L E A D E R S H I P N E T W O R K
Connecting Innovators to Multiply
What Truly Generous Churches Are Learning
by Rick Long
More and more churches are working to build a
culture of generosity that shines through even in dark
economic times. These innovative leaders know that
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But
they also know that difficult times create an entirely
new environment for ministry-and extraordinary
opportunities to demonstrate the power of generous
Avoiding the Money Conflict: How to Ask for Money
in a Culture that Has Avoided Fundraising by
The Genesis of Generosity: First Steps toward Creating
Cultures of Generosity in Churches by Pat Springle
Discipling the High-Capacity Giver; Some Churches
are Taking New Attitudes and New Approaches to
Caring for Wealthier Members of Their Congregations
by Alexis Wilson
When Kent Sparks, assisting pastor at the Argyle, These innovative leaders know that God is the
TX campus of Cross Timbers Church same yesterday, today and forever, and that his
(www.crosstimberschurch.org), stood up that principles for generosity and stewardship are, as
Sunday morning in October 2008, he didn’t have well. But they also know that difficult times create
to tell the congregation that the economy was an entirely new environment for ministry. The
suffering. Many had their own stories or knew of financial hardship that can strike—sometimes
friends and loved ones who were suffering without warning—is only part of the problem
financially. Kent knew many of the stories too. people and communities face. Added to the
economic woes are other ripple effects that can
So he decided to take a bold step as he be just as devastating. On a personal level,
introduced the morning offering. “I just wonder if financial stress can lead to broken marriages, fear,
there is someone in this room who ought to feelings of isolation or depression and doubts
receive, not give, today,” Kent said. “Maybe about God. And communities face increased
someone here doesn’t even have gas money to get crime and strained social service resources.
home. If you’re in that type of need, would you
raise your hand?” A young, single mother in the Truly generous churches don’t ignore these
congregation slowly raised her hand. When she realities. Quite the opposite. They respond with
did, Kent didn’t just pray for her. He didn’t urgency and eagerness because they know the
suggest she apply for the church’s benevolence extraordinarily difficult times create extraordinary
fund. Instead, he immediately walked down the opportunities to demonstrate the power of
aisle, took the $20 he had in his wallet and gave generous living. As they pursue generosity both
it to her. As soon as he did, others seated nearby inside and outside the church walls, they are
opened their wallets and quickly, quietly, lovingly bringing real change to communities across
gave her even more money. the country.
In that simple act, a young family was blessed, These remarkably generous churches come from
and an entire congregation saw the power of different traditions and different sections of the
bold, generous giving. country. On the outside, they appear more
different than alike, but a look inside shows
Like the good people at Cross Timbers, more and several common values and practices. Generous
more churches are working to build a culture of Churches use both “official” communication
generosity that shines through even in dark channels and informal personal relationships to
economic times—the type of generosity that share the vision that generosity isn’t an action but
transforms lives and hearts as people share their a lifestyle. They also creatively seek, share and
time, their talent and their treasure. celebrate stories that illustrate true generosity.
Generous churches aren’t known by their facilities but by the priorities of the congregations who worship there.
They build credibility through uncommon • LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont,
financial transparency and accountability. And CO (www.lbcc.org), organizes all its
they “go big” with large-scale giving work—including generosity—around three
opportunities that change individual lives and basics: “Discover grace, grow in grace
unite the church in profound, new ways. and live gracefully.” The formula naturally
supports their teaching and practice
Pastors and leaders at truly generous churches While each church’s
know that creating a culture of generosity really words are different, YOU WON’T FIND
isn’t about money. It’s about people’s hearts and all establish a broad
souls and relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, definition of generosity. GENEROUS CHURCHES
this bigger vision goes against the popular picture Their language is
of what it means to be “generous.” positive, God-centered
and connected to the “GUILT” THEIR
That’s why these churches spend a great deal of church’s overall values.
