Do You Limit the Generosity of Your Church?

Leadership // May 5, 2015

Do you limit the generosity of your church? Now, I have to believe you would never intentionally limit the generosity of your church. In fact, I believe you would love it to improve, to grow, to flourish. But are there things you are doing unknowingly, or habits in place at your church, that hinder or interfere with your giving culture?

I just returned from the UnEarth Conference in Jacksonville this month, and I was blessed again to share information with church leaders from across the country on the topic of generosity. This time the topic was “8 Ceilings that Limit Giving to Your Church” (and several solutions to fix them). My thanks to colleague Brad Leeper, President of Generis, for contributions to this content!

Today I’ll share with you these “ceilings” and we will explore the solutions in my next post. Stay tuned by subscribing to my eNewsletter.

First, let’s look at something quickly to get us started. From data collected through Generosity Audits and giving analyses of hundreds of churches, Generis has found the following to be the typical pattern in church giving:


  • 50 give nothing
  • 20 give $1,200
  • 30 give more than $1,200
  • If you have 10 elders/deacons/trustees, 2 are likely not giving
  • 1/3 of your staff is likely not giving

Now those figures might surprise you, but here’s what is typically going on behind the scenes to create such skewed giving metrics.


In many cases, there is a missing connection between discipleship and giving. From week to week the giving context is divorced from the value of discipleship. Giving is usually only taught/preached once per year (often during the church’s annual fall stewardship campaign – I call it “The Hunt for Green October”), and the topic is completely absent from any small group or Sunday school class curriculum.

So the only time people hear teaching/preaching about giving is during the stewardship emphasis when they are asked to make a financial commitment of some kind. It’s no wonder people associate sermons on money with the church wanting more of it! (I covered this point in a recent blog post.)

In many churches only one or two people know who gives what, and leadership teams give too much weight to privacy rather than seeing data as a shepherding tool. In doing so, spiritual giftedness is ignored. The result in this situation is predictable giving patterns in which pastors find themselves locked in a giving merry-go-round.

My guess is that if you had Chris Tomlin in your church, you would ask him to be involved in your worship ministry. So why would we not ask those who have the gift of giving to leverage their gifts to minister to others?

Randy Alcorn recently shared an article about this topic. He called it “Should Giving Always Be Kept Secret?” and used it to address the idea of giving secrecy. It’s a highly recommended read!

Leadership often lacks clarity between these three things and they tend not to be well connected. Most people, as a result, perceive their giving as a way to fund a budget. (By the way, that’s a word I would never suggest using in your church. I would recommend “ministry fund” or “resource fund,” but you know that from my previous post about giving language).

What’s the fix for this? Connect the dots for your people. Answer their question of “How does my giving here make a difference?” by showing them the proof. Here are a few links to blog posts that will give you some ideas:
Connecting the Dots Between Ministry and Generosity
How Often Should Pastors Preach About Generosity
I Gave to Your Ministry and All I Got was this Lousy Statement
Annual Reports Tell Stories that Increase Generosity

Many churches have systems in place that actually hinder giving. Consider your answers to a few of these questions:

  • Do you leverage the 90 seconds prior to the offering to share vision, tell stories of life change, and allow for celebrations of recent ministry successes? This helps show exactly what the giver’s generosity can do!
  • Do you make announcements during the offering time? Please. Stop. The offering time is a time of worship, and it should be treated as such.
  • Do you offer (and talk about) online giving? What percentage of your total giving is e-giving? It should be more and more over time.
  • Are you thanking first-time and second-time givers?
  • Are you reaching out to lapsed (back door) givers, and how are you tracking that data?

We tend to speak at church as if everyone present is part of one homologous group, don’t we? Like we’re talking to one very similar audience. But we have seven year olds and seventy-seven year olds, new believers and mature Christians, non-givers and long-time givers, all listening in the same service.

Why treat everyone the same? Raise the bar. Meet people where they are. Speak to them at their level and encourage them on the next step of their giving journey. Challenge those with capacity to make the magnificent gift! Encourage those who have never given before to take that first step.

Many churches have implemented excellent, clear “next steps” for assimilation. If you’re a first-time guest, you go here. After that, your next step is to come to a “getting to know our church” class. This is so smart!

What about a “next steps” system for giving? Are your people asking, “If I’ve never given before, where do I begin?” and “How do I give?” and “How much should I give?” So establish a giving philosophy and clarify your language. Outline a next steps plan for the first-time giver, regular giver, intentional giver, tither, generous giver, and legacy giver. A generosity road map will do wonders for your people – we’ve talked about that before.

A generosity road map will do wonders for your people. Click To Tweet

Most church software is pretty similar, isn’t it? It’s difficult to get reports showcasing giving trends. You can, but who has the time? So we run income/expense reports amidst the weekly/monthly giving reports, only looking at the big picture. We see the bottom line looks good, so we move on.

Instead of simply embracing existing giving patterns and settling for whatever happens without much attention, we should be more diligent. We should be tracking first-time givers, lapsed givers, first-time to lapsed ratios, giving as a percentage of median income by zip code, percentage growth/decrease by giving unit, and more. (Email me if you would like to preview the best giving metric tool on the planet!)

Do you remember the “capital campaign” strategies from the 1970s and 1980s? They still work, but they are not always as relevant today.

We need more current terminology and a fresh strategy.

  • The label “capital campaign” carries baggage for many people, so I seldom use that language today. Ministry expansion projects and generosity initiatives appeal to a wider audience.
  • Many are leaving behind the “over and above” giving campaigns of the past, for the One Fund approach – focusing on the connection of one’s faith and finances for the giver, making the initiative more about personal growth in discipleship and less about the needs of the church to fund a project.
  • There are many different subsets within your congregation, all carrying different perspectives and motivations from different things. Initiative strategies today require a much more broad implementation to ensure we are connecting with all of those audiences effectively.

Giving is perhaps the best spiritual tool we have in our inventory – and often the most ignored. But if people connect faith and finances, they experience huge spiritual growth. So what are some solutions to take us from these “ceilings” that limit generosity to accelerated generosity and spiritual growth? We will tackle those next time.

About Rusty Lewis

As a church leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than not having the funding to do what God’s calling you to do. But when you think about trying to address that problem, you feel overwhelmed, you dread the potential pushback from your congregation, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. Over the last 18 years, I’ve helped more than 120 churches close the gap between their current financial reality and what they need to move forward in ministry.

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