When it comes to people’s money, things get personal fast. It often revolves around two facts: first, they don’t perceive they have enough, and second, they need more! Then we as church leaders “complicate” things by presenting an opportunity for their money to flow in the “wrong” direction – away from them! If you don’t communicate about giving correctly, it’s a recipe for disaster. You can create what I refer to as spiritual dissonance. That is, you challenge your people to do something, and they want to, but don’t perceive that they can. They then become discouraged and giving can actually decline. This process requires careful teaching and leadership.
What Exactly is the Giving Gap?
As church leaders, we understand the blessings and benefits of Biblical instructions about giving, but must not assume that our congregations fully understand them. They may have heard it often, but there is a “Big Gap” between knowing what God says about giving and embracing it to the point of consistently practicing joyful and generous giving. We know this is true because in most churches about 20% of the people give 80% of the financial resources. Can you imagine what would or could happen if your church just increased that by 10%? The point isn’t really money, the point is a changed life. But let’s face it, greater resources will allow you to reach more people and strengthen your current ministries.
Wise church leaders are intentional when it comes to closing the Giving Gap. Remember that giving financially is personal and it’s packed with emotion. The higher the level of emotion the greater the level of resistance. Resistance creates the gap. Your job as a leader is to close the gap. Merely teaching Biblical facts, now matter how pure and true, will not compel your congregation to give. Please don’t view your people as unspiritual or uncommitted because they don’t immediately obey God’s Word. Instead, accept their spiritual struggle and the facts of the current economy. They have bills to pay and money is tight. That stirs emotion, which brings about uncertainty, hesitancy and ultimately resistance. Teach into that reality. They need your encouragement, leadership and inspiration. They need to believe they can do it, and that God will be there with them!
3 Steps to Closing the Gap
Instruction is the ongoing process of teaching your people what God says about giving. It’s important that they understand basic principles of stewardship such as knowing who the true owner is of their resources. Like in a football game, it’s too late when it’s third down and goal to go. If the team doesn’t know the play and hasn’t practiced it dozens of times, the pressure of the moment will cause panic and the ball will be fumbled.
This past Christmas at 12Stone® Church we engaged in several projects to serve kids who otherwise would not have had much of a Christmas celebration. It was a blast providing gifts, parties, and food for thousands of people! This was made possible by the generosity of the 12Stone people. If their hearts were not prepared, if they did not already understand biblical principles of giving, the money would not have been given, especially under the pressure to provide Christmas for their own families.
Biblical stewardship ideally needs to be a way of life in your congregation, not an annual program. Teach the truth, encourage their efforts, challenge their growth, and show appreciation for what is given as a regular part of your ministry.
Inspiration is not hype. First and foremost it’s about communicating how God changes a person’s life when they trust Him with their finances.
I remember well the first few weeks I was a Christian. After saying yes to Jesus on an Easter Sunday, I sat in back of the auditorium and listened to the sermons. I literally shook my head the whole time thinking: “All this guy wants is my money.” The funny thing was that I was a college student and didn’t have any money! And the pastor never mentioned money during those weeks. I was so messed up in my thinking. There was nothing overt or strong-armed or guilt oriented about money at all. They took an offering each week and that was it. It was me. I was young and brash. I actually challenged the pastor on it! He very lovingly and patiently explained what giving was really about and made two things clear. First, the church would do quite well without my money, and second it would be me who would benefit by giving. It wasn’t until I understood what God had in mind that my heart changed and I began to give.
So, first, it’s about a changed heart. Then, it’s about communicating a compelling vision about what you believe God desires to see accomplished in your church. Inspiration communicates a picture of a preferred future. As the leader you must be clear on where you are headed, why you are going in that direction, and how you will get there. It is also important to provide hope, because hope is the element that helps people connect faith to reality. Inspiration that finds its way to the heart allows people to understand that when it comes to Kingdom priorities, their money is flowing in the “right” direction . . . upwards!
Many pastoral leaders are uncomfortable “asking” their people to give, especially above a tithe. Keep in mind, Jesus was never bashful about asking people to make sacrifices. You are not asking for yourself, you are asking on behalf of the mission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19-20. Remember, it’s not really about money, it’s about heart and mission. It’s about living life better now and for eternity.
When you encourage, inspire and challenge people to give, it’s important to do your best to separate yourself from the financial pressures of your church. You will “teach” different if you talk about money from the need of money. It is essential that you teach about God’s stewardship principles with faith and a knowledge that it is through giving that the hearts of your people will grow and mature in their faith. This isn’t always easy, but it is essential. Even if you say all the right words, what you say will feel different. People can smell “desperate” and desperate never inspires. Faith, hope and truth lead the way and inspire people to give.