energy communicating their vision. They want You won’t find generous MEMBERS INTO
their congregations to understand that generosity churches attempting to
means more than writing a “guilt” their members
GIVING OR URGING
LEADERS AT TRULY check. Establishing a firm into giving or urging the
foundation is especially
congregation to give
GENEROUS important in difficult times. because “We need to TO GIVE BECAUSE
pay some bills.” They
CHURCHES KNOW The Journey, St. Louis, MO “WE NEED TO PAY
reinforce that giving
THAT CREATING A flows out of commit- SOME BILLS.”
is one of these churches. ment, not the other
CULTURE OF Lead Pastor Darrin Patrick way around.
has built the Journey around
GENEROSITY a simple principle: “Church A culture of generosity may be guided by a strong
is not something we ‘do.’
REALLY ISN’T vision, but for that vision to take hold, much more
Church is something we is needed. Especially during times of hardship.
ABOUT MONEY. are.” That vision shapes a
perspective on generosity Dave Travis, managing director for Leadership
that is both liberating and Network (www.leadnet.org) explains it this way:
challenging. Campus Pastor Joel Lindsey says it “People want to see their giving connect with real
well: “In trying to encourage generosity, the real people and real needs. The more tangible the
message is, ‘We don’t just want you to write a results, the better.”
check. We want you to know Jesus more.’”
Sometimes, a need can be so compelling that a
Other leading churches have a similar take on the congregation will respond almost immediately.
language of generosity: Asbury United Methodist Church, Tulsa, OK
(www.asburytulsa.org), has experienced just such
• University United Methodist Church, San a case. Their staff once wanted to raise money to
Antonio, TX (www.uchurch.tv), bases its purchase Bibles for children in the Persecuted
generosity language around the church’s Church. The fit seemed perfect. After all, Asbury’s
core message, as well. Directing Pastor DNA is built on a deep reverence for Scripture, an
Charles Anderson says, “We have a saying emphasis on children and a heart for missions.
in our church; ‘Look to Jesus that we might Rather than assembling a committee, developing
look like Jesus.’ That easily translates into a new program or launching a fundraising drive,
a very simple generosity message: “Give the staff settled on a much simpler, almost
Like Jesus.” minimalistic strategy. They dedicated just five
minutes in one worship service to share the need. that we can talk about generosity as a natural part
The straightforward pitch essentially asked two of our response to Jesus.”
Christopher Willard, director of Leadership
“Can you imagine what your life would be Network’s Generous Churches Leadership
like if you didn’t have a Bible?” Community, cites another reason relationships are
so important: “High-wealth people often have
“Can you imagine how these children’s lives
huge problems. Everybody they know wants
would be enriched if they had Bibles?
something from them. In many cases, they need a
pastor more than they need a development officer.”
That simple message instantly resonated with the
congregation. In five minutes, the congregation Ken Williams, Executive Pastor at WoodsEdge
learned enough to know that their giving could Community Church, Spring, TX
make a real difference. The result? The offering (www.woodsedge.org), adds that relationships are
produced special gifts of $25,000 for the two-way conversations—not one-way sales
Persecuted Church. That’s a testament to both the pitches. And sometimes, listening is more
church’s generosity and the power of a important than talking.
Ken tells the story of one WoodsEdge member
Keep It Personal who owns a manufacturing company that
While “official” church communications are employs a number of church members. As the
important in building a culture of generosity, local economy slowed, his business was soon
personal relationships can play an even bigger role. suffering. In conversation, Ken learned that the
owner was more concerned about how he would
In the context of a true generosity initiative, pay his brothers and sisters in Christ than about
relationship-building is not a tactic or ploy. It is, his own paycheck. That added sense of
rather, a natural outgrowth of the church’s responsibility only deepened his anxiety. In a
commitment to serving in love. Relationships affirm sense, this member was already being generous—
the principle that giving is a matter of the heart. and the church’s most important task was now to
help him gain peace with circumstances that
Michael Miller, Director of Maximum Impact were out of his control.
