Lately it seems I have been preoccupied with the question of how the church can better respond to the challenge of welcoming newcomers. Specifically, I’m interested in how we can bring to a largely dechurched and secular crowd the question of giving. How can we engage with them so that we are a blessing to them on their faith journey and they are a blessing to us?
The topic of money or financial stewardship in the church has long been one that raises a sense of fear and trepidation in leaders. How can we raise a thorny issue without appearing to be money-grubbing or, even worse, turning them off going to church altogether? My sense is that we need to approach the issue head-on. I don’t believe we can neglect conversations about money in the church; if we are truly interested in the well-being of congregants, we must connect with their whole being – and that includes their relationship with money. Of course, this reflects my own bias, as I speak about giving and generosity all the time. But if we neglect to discuss the importance of being givingpeople, we fundamentally avoid a significant part of the Gospel message.
Once we have broached the issue of generosity with newcomers, we need to invite their participation. So how can people give their money?
Traditionally, this has been done by passing the plate: congregants make gifts using envelopes or cash, and the offering is brought to the front of the altar and a blessing is said. I’d like to move away from this practice with newcomers and strongly encourage using pre-authorized giving (PAG). As I have said many times before, PAG is good theology. It ensures that we give of our first fruits, that we be thoughtful and intentional about giving, and that it is done on a consistent basis. It acknowledges that the ministry of the church and God’s very blessing continues, even when we are not physically present.
What amount should people give? For some, the ultimate example of giving is the tithe, and this gift amount is entirely reasonable. For the vast majority of us, however, it is unattainable in our present circumstances (and it has proven to be a conversation nonstarter in my line of work). I have found that suggesting that newcomers – and all givers, for that matter – give the equivalent of an hour’s pay to be very helpful. It is a proportional gift that is meaningful and real and often increases as we move through our working lives. The idea of giving 2.5 per cent is equally helpful to retirees.
Who should be invited to give? Just as all members of the congregation are invited to come to Christ’s table, so too should everyone be invited to give. While each of us has a different capacity to give, all should be given the opportunity; this includes children as well. If they see the example set by their parents, they might feel inclined to give. Let’s not neglect our kids – someday they’ll be the generation that sustains ministry.
Should I give of my net or gross income? Pray and ask God what to do. If God prompts you to give from the gross amount, go ahead and do it, trusting God with the results. If you are uneasy about this, begin giving from your net amount for a few months and see what happens. After a few months, if you experience God’s creative care in your life, then begin to give from your gross income.
Talking about giving has its place. It doesn’t need to preoccupy us, but it needs to be presented in its proper context. The Sunday Gospel reading lends itself on numerous occasions to the opportunity to discuss those things that are false idols. Lay-witnessing can be a powerful tool to help pew-mates understand that others are facing the same challenges in their lives. Newcomers want to hear that message too. They have come to our churches for a reason; something is missing in their lives. They are seeking spiritual balance and they want to learn more about what it is to be a Christian disciple. We have a wonderful opportunity to be examples of Christ’s abounding generosity. Let’s make an effort to share that same generosity with others.