Studies have shown that 85 percent of pastors are uncomfortable preaching on money. Over the last 40 years, seminaries rarely have taught pastors how to preach on the topic of biblical giving or personal and church finances. Consequently, many churches rely on a once-a-year—or once in a while—message from the pulpit on tithing. Historically, this has been enough to help bolster the budget until December when the annual year-end bump in giving helps bring church budgets into the black.
But those days are over, according to results from the 2010 State of the Plate research on church giving conducted by MAXIMUMGenerosity and Christianity Today International. The national survey of more than 1,000 churches showed an unprecedented two-year decline in giving. In 2009, State of the Plate research showed 29 percent of churches experiencing a dip in giving; this year 38 percent saw giving decline! And 30 percent of churches said they missed their December and year-end giving expectations.
So, what can a church do if the silver-bullet stewardship sermon or year-end giving isn't going to bail out a swamped church budget? Here are five time-tested recommendations based on training seminars I have done with thousands of pastors and church leaders:
1. Conduct a churchwide, family-friendly generosity initiative
The generosity message must move from the finance committee's boardroom to each church member's dining room and personal devotional time. Instead of launching annual stewardship pledge drives, we need to make our generosity teaching a God-centered message from the Bible instead of a church-centered message from the budget. If we teach people to faithfully and generously give to God, we will easily meet our budgets. Church budgets are good spending plans, but they should never represent the giving goal.
Along with preaching regularly on the topic of generosity, churches can provide congregants with helpful, biblical resources that will encourage them to think and talk about money, generosity, and possessions from God's perspective. In addition to equipping adults in our church with tools to learn about generosity, we must also empower parents to raise up their children to be generous to God's work.
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 church-based financial classes that will give people the time, space, and place to discover they can move to higher and dryer financial ground. Very often, these classes become a great opportunity for reaching the unchurched in your community. In a class at my church, 40 of the people attending the class were from our surrounding community and only four were from our church. The Bible has the financial answers people are looking for, and we can minister to the people 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. They explained that they needed the baskets to be big enough to literally hold a portion of whatever the Lord had blessed them with during the week—bread, rice, eggs, money, and more! Metaphorically speaking, in America our baskets are too small. We need to create bigger baskets by giving people more ways to give.
For years, churches have been arguing over whether we should pass the plate or have a box in the back. Today, the answer is, "yes and more." Every church should look for ways to inspire people to be more faithful in their giving. Ask the typical 20-something to write a check—they can't because they don't use checks! Most use debit or credit cards, and they do all their finances online. Today, churches need to offer a variety of ways for people to give—offering plates, boxes in the back, mail-in envelopes, online giving, electronic funds transfers, giving kiosks, stock brokerage accounts, and even iPhone applications. The goal is to help people become more faithful in their generous giving to the Lord's work. Sometimes this is as simple as making giving more convenient.
4. Focus some stewardship activities on the 90 percent of a person's resources
Research shows that 90 percent of a person's financial wealth is not their cash flow; it's in their accumulated assets and estate. Most churches' stewardship activities concentrate on merely getting money into the Sunday collection plate. The biggest gifts a person will ever be able to give to the church during their lifetime or upon their death are from their assets and estate (property, vehicles, investments, business interests, life insurance, etc.). Yet 90 percent of the people in your church will pass away without designating anything to your church from their assets or estate. Churches need to teach their members how to properly steward all the assets God has entrusted to them over their lifetime. You can do this by providing information and classes to your congregants on estate planning.
5. Preach God's Word on finances
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 implement even just one of these five stewardship ideas, your church will experience a leap forward in its ability to inspire people to live more generously and increase giving all year long.
The Bible provides more than 2,000 verses on finances and generosity and a growing number of churches say they planned, or considered planning, to share God's Word on these subjects through the following:
- Preaching, 75%
- Financial classes/courses/groups, 65%
- Sharing a Bible verse during the offering, 62%
- Distributing pamphlets, 51%
- Making financial counselors available, 48%
- Conducting an annual stewardship drive, 48%
- Showing videos in the worship service, 44%
- Giving families a generosity devotional, 43%
- Providing estate planning materials/seminars, 44%
- Providing stewardship training for leaders, 40%
2010 "State of the Plate" full report is available at ChurchLawAndTaxStore.com.
Additional Resources on Generosity
- 40 Day Generous Life Bible devotional by Brian Kluth, used by more than 1,250 churches to inspire generosity and increase giving. Available at MaximumGenerosity.org.
- Because I Love You family organizer by Brian Kluth, used by churches and ministries to inspire gifts of assets and estate planning gifts. Available at MaximumGenerosity.org.
Brian Kluth is an ordained pastor, bestselling author, and founder of MAXIMUMgenerosity.com.