at NorthRidge Church, Detroit, MI
(http://northridgechurch.com), stresses this Ken recalls a similar conversation with an
important building block: “Before we think about apparently successful real estate agent in their
the big things, we need to think about the little congregation. “I learned that while, yes, he had
things—relationships. It’s up to us to win the right been quite successful, he actually hadn’t sold
to make the ask. At NorthRidge, our senior pastor anything in a year. That reality directly impacted
Brad Powell understands this. He invites twelve his ability to give, if not his heart for giving. If we
leader/influencer/capacity guys to join him in a didn’t have an open and honest relationship that
ten week small group commits once a year. to allowed this kind of sharing, I probably would
get twelve of our biggest donors together. Not to have been encouraging him in entirely the
ask for anything—just to get them in the room. wrong way.”
And God takes it from there.”
Build the Strategy
Joel Lindsey of The Journey, says it this way: “We’re Generous churches also place a premium on
a very young congregation. Sometimes, words like creative strategies, tools and resources to spread
‘stewardship’ and ‘tithe’ just get in the way of an the message of giving. And they make certain
authentic connection. When I sit down with a their generosity goals are actually filtering
young couple to talk about generosity, those words through to the congregation.
often don’t resonate. What does resonate is the fact
Asbury United Methodist Church, for example, economic downturn deepening, I knew we needed
builds its ministry around eight core objectives: to be more proactive in getting the word out.”
1. Every member confessing Jesus Christ as So WoodsEdge’s communications team put
Lord. together a colorful brochure outlining the
church’s five basic financial ministries:
2. Every member living to love, seek and save
the lost through Christ.
1. Financial Courses
3. Every member worshiping God, corporately
2. Financial Advisers
3. Small Group Curriculum
4. Every member participating in a small group
Christian community. 4. Financial Assistance
5. Every member developing a Biblical 5. Employment Assistance
worldview by learning and applying God’s
6. Every member bringing the tithe (one-tenth)
in loving obedience to God’s gracious
7. Every member devoted to prayer.
8. Every member discovering and using
spiritual gifts for ministry and mission.
Over time, the church had developed significant
action plans for seven of the objectives. Only
number 6—the giving objective—was without a
specific plan. When Asbury’s leaders realized
this, they got busy. One step was to give more
WoodsEdge financial advisor brochure
emphasis to Financial Peace University. The
church also hired Stewardship Pastor Jim
Lenderman, with responsibility to make the giving
objective a reality. Jim is currently working on But WoodsEdge did more than produce a
new ways to incorporate stewardship into brochure. They aggressively distributed it—most
Asbury’s educational programs. He also is notably, putting a copy on every seat in the
investigating the idea of a discovery ministry, worship center one Sunday morning.
where people can explore local opportunities
to “get their hands dirty” and find how their The eight-page brochure answered the members’
time, their talents and their treasure can best be most likely questions about each resource. The
put to use. goal was to overcome whatever barriers might
keep someone from saying “yes” to the very
WoodsEdge Community Church faced a slightly solution or opportunity they needed.
different problem. The church has long had a host
of tools and resources to encourage generous The “Financial Advisers” section of the brochure
living. Unfortunately, Executive Pastor Ken is a good example. Financial advisors occupy a
Williams realized the congregation was unaware position very much like that of marriage
of all that was available. “Unless someone had counselors. Some have professional experience
needed and sought out a certain kind of support while others have training through various
in the past, it became pretty obvious that they had Christian stewardship ministries. Some advisers
no idea of what our church offered. With the have very technical skills to meet the specific
client’s needs—whether estate planning, One key to Cross Timbers’ culture is the honesty
retirement planning, college funding or debt and vulnerability of its lead pastor, Toby Slough.
reduction. But personal chemistry is equally Julie Kovac, director of Finance at Cross Timbers,
important. The client must be comfortable enough says, “Toby really sets the model. Nearly every
to share very personal, even private information week, he gets up there and says, ‘I’m a mess.’
with the adviser. There must be complete trust Then he tells how he’s growing through it. That
between counselor and counselee. kind of openness makes it okay for other people
to tell about their junk, as well.”
