Growing a culture of generosity

The longest and deepest work in relation to raising finance is to cultivate a culture of generosity in a church or network of churches. As Michael Horton has described it,  presenting a biblical vision for God’s people to aim provides direction – the train tracks for a train to go in the right direction – but the power for that train needs to come from the grace of God. We don’t want to be dealing in carrots and sticks but rather to see a church transformed by the God’s generosity into gospel-hearted cheerful funders of gospel work.

This is not simply as a means to an end. Rather it is about cultivating generosity because it’s good for people, makes for a healthy church and is glorifying to God.

But what does this mean in practice?

Why we don’t talk much about money and giving

  • We are keen to differentiate ourselves from the prosperity gospel
  • We don’t want non-Christians to think that the church/God wants/needs their giving
  • We don’t want non-Christians to be put off from investigating Christ by a challenge to their finances
  • We don’t want wealthy church members to feel ‘over challenged’
  • We don’t want poorer church members to feel bad about not being able to give
  • It’s socially awkward in many cultures to raise the topic of money in anything more than a vague, passing way
  • We don’t want to risk guilt-driven giving or legalism
  • In a ‘cost of living crisis’ we might think that this is the last topic anyone is going to want to deal with

Why we need to explicitly teach on money and giving

  • Jesus and the apostles did. While they focused on the heart and the gospel of grace and the need for the gospel to capture hearts, they also specifically challenged non-Christians and Christians on financial idolatry and laid out what gospel-motivated, sacrificial, intentional, missional living and giving looks like. They accepted that some would walk away (Matt 19:22; 2 Tim 4:10).
  • We can’t expect new Christians and those new to our church to magically acquire a healthy biblical understanding of giving. Many will never have experienced good models of Christian giving. Some will have misconceptions and hang-ups from past experience of church. Some may be genuinely unaware of the needs of the church and the expectation of Christians to support gospel work.
  • The church must be a counter-culture. If we say nothing then the void is filled by our natural cultural narratives and preferences about how to use money (what we think is ‘normal’ and ‘reasonable’), how to think about money (who owns it, what it’s for) and about how public we are about it (silence or display). But the church should be different – not just a mirror opposite but a genuinely different counter-culture.
  • If we don’t teach people on giving then we are robbing them of the freedom and blessing they should have in Christ, robbing the church and every around them who should be blessed by their giving, and robbing God of glory that is currently being syphoned off by the idol of money and its connected idols.
  • A time of crisis and hardship might actually precisely the right time to talk about money (cf. 2 Cor. 8:2 and see  the video message from Matthias Media on the release of the Generosity Project in the midst of a pandemic).

Practical steps to grow a culture of generosity

  1. Preach through books of the Bible which either lay foundations for a biblical view of finances (e.g. Genesis) or which are written specifically to cultivate a culture of generosity (e.g. 2 Corinthians) or which speak directly to how we should use our money (e.g. Luke) and be unembarrassed, specific, fresh and gospel-hearted in your application on these issues.
  2. Have preachers and trainers from different cultures speak to the issue of generosity. No culture has got this completely right but often others can help us see our own blindspots. Some cultures think only of money when it comes to generosity. Other cultures try to think of anything but money when it comes to generosity. Some cultures are sacrificial but not strategic. Others are strategic but not sacrificial. Also, looking at the abundant generosity of the persecuted and suffering church around the world can be a useful reality check and spur (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5). See Open Doors.
  3. Make giving through standing order as easy as possible.
  4. Demonstrate financial transparency and governance that is both wise and representative (2 Cor. 8:18-23; Acts 20:4). It will usually be wisest to allow deacons to deal with financial matters rather than the pastor-elders – this separation helps not only with workload but with pastoring and communicating to the church family.
  5. Demonstrate generosity as a church (Prov. 11:24-25; 2 Cor. 8-9). Giving away a large proportion of your budget to gospel work in other places makes a church refreshingly outward-looking, gives confidence to members to put the bulk of their giving in the hands of the church, and makes it easier for the leaders to make the ask.
  6. Have high expectations. We don’t decree tithing but expect NT believers on average to be at least as generous as OT believers. We must strictly avoid any sort of manipulation or compulsion but it can be genuinely helpful to give examples of the sort of giving that is normal (e.g. ‘many members of our church are giving around 5% of their income’) and possible (e.g. endowments, property sale, Acts 4:37).
  7. Cast bold gospel visions. ‘Wouldn’t it be great for the gospel if we did X?’ If it is a genuinely gospel-hearted, prayer-saturated, exciting and urgent vision then God may well move his people to be exceptionally generous. [For more on this see the course Clarifying Vision.]
  8. Provide help for those in the church family (and perhaps those in the ‘fringe’ and community) to manage their finances. E.g. run a CAP course.
  9. Encourage giving to a range of different gospel causes. Don’t try to ‘hoard’ your givers. Don’t think of giving as a zero sum game (the more they give to X the less they’ll give to Y). The more generous people are to a range of causes the more generous they will be. Be generous with your givers. (And they are not really ‘yours’!)
  10. Be generous yourself. As with so many things it starts with you. And particularly in leadership we can’t expect people to rise higher than the leader. So consider downsizing the car, downsizing the house, forgoing the extension, to be able to give more.

One further step which we would really encourage you to consider is using the Generosity Project materials. This book and collection of online videos could be an excellent way to take small groups through a gospel framework for giving.

Also watch Pete Snow (senior pastor of St Paul’s Haringay) talking about what he loved about the Generosity Project and why it works particularly well in a post-Covid world.

Resources to give

Other resources to point people towards, give away or use as a ‘Lent book’ or ‘recommended Summer read’: