By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
Mobilizing a church toward generosity is a challenge anywhere. But what about in a church where many people struggle financially?
How do you move people towards generous giving when they are living in near-poverty themselves?
My friend Dr. Stacy Spencer, Senior Pastor of New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn., seems to have cracked the code on leading people to be generous givers despite their financial circumstances.
Stacy says it starts by building on the right theology. He reminds his people of the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians who were poor, but were “filled with abundant joy that is overflowing in rich generosity.”
“When we remind people of how good God is in terms of His providence, and when I remind them that prosperity is anything above daily bread, people have a resonating joy and realize there’s always somebody worse off,” Stacy says. “We remind people that although we are struggling financially, we are nowhere in comparison to people in third world countries who don’t have clean water, or don’t have a roof over their head or dirt for floors.”
“We always try to keep a broader view on what real poverty looks like and how blessed they are—even in the midst of their struggle.”
With that foundation, New Direction generates generosity in some practical ways that are changing its people and impacting its community.
The Other 90 Percent
Stacy says New Direction not only focuses on giving 10 percent of tithes and offerings, but also on what to do with the rest. They teach their congregation how to overcome things such as generational poverty and bad financial habits.
The church hosts workshops on credit cleanup, how to save money and creating budgets. They focus especially on avoiding predatory lenders such as check-to-cash, title loans and pawn shops that thrive in low-income neighborhoods.
“We have to teach people how to avoid these predators and other things that would keep them in poverty,” Stacy says. “These things are new to people who come from generational poverty, and nobody has told them how to properly save or think about the future.”
New Direction leaders determined years ago that tithes and offerings wouldn’t be enough to pull off the economic and community development they wanted to spearhead in under-financed neighborhoods.
In response, the church created a Community Development Corporation (CDC) to help restore the community through government and foundation grants and programs that meet social needs.
Under New Direction’s CDC, the church launched the Eden Square Project, which took over a 43-acre crime-ridden, drug-infested housing project and reclaimed it with initiatives that include:
- An accredited charter school (elementary, middle, high)
- A performing arts center that doubles as a storm shelter that government agency FEMA helped build
- A work development program that helps people get living-wage jobs
- Affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity, with plans to add an assisted living center
“We want to educate and empower people, because an empowered, working person is able to come back and give to his church,” Stacy says. “People can’t overcome poverty if they aren’t empowered.”
To read more details on the Eden Square Project click here.
People are Inspired to Give to Mission
I think the most inspiring thing New Direction does to build generosity is challenge people to give generously to a cause—despite their financial circumstances. Stacy sets the bar high.
“People don’t give to maintenance, they give to mission,” Stacy says. “We try to focus on the mission God has called us to. And I’m reminded of Proverbs that says when you help the poor, God helps you.”
“When you help the poor, God pays you back.”
Stacy saw that play out in an amazing way. Recently, Compassion International brought its mobile experience to New Direction, and Stacy wasn’t sure how people would respond to helping international children with basic needs, when they have so many needs of their own.
Their response was overwhelming.
“When I preached on the need for us to help rescue kids out of poverty, my folks responded by sponsoring over 500 kids,” Stacy says. “Compassion was blown away. I was blown away.”
It all reminds Stacy of another early church in Corinthians that, although in extreme poverty, “begged Paul to help” with his mission. Stacy believes other churches in disadvantaged neighborhoods can do the same with a strong theology and a challenge to meet the needs of others.
“Be inspired with what God is doing here.” Stacy says. “He can do the same thing anywhere”.