That’s why the WoodsEdge brochure describes
each financial counselor’s education, expertise Joel Lindsey of The Journey explains another
and background in detail. Each bio even includes aspect of the storytelling process: “Generosity
a color photo. The intent is to help people identify stories are often deeply personal, especially to the
the professional with whom they will feel most one being helped. Some facts and failings are
comfortable. A 60-year old almost-retired man inappropriate to share at a mass level. It’s crucial
might prefer working with someone in a similar that the church respect confidentially. One way to
life situation. A 35-year old up-and-coming accomplish this is through a focus on the
female entrepreneur might be more comfortable one being generous rather than the person
with a very different kind of professional. The being helped.”
brochure did some of the qualifying work to help
people make the right choice. Charles Stinson, lay leader at Asbury United
Methodist Church, takes this a step further. “The
point isn’t just to talk about someone else’s
fåëéáêÉ=ïáíÜ=píçêáÉë generosity. It’s to demonstrate the generosity of
our own church members. That just makes the
All churches that are developing a culture of story so much more real, so much more inspiring
generosity during tough times have found that and so much more effective.”
storytelling is central to their success. Stories
bring concepts to life, engage people’s interest Asbury, for example, has an active group of
and inspire action. hearing-impaired members. While their faith is
contagious, communication with other members
Jim Kuykendall, senior of the congregation is difficult. But a recent story
associate pastor at Cross helped bring both hearing and hearing-impaired
Timbers, says, “As we tell members together. It was the story of a mission
stories in our church, we want trip the deaf congregants organized and took to
to present once-broken people assist a hearing-impaired congregation in Mexico
who have been dramatically that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
changed by an encounter with The entire congregation saw—and heard—about
God. After all, that describes love in action, about pushing past limitations,
every one of us. The stories tell and about the church being the church. And that’s
of a very big God and, a message that everyone could understand
hopefully, make people want
to be part of a church that is truly serving Lights, Camera, Action!
Him.” Most of the stories originate, in Generous churches almost always tap into the
one way or another, through the power of video as they tell stories.
ministries Cross Timbers sponsors—
including Celebrate Recovery and the Storytelling videos are a part of the worship
Healing Place (which offers professional experience at almost every highly generous
Christian counseling and support church. While not specifically a generosity
TOBY SLOUGH groups for children, adolescents, adults initiative, some of these stories have a direct
and families). “give” message. And cumulatively, all are calling
offering we had just collected. Thanks to our
members’ generosity, Asbury had been able to
provide five months of the food needed by our
local Restore Hope ministry. To put it another
way: our members donated enough to cover the
ministry’s entire food distribution program for
almost half of the coming year. But because we
presented the story in worship on Super Bowl
Sunday, a good number of members missed that
blessing. We could have done so much more—
and brought so many more members into this
inspiring celebration. What if we had a video
crew filming the food being dropped off and put
that video on our web site? We’ll know better
Story telling videos are a part of the worship experience at next time.”
almost every highly generous church.
There’s another reason a good story shouldn’t just
the congregation to a higher standard of service be told once. Any schoolteacher can tell you that
and generosity. students—whether young or old—listen and learn
differently. Some by seeing, some by reading, and
And it’s not just the biggest churches that are almost everyone by experiencing.
using video. The Journey—whose weekend
attendance of 2,300 is just over half that of Cross Generous churches understand this principle and,
Timbers—also has taken the leap. They recently therefore, use multiple media channels—
invested in the technology required to produce whatever channels fit their individual culture. At
reasonably high-quality videos sufficient for Asbury, a growing
their purposes. collection of video
testimonials is now
The attitude of the leadership at Asbury is typical archived on the church’s
of many highly generous churches. A church web site in a section
consultant recently recommended that Asbury called “My Story.” Other
move to a 52-weeks-a-year video storytelling stories are included in the
program. While Asbury’s leaders aren’t certain church’s monthly print
that’s the right level for them, they are certain magazine, Tidings,” a
they need to ramp up. “At some point, we will copy of which is mailed
have to fund a full-time team to produce our to each household in
videos,” says Jim Lenderman. “We’re going to the church. Tidings is
have to bite the bullet. It’s that important.” also distributed through
racks conveniently placed
For maximum penetration, however, storytelling outside the sanctuary. And
Cover of Tidings Magazine
can’t be confined to video or any other single an electronic version
medium. (utilizing the latest in
page-turning technology) appears on the church’s
Jim Lenderman of Asbury gives one reason: “If we web site.
