handy down here, bud!” Church financial leaders understand that it takes money to pay utility bills, fund ministry, compensate staff, and accomplish the mission. Yet many churches are hesitant to talk about money, especially on a Sunday morning. It can seem very self-serving for a pastor to talk about giving, especially since their salary comes from a portion of the offering. Add into the mix the very public scandals of church embezzlement and the unspoken sentiment that churches only want your money, and it becomes a taboo topic.
Teach on Giving
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy published the National Study of Congregations Economic Practices (NSCEP). This study of over 1,000 churches provides insights to help them use best practices, correct mistakes, and build better budgets to impact their communities. One of the findings of this study is that contrary to what many churches believe, churches that teach on giving grow faster. According to the data, 43% of the churches in the study teach on giving once or less per year. That means when it comes to biblical teaching on money, 57% of churches are spiritually undernourished. The Bible mentions money more than four times than prayer and faith. Imagine what would happen if churches talked about prayer this infrequently. Perhaps we have solved the mystery of why so many churches are under-resourced; the people don’t know what God says about money. Now, compare that to churches that discuss giving monthly. Those churches reported financial growth of 73%. That is powerful data. It seems that George Bailey may have been on to something by asking Clarence for money.
Large Donations are Rare
The NSCEP data shows that most church revenue comes from small to medium gifts. Small gifts are defined by the study as annual gifts under $100,000 and medium gifts as $100,000-$245,000 per year. The study shows that 28% of giving falls in the small donation category, and 33% in the medium-sized category. That means that only 9% of church donations came from large, annual gifts. In Proverbs 28:19-20, the author writes: Whoever cultivates his land will have plenty of food in the harvest, but whoever cultivates worthless ventures will have poverty in abundance. A reliable person will not escape blessings, but one who wants to get rich quick will not escape trouble (The Voice translation).
If your church desires to increase its budget to maximize its potential, then it is time to invest in teaching biblical truths about how God expects us to handle His money. Churches can start by boldly mentioning the various ways people can donate to their church each week, like through a church app, via the website, and even by passing the plate or offering basket. Periodically share narratives demonstrating how their investment in what God is doing impacts lives and expands God’s kingdom through inspirational pastoral moments during the service, emails to the congregation, or blog posts. Inspire and encourage the small to medium givers to remain faithful, generous, and consistent in giving. George Bailey asked an angel for $8,000. By the end of the movie, all of the people George spent a lifetime investing in gave him tenfold what he needed. George would have made an excellent church financial leader.