North Coast Church, a multisite church in California, has an intentional strategy for cultivating giving that does not rely on the church budget. The church tries to expose its congregation to different overseas missionaries, and then they invite the congregation to support these missionaries directly. In other words, the church tries to avoid being a middleman, preferring to cultivate a giving relationship directly between the people of the church and the missionary. Senior Teaching Pastor Larry Osborne and his team aren’t worried about money leaving the church. In fact, they are thrilled to be used by God in this way, to connect missionaries with their supporters. “The only problem with this arrangement,” Larry discloses, “is that it’s impossible to do a good job of tracking the amount our people give to missions—in fact, we don’t even try to track it. That’s a small loss, though, in light of the benefits of allowing our missionaries to have a direct contact with those who are supporting them. It’s helped our people have a broader, kingdom-mentality. It’s organic, not bureaucratic.”
Teaching Pastor Chris Brown observes that the older “storehouse” perspective, where the church collected money and allocated to different ministries and missionaries, once made sense, but not any longer: “Before the Internet and electronic communication, individuals didn’t have many opportunities to relate to missionaries, so the storehouse function made sense. Today, though, virtually every person can communicate effectively, often, and instantly with those in ministry on the other side of the world. This way, missionaries can contact 100 or 200 people immediately to ask for prayer instead of going through the church. That kind of personal relationship wasn’t possible only a few years ago.”
North Coast’s ministry encourages every person in the church to let the Spirit guide his or her in making decisions about investing their time, energy, and funds. Chris explains, “From the beginning, Larry has wanted people to fall in love with Christ, trusting that the Spirit will change them from the inside out.” The church’s role is to encourage and challenge people to become followers of Christ and expose them to real needs. It’s up to the Spirit to motivate and lead people to get involved and give of their resources to meet those needs.
Some churches may see North Coast’s lack of top-down control as a problem, but Larry, Chris, and the rest of the leaders continue to see people responding to the needs that are presented to them by giving generously and gladly. Citing a recent example, Chris was talking with a high-capacity donor, and the man told him about his son’s involvement with an orphanage overseas. The man had donated money to help build a large chicken farm for the orphanage. The church would never have known about this man’s gift if it hadn’t been for this serendipitous conversation, but as Chris points out, “This act of generosity is just a part of what God is doing in and through people at North Coast.”
Extending generosity beyond the church budget provides some balance to the common temptation that many leaders have to over-emphasize the internal ministries of the church. It’s easy for us to prioritize the ministries that directly affect us, becoming so focused on ourselves that we forget about ministries and missionaries committed to spreading the gospel.
Excerpted from Contagious Generosity by Jim Sheppard and Chris Willard (Zondervan, 2012)