Recently I had the opportunity to connect with members of the Dave Ramsey Organization, The Lampo Group. I believe strongly in what this team is about, as I personally lead his Financial Peace University classes in my church. Not only is the training excellent for those who attend, but it has been excellent for me personally as a facilitator.
Andrea and I just celebrated becoming debt-free this month! FPU has been instrumental in motivating us to that goal.
On a subsequent visit to the Lampo Group offices, Jim Sheppard, CEO of Generis, and I sat down with members of their team to discuss generosity. Here is a link to an article on the Dave Ramsey website that recaps that conversation.
Generosity That’s as Natural as Breathing
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that teaches people to be generous Christians. If there were, Jim Sheppard of Generis would have found it by now, having worked with churches all over the country on the topic of generosity.
Sheppard brings objective insight on the stewardship landscape in the church today. While all churches are different in some ways, Sheppard says that at the end of the day, we’re all the same when it comes to stewardship: “When you get to the core of it, we’re all dealing with people and donor psychology.”
Here are four key principles from Sheppard to help church leaders cultivate a culture of true, biblical stewardship:
1. Generosity is systemic.
Many churches act as though the way to ramp up a ministry is to go to one person who can make a big impact in that area.
In other words, they target the wealthy members. But generosity is different. It’s not focusing on one or two individual people or activities; it is, as Jim describes, “the sum of many things done well.”
For example, the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis was certainly a big deal to church members, but that one issue isn’t the biggest factor in people’s decision to give.
That crisis has to be balanced with other things, such as “leadership, mission and vision, clarity of purpose, and people who are connected and involved,” as Jim discovered.
It is, in fact, possible to “recession-proof” your church by focusing on the bigger picture instead of targeting any one key issue. “Generosity is part of a rising tide,” Sheppard said. “As a pastor, it’s important to understand that it’s not about an external factor—it’s what’s going on inside the church.”
2. Generosity must be an ongoing priority.
Sheppard was recently at a large church with a massive campus, an eight-figure annual budget, and people who give. Yet, the leaders didn’t feel like their people knew generosity yet.
To them, it’s not about how much more money they can raise. It’s about accomplishing something spiritually significant in the lives of the people in the church.
“Churches get off-point by accidentally giving the impression that the [organization’s] needs are more important than the [members’] needs,” he said.
“One of the first things you have to decide is that the members’ needs and passions are more important than what you’re doing. Once you meet their needs and find their passions and are able to connect that legitimately with what’s happening in the church, generosity begins to take place. You won’t see the spicket turn off. It’s viral.”
3. Generous churches are led by generous leaders.
Not all generous leaders have generous churches. But if you find a generous church, Sheppard says that without fail you will find a generous leader at the top.
So, why doesn’t it happen at more churches? Distraction.
“Stewardship is often ignored until the church needs something. Then, there’s a sense of urgency, and it becomes about the need of the church, not the giver,” Jim said.
“The wrong time to raise money is when you need it. Instead, always be cultivating your crop field. That way it’s already there when you need it.”
Generis consultant Rusty Lewis added that it’s vital to show people how their giving is making a difference.
“That’s why nonprofits are so good at what they do,” he said. “They’re always telling you stories and showing results.”
Just think of the United Way billboards that line highways during the holiday season.
“Say less about funding a budget and do more looking back,” he said. “Let’s talk about what happened at Vacation Bible School last month.”
Share about how lives were changed or how parents came to Christ. “Tell the congregation, ‘Thank you for your generosity, because what you’re doing has allowed that to take place.’”
You might want to play a 90-second video or audio clip during the service in which a family tells about how their electricity bill was paid, groceries were bought, or car was repaired.
Let people hear things like, “If it weren’t for you guys, we don’t know what we would have done. Thank you! You literally saved us.”
“When you thank the congregation and celebrate what happened because of giving, you’ve just connected the dots for them,” Rusty said. “People think, ‘that felt good. I’m going to make sure and be a part of that.’”