Let’s start with the obvious, non-profits, like churches, secure the bulk of their financial backing through the generous donations of those who support the mission. Some churches have other revenue sources like pre-schools, daycares, elementary and high schools, and other creative ways to supplement their donations, but church funding is primarily through donations.
Tithing Isn’t Working
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you are probably familiar with the term “tithe.” In the Old Testament, the Israelites presented ten percent of the increase of their crops and livestock to express thanks to the Lord. The Hebrew word for one-tenth is maaser. The Old English translation of maaser is a tithe. Today, followers of Jesus regularly point to this as the baseline for Christian giving. But the reality is that 80% of Americans give 2% of their income to their church, and only 5% actually tithe. That means churches basing their budget income projections on 10% of the median area income are in for an unpleasant surprise. Churches cannot expect that people are donating because it’s their Christian duty; they must do more.
A Lesson in Generosity
In the late 1980s, as newlyweds, my wife and I were barely making it financially. I remember one night in particular; payday was still a few days away, and we were completely out of money and groceries. As we went to bed, I felt like a failure, unable to provide for my wife. I remember thinking how hungry I’d be in the morning – I love breakfast. The following morning I woke up and opened our apartment door to grab the newspaper. To my surprise and delight, there was more than a newspaper; two bags of groceries were waiting at the door. I couldn’t believe it, especially since we did not tell anyone of our dilemma. The attached note said, “I was out shopping and thought of the two of you.” What an incredible act of generosity. One that I have always remembered. That anonymous act stirred something in me. It made me want to be the kind of person that could give to others.
Generosity Breeds Generosity
The experience that my wife and I had all those years ago was so much more than an example of how God uses others or His creativity in providing. It imprinted a spirit of generosity in us. A recent Barna shows that 65% of those calling themselves Christians experienced generosity, which motivates them to model generosity to others. Interestingly, the report also shows that 54% of church givers received an act of generosity compared to non-givers at only 36%. If a church was nothing more than a non-profit business, that data should drive churches to demonstrate generosity to their church body, local community, and a watching world. But the church (followers of Jesus, not the building) is so much more than a non-profit business – it’s the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Churches have something more compelling than data driving their decisions.
As Christians, we have all experienced God’s unparalleled generosity. He held nothing back from us. As His image bearers, we must show others that same level of generosity. Here are a few ideas to get the juices flowing for your church.
- Share the Mission and Vision – One of the last things Jesus said to his followers was, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Now that’s a compelling mission. When was the last time your church shared its mission and vision?
- Tell Stories – Sharing examples of how your church impacts those in the community and worldwide is powerful. It’s a way to remind and model the power of generosity to the church. Of course, this assumes your church is generous and has stories to tell.
- Provide Biblical Teaching – I’m a strong proponent of solid biblical teaching on giving and finances. Biblical giving is an act of worship to God and a spiritual discipline. Churches must learn to talk openly about the importance of giving and provide classes and training on handling money. Courses like Financial Peace University equip people with a solid foundation for managing God’s money.
- Remove Barriers to Giving – Churches must stop relying on the offering plate to receive donations. We live in a digital age with an app for almost everything. Take advantage of the technology and eliminate barriers your church may have that prevent people from donating.