It’s highly unlikely that the instructor for a class specifically designed for aerospace engineers to develop the next generation of space exploration vehicles would use marine biology terminology to make their point. Probably because it’s doubtful that epibiota will produce innovative ideas on thrust. But I’m not a rocket scientist or a marine biologist. The point is that those charged to teach and lead must communicate to their audience in ways that resonate with them. And that’s true for churches, especially regarding finances. Solid biblical teaching and discipleship on Godly ways to handle money are vital, and the objective must go beyond receiving enough donations to build a robust church budget. The goal is to imitate Christlikeness and unleash the power of generosity in the church.
Whether you are a Christian or not, it’s undeniable that Jesus was a great leader, communicator, and teacher. He understood that most people he came into contact with were farmers and shepherds or at least knew of them; they were all around. So it makes sense that when we read the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible that document the life of Jesus), Jesus often uses agrarian language. For example, in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” And the parable of the sower and the seed found in Matthew 13:3-9. In this parable (a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson), Jesus uses the surroundings, like the road, birds, rocks, weeds, too much sun, and good soil; all elements they understood to make his point. But Jesus wasn’t just trying to change their minds; he was exposing their hearts using their knowledge of their surroundings. Although the truths Jesus taught are timeless, when we don’t take the time to understand the context of the scripture, sometimes the agrarian references can lose meaning.
Sowing and Reaping
The concept of sowing and reaping, which is farming terminology, is found throughout the Bible. References pop up as early as Genesis, when Isaac sowed and reaped in the same year a hundredfold (Genesis 26:12), and continues throughout the Old Testament (Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ruth, Haggai) and into the New Testament. Sowing and reaping sometimes demonstrate eternal consequences, as found in Galatians 6:7-8. But 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 is specific to being generous with money. The Apostle Paul writes, “Now I say this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each one must do just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;.” I won’t turn this into a sermon, but in chapter 9, Paul reminds the church in Corinth how God is the ultimate giver, and our response to God’s outpouring of grace and goodness needs to be generous, cheerful, and from the heart. God did not withhold anything from us. He gave it all. Followers of Jesus bear his image and should no longer give sparingly or out of compulsion. That’s why teaching our churches how to be cheerful and generous givers are so important.
Increasing Generosity Impacts the Church Budget
Like other for-profit organizations, churches must have a mission, vision, and values. Unlike their for-profit counterparts, churches cannot create a new “widget” to increase revenue and rely predominately on donations as a source of income. A post-pandemic world plagued by fear, inflation, and polarizing politics creates a less-than-favorable environment for churches to thrive and pursue their mission. Research data, like the 2021 survey of churchgoers, reported that 91% planned to return to in-person church attendance, yet many churches are missing 25% of their pre-pandemic congregation. If this sounds like your church, future budget reductions might be on the horizon. But this does not give churches an excuse to forego their mission, abandon their vision, or ignore reality. Instead, use this opportunity to develop a culture of generosity so contagious it spreads throughout your church, community, and beyond. Here are a few strategies that may help cultivate a culture of generosity.
- A Compelling Vision. An organization’s mission explains why they exist. Most Christian church’s mission reflects what is known as the Great Commission found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16–20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The vision needs to paint a picture of the organization’s future state. Whatever your church’s vision is, it’s time to connect it to the discipline of giving all year long. Most people don’t give because of a budget shortfall or financial crisis in the church; they give because the vision is compelling. Inspire your church, and remind them that for followers of Jesus, giving is part of worship, giving is an expression of their love for Jesus, giving is cheerful, and giving is a natural response to God’s gracious gift. Give examples of how your church is generous in the community and the world.
- Share Stories – Give examples of how your church is making an impact in the lives of others through generosity. How many families were your church able to feed, clothe, or assist in some way? Share that story during a service. Did your church partner with a school to help mentor kids, buy computers, or become an annex for students needing internet access? That sounds like the kind of generosity that inspires others to join in the work God is doing in and through your church. But this is where the rubber hits the road. Is your church generous? Does your church have stories to share that will encourage people to move toward generosity? If not, it’s time to discover why not.
- Biblical Teaching – When people believe something is scarce, they tend to hold on to it. Coming out of a pandemic where many people faced layoffs from their job and unusually high inflation, money seemed scarce and may still be for some. Churches need to help people move from a scarcity mindset to a surplus mindset through biblical financial classes like Financial Peace University. It’s amazing what happens when we realize that everything is God’s, and he’s asking us to manage it for him. Money is not always the problem; it’s how we handle it.
- Multiple Ways to Give – This seems obvious, but remove any barriers that might keep people from being generous. We live in a digital age, and churches should demonstrate their ability to adapt. We are not reading scripture from scrolls; most churches use some audio/visual technology during their service. Let’s acknowledge that many people no longer carry around a checkbook. It’s time for churches to offer online giving, giving through an app, and text-to-give, in addition to cash or checks.
- Measure Giving Data – It doesn’t sound very spiritual, but the truth is, what gets measured gets done. Set realistic goals, make plans to achieve the goals, and measure success. For example, according to the UnStuck group, a healthy church has an average weekly giving per person of $37 – $45. Develop a measurable goal to increase the average at your church to $X per person per week in 12 months. Or, run donor analysis reports and determine how many first-time givers the church brings each month. Develop a measurable goal and plan to increase the number of people that give for the first time. (Helpful tip: send a letter thanking first-time givers for their financial support.) These are just a few examples of using data to measure the effectiveness of discipling the church in stewardship.
As the post-pandemic church attendance reality continues to impact many churches, it’s time to look in the mirror and ask if they are sowing generously. How are they impacting the least, the last, and the lost? How is that information being shared? Is the vision compelling? Is biblical stewardship being taught? Are barriers to giving removed? Do churches acknowledge and celebrate when someone crosses the line in their faith to trust God with their finances? Jesus used the parable of the sower and the seed to expose the varying conditions of the heart toward him; churches need to ask what kind of soil is at the foundation of their church.