How Far Does Generosity Reach?

Generosity touches every aspect of ministry in a church. It has a role to play in small groups, campus events, mission projects, the events and programming we invest in, and our celebration of life change. And when we talk about the comprehensive nature of generosity, we also mean that it must permeate every area of our leadership, too. There is no part of how we do church—even our own personal financial decisions as leaders—that shouldn’t be impacted by a holistic understanding and discipline of generosity.

The first step for many churches is simply to define stewardship.  “We had to decide, is stewardship about discipling and teaching, or is it about fundraising and development?” says Larry Powell, president of a private equity investment company in Atlanta and a lay leader at North Point Ministries. “We asked ourselves this question: If we are instructing our people about stewardship, and we see that their money is going elsewhere, not just to the church, is that OK? If the answer is yes, then we are approaching this as discipleship and teaching. If seeing the money go elsewhere isn’t OK, then really all we are doing is fundraising. The conclusion we came to is that we want congregational giving to go up across the board—not just to the church, but to other organizations as well. We want to see other totals go up. That’s when we are doing our jobs as church leaders.”

Sometimes we see churches with great intentions place the burden of stewardship and generosity with those tasked to oversee the finances of the church or organization.  But doing this restricts the vision for generosity to the area of budgets and operational management, a limitation that makes it difficult for other leaders—the children’s pastor, youth pastor, missions pastor, and spiritual formation pastor—to embrace generosity as a core value in their own ministries.

This deficiency becomes clear to us whenever we ask children’s ministry leaders in different churches how they include generosity as part of their overall educational objectives. As children grow, most children’s ministry leaders are careful to expose them to all the core doctrines of the faith. So when we ask these leaders to explain their teaching on prayer, Bible study, and worship, the answers they give to us are usually quite specific and well-articulated. More often than not, however, when we ask leaders to share how they disciple children in the biblical teaching on generosity, you can almost hear a pin drop. Leaders aren’t prepared to discuss this issue, let alone teach it to the children in their ministry.

Generosity is systemic. This means it’s not a one-time effort or a passing event. It is a value that is taught and built right into the fabric of our church. It is a thread that runs throughout the entire organization and may, at times, become the focal point of the congregation, bringing unity and focus to every aspect of church life. For example, if we notice that we have a large number of people participating in new member programs but a very small number of first-time givers, we may need to consider revisiting our new member programming to ensure we are communicating a church-wide commitment to generosity, one that clearly establishes it as an expectation for new members. Or if we notice that the bulk of our core givers peak at age forty and begin to decline and flatline around age fifty-five, then we know that we are not capturing the hearts of couples who have grown children and beyond.

Excerpted from “Contagious Generosity” by Chris Willard Jim Sheppard, Zondervan, 2012.

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