What motivates people to be generous? Throughout my career as a stewardship educator, I have encountered countless people who have made a priority of giving generously and joyfully to their church. Thank goodness, because it is the ongoing, dedicated, and regular giving of time, talent and treasure that ensures our parishes are vibrant faith communities.
Too often parishes derive the greatest sum of their giving from a minority of donors. Our own analysis indicates that about 30 per cent of church members are responsible for 70 per cent of all plate and Pre-Authorized Remittance (PAR) contributions. Another 30 per cent give almost none of their treasure.
We encounter all sorts of arguments that push back against our efforts to inspire a more profound level of generosity in our churches. This can be even more pronounced during the pandemic. Here are seven stewardship myths (plus one that is pandemic-specific) that need to be banished from our conversations about giving, receiving and contemporary Christian living.
Myth: More people = more money.
Truth: Stewardship begins at home. If we can’t make it work with those who are present, what makes you so sure we can make it work with newcomers? Continue to ask regular givers to convert to PAR and invite newcomers and non-givers to help fund ministry.
Myth: Talking about money is taboo.
Truth: Faith and finances do mix. Jesus spoke about money and those things we turn into false idols in nearly half of His parables. The story of the widow’s mite isn’t just a cute fable, it’s a teaching that Jesus hopes we will emulate. Jesus continually challenges us to cut ties with our materialism and to see relationships as more important than things.
Myth: Stewardship is the same as fundraising.
Truth: Fundraising is always done to support a need; it is about fixing the roof, buying a new organ, installing an elevator, or painting the church walls. Stewardship is a complete lifestyle of accountability to God. The steward gives because the act of generosity itself frees us from our attachment to thinking only about ourselves.
Myth: Stewardship is just about money.
Truth: To be a steward is to acknowledge that everything we have – our talents, our wealth, our families and all those things that we acquire – is God’s. We give generously and joyfully of all that we have because we have already received the gift of life and its accompanying benefits.
Myth: People in our parish can’t afford to give.
Truth: This statement reflects a theology of scarcity that will completely engulf all aspects of one’s life, including relationships with others. The theology of scarcity is one of the greatest impediments to growth in our churches. Adopting this principle is also one of the quickest ways to close a church.
Myth: Guilt motivates giving.
Truth: If giving is forced, it will not grow and it certainly cannot be sustained. God wants our giving to be joyful and abundant. A spirit of altruism – to give without expectation of recognition or return – cannot be nurtured and shared if it is rooted in guilt.
Myth: People automatically know to give generously.
Truth: Unless congregants are informed of the time, talent and treasure demands on a parish, they may never feel inclined to give more than $10 a week. Dedicated annual stewardship education is essential if we are to inspire full participation from our church membership.
Pandemic Myth #1: It’s not good form to ask people to give during the pandemic.
Truth: People want to give. If this weren’t the case, then FaithWorks would not have experienced its second-best fundraising year on record in 2020 and our invitations to give to other projects would have floundered. Anglicans across the Church have opened their hearts and wallets during this difficult time because it is often the challenges in life that bring out the best in people.
The real problem with any of these myths is that they often lead us to do the exact opposite of that which inspires growth in our churches. If you would like to cultivate a spirit of generous living and a deeper commitment to discipleship in your church, think about how you might incorporate the truths about stewardship – and then act. oweve
The invitation to give is an opportunity to contribute to God’s work on earth. It is a chance to look beyond our own needs and comfort and participate in the transformative life as expressed in the Gospel. Now is a great time to inspire, invite and thank!