The idea of a “giving pathway” isn’t a new concept. We’ve talked about the Next Steps of Generosity before, and I have shared a generous giver’s prayer. But what if we stopped thinking about this journey of generosity so much in terms of percentages and numbers?
First – why is a pathway important? For the same reason you likely have a formal assimilation program in your church – you desire to move people from where they are, to where you (and God) want them to be. You have developed a logical “next steps” process – for example:
If you’re a first-time guest with us this weekend, we invite you to our monthly “Open Mic” night – come and learn anything you’d like to know about our church, mission, and ministries. At Open Mic night, you talk about their next step – attending your New Member class. Then in the New Member class, you talk about the importance of getting plugged in – take a spiritual gifts assessment, and get involved in a small group. Once engaged in the church and involved in a small group, you work to get them serving in a ministry area that aligns with their gift assessment. And so on. There is a logical, and easy-to-understand series of steps that helps the worship guest know how to engage with you and the church.
A similar process is wise in your giving discipleship program:
- Non-givers need help understanding what their first step might be. “I’ve never giving before – where do I start? How much am I supposed to give? How/where do I give?” These may seem like easy questions for you, but consider the new believer who wasn’t raised in the church. Don’t assume even the most basic of questions – anticipate and answer them all.
- Casual givers need a nudge to become a consistent giver.
- Those who are tithing often believe they’ve “arrived” – that there is no next step for them. They believe they are right where God commands them, without considering that there is room for them to grow in their personal journey. We know that to be wrong, don’t we? Isn’t God always challenging us to grow with him in ALL areas of discipleship? Prayer, Bible study, service, giving, sharing the Gospel. A pathway helps to understand that we are always challenged to grow in our giving.
Often a giving pathway (or “Generosity Ladder” as first coined by Nelson Searcy in his book by the same name), is somewhat organized by gift amounts or income percentages. The first level is initial giver, while a higher level represents a tithe, and a still higher level represents an amount above the tithe. Well…can’t an initial giver begin giving at the level of a tithe? Do we have to wait until a higher step to reach that amount?
Today I want to challenge you to consider this pathway from a new perspective. Let’s look at this concept in terms of behavior. Rather than defining each step by an amount given, or a percentage of income, let’s define each step with a new behavior. How can we define each step in the pathway by a new behavior?
Let’s start at the beginning – with someone giving for the very first time.
An Initial Giver is someone who decides to give for the first time; someone who decides to give something and trust God and the leaders of the Church with this gift (2 Corinthians 8:7; 15). Before doing so, there are five things a first-time giver will likely need to know before they will give. These five things educate them, reassure them, and provide logistical information to empower them to give for the very first time. And as church leaders, that’s our job – to empower our people in spiritual growth. The new behavior – practicing generosity through a tangible act of giving.
A Consistent Giver is someone who decides to give something on a regular, consistent basis. Often, this is someone who decides to make his or her gift an online recurring gift. But whether the gift is automated online, or given weekly in worship, the new behavior is consistency. (2 Corinthians 9:6; 8).
An Intentional Giver is someone who is beginning to think about their giving in relation to the other areas where they spend their money. You’ve heard the challenge – “Show me a person’s bank account, and I’ll show you what truly matters to them.” God tells us in Matthew 6:24 that we can’t serve two masters – that we’ll devoted to the one, and despise the other – we cannot serve both God and money. The Intentional Giver begins internalizing the question and practicing the behavior of priority. “Why am I paying more to my cell phone provider than I am giving to God? What would it look like in my life to make my giving the largest check I write each month?” This giver starts to make giving an intentional choice that reflects how she feels about it in relation to the other areas where she spends money. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11).
A Sacrificial/Surrendered Giver is someone who begins to make changes that cost them something in their lifestyle. A Sacrificial Giver begins to ask the question, “Am I giving in a way that changes me? Am I giving in a way that is offering up to God that which costs me something of myself? Am I giving in a way that causes my lifestyle to be different to reflect the transformation Christ is making in me?” A Sacrificial Giver’s commitment to giving actually governs the rest of his lifestyle – their new behavior is prioritization. Much in the way that someone who has a mortgage that is “larger than their current situation” (we sometimes call them “house poor”) has to adjust the rest of their expenditures to meet that mortgage obligation, a Sacrificial Giver has a giving commitment that is “larger than their current situation” so that they have to adjust the rest of their expenditures to meet their commitment to make giving a priority. (2 Samuel 24:18-25)
A Lifetime Giver is someone who is thinking about the longer tail of generosity rather than just the shorter term of month-to-month or even year-to-year giving. A Lifetime Giver makes decisions in the short term that have longer term effects as it relates to their generosity capacity. They think of what home they buy, what car they purchase, how much savings they choose to keep, all in relation to their generosity capacity. A Lifetime Giver is no longer asking the question, “God, how much are you asking me to give?” A Lifetime Giver is asking the question, “God, how much are you asking me to keep?” They ask this so that they can release the rest into Kingdom purposes. A Lifetime Giver might be someone who has a lifetime giving goal, something that will govern their larger-ticket decisions. Much like a Sacrificial Giver makes a commitment that will govern his/her monthly and annual decisions, a Lifetime Giver makes a lifetime or longer-term giving commitment that governs his/her larger-item purchases like homes, cars, investments, and the like (1 Timothy 6:6; 19). The behavior…setting and pursuing a long-term or lifetime giving goal.
Do you see the difference when you think about behaviors vs. numbers? Now here are a few questions for you to consider as you encourage the people in your church to be generous:
- Do you talk about generosity like it’s all or nothing, or do you encourage people to take one step after another in obedience as God calls them?
- If you talk about tithing, is it as though it’s a finish line, or do you encourage people to be sacrificial givers?
- Do you celebrate generosity and remind people how far they’ve come?
- How often do you communicate the different ways people can give so people know their very first step?
Introducing this pathway, and revisiting it with your people as needed, gives them a visual explanation of what the next steps of generosity look like. They can identify where they are on their journey and consider their next step. What will help them the most is getting to the heart of it all, asking your people to prayerfully examine their generosity, and encouraging them along your new Generosity Pathway.