by Greg Gibbs
The Auxano Generosity Navigators have friendships with church leaders around the country. We check with them and hear a variety of responses on church giving, so we try to not make any sweeping generalizations about “giving during the pandemic."
However, things seem to be changing now that much of the country appears to be in a post-pandemic posture. Here is what remains consistent: There are a variety of opinions about what will happen with giving just like there have been a variety of opinions about everything these days.
For instance, Thom Rainer says that giving will go down 5%. He bases this on the false “high” we have right now economically driven by the government injecting money into the economy. Once the government stops their attempts to stabilize by printing money, Thom says reality will set in.
On the other hand, Warren Bird looks at the results of a recent ECFA study to say that there is anticipation that things are headed in the right direction. Two thirds of churches (and nonprofits) are entering 2022 with optimism.
At a macro level, it is hard to argue with the statistics that giving to churches continues to decline. But you don’t lead a church at the macro-economic level. You lead a specific church at a specific time in history in a particular part of the country. We continue to encourage contextualization. Read the trends, be aware of things that could help you look into the future a bit but lead your church.
If we were sitting down over a cup of coffee, we would encourage you to look at specific trend lines in your church’s giving. We would argue that the times demand that pastors do things they were never equipped to do in seminary. As an example of how the conversation would go, let’s focus specifically on two things: Regular Analysis and Intentional Generosity Discipleship.
Many of us entered ministry at a time long before the iPhone and cryptocurrency. For most pastors in America, it was a simpler time in many ways. The category of church giving may not have been a fun or fantastic part of ministry, but at least it was simple: Cash or checks in a plate or bag, counted after each Sunday, and invested in the mission.
We never had to pay much attention and were often not interested in doing so. But as complexity increases, so does the need for analysis. Many pastors are finding that analysis of giving trends reveals pastoral and organizational opportunities as never before. For instance, did you know there is a way to be notified when a member has lapsed in their giving so that you (or someone you designate) can check to make sure they are ok? Far beyond chiding someone for not giving, we may discover a more immediate way to tend to people’s deep need.
What are the trends at your church? What opportunities do you have to shepherd people in this category of giving and generosity? What are the channels of giving that you could open to your congregation beyond cash, check and credit or debit card? Did you know that 80% of digital giving does not occur on Sunday? These and many other questions can lead to exciting opportunities to see both engagement and giving grow in ways that will not happen if we simply plug our ears, cover our eyes and hope that disaster does not strike.
When it comes to both the spiritual formation of individuals in the congregation and the regular fueling of ministry with funds, there is no way around this. Long gone are the days when we can presume that people understand the importance of giving or feel a sense of obligation to do so.
We usually attribute this to a generational trend: young people do not see the importance of giving to church. But it is more than that. With the proliferation of amazing faith-based and Christ-centered nonprofits, there is a higher complexity to the question for each Christian about where God’s money should be invested. There needs to be an intentional and proactive approach to modeling, teaching, encouraging, and graciously challenging people to invest in the church. The days of “pass the plate and people will fund the church” are done. The importance of the gospel message demands that church leaders step more intentionally into this aspect of discipling their congregation.
It is time for churches to enter the exciting new world of giving and make choices about how that will happen in the church – in their context, through their theology of giving and stewardship, and in the way that best fits the specific culture of the congregation.
If you were wondering about our opinion at Auxano Generosity, we say “it depends.” If you are not intentionally discipling people toward Jesus-like generosity, then presume the trend of decline will happen at your church. If you are willing to step into some uncharted territory and try some new ways of discipleship in this category, we are extremely optimistic that a win-win will happen. People grow spiritually and in their commitment to the church and the church has the financial fuel for its mission.