show a video clip or have a personal testimony
during a single worship service, what good does Charles Stinson adds another thought. “When
that do for a member who wasn’t at that service?” stories are really inspiring, another channel just
naturally evolves. Members of the congregation
“An example from our own church illustrates the begin telling the stories to their friends, family,
point. One Super Bowl Sunday, we shared with neighbors and work associates. The stories take
the congregation the amazing results of a special on a life of their own.”
What other communication methods do generous
churches use to spread generosity stories and
messages? Again, it depends partly on the culture
and capabilities of the church.
Michael Miller at NorthRidge is looking at their
small group network as a possible conduit for
generosity messages. After all, the church has
nearly 4,300 people in small groups. One of
Michael’s goals is to “normalize generosity,” to
make it part of the natural fabric of the church.
And small groups are the perfect way to do that. Generous Churches report that celebration brings excitement
That’s where members “do life together.” So and enhances community.
working generosity into the framework of those
relationships is a natural. the fruit that will come out of our giving—not on
how wonderful we are for the act of giving.”
Like other generous churches, NorthRidge also
encourages online giving. But a special section of
the NorthRidge web site goes even deeper—with _É= ^ÅÅçìåí~ÄäÉÔ_É
an explanation of the church’s “Maximum qê~åëé~êÉåí FAMILIES AND
Impact” philosophy and listings of opportunities Pastors and leaders who
that will help members begin to transform their want their congregations to INDIVIDUALS ARE
lives for greater generosity. be generous must mirror TIGHTENING THEIR
generosity at a church level.
Celebrate This is, in part, simply a PERSONAL BELTS.
Creating a culture of generosity isn’t complete matter of doing the right
without celebration. Generous churches report thing. After all, Jesus called AND THEY NEED
that celebration brings excitement and enhances us to be good and faithful TO KNOW THAT
community. It reinforces a stewards. But it’s also a key
A CONGREGATION shared culture. A to building AS A CHURCH, WE
congregation that a culture of generosity,
THAT CELEBRATES celebrates generosity moves particularly in difficult ARE TOO.
from watching someone economic times.
else’s story to together
MOVES FROM making its own. And in According to Rick Rusaw of LifeBridge Christian
a time of economic Church, “People are going to be watching how
WATCHING downturn—when good the church spends its money in the coming days.
news sometimes seems Families and individuals are tightening their
SOMEONE ELSE’S sofar away—celebration personal belts. And they need to know that as a
STORY TO can provide a much-needed church, we are too. Why should they sacrifice for
spark. the church if the church isn’t sacrificing as well?”
Michael Miller at At Cross Timbers, financial accountability takes
ITS OWN. Northridge expresses one several forms. Julie Kovac, Director of Finance,
challenge on the lists several:
celebration side. “While celebration is crucial,
we don’t want to pat ourselves on the back too • Tracking. Giving per attendee statistics are
much. The key is to keep the focus on the story, monitored for each campus to uncover any
not on ‘us’—or to put it another way, to focus on changes, up or down.
In his regular “Encourager” e-newsletter, Directing Pastor Charles Anderson of University United
Methodist Church perfectly captured the spirit of celebration through a message that was personal,
powerful and connected the giving to the church's larger vision:
“As I write this letter to you on the afternoon of March 10, I can only praise God and thank
you for what has happened in our church during the last four weeks.
Just four Sundays ago, at the conclusion of our first-ever Global Impact Celebration, you
stepped forward and volunteered just under $308,000 in Faith Promises for the remainder
of 2009 — an amount equivalent to nearly 5% of this year’s Operating Budget. Families
and individuals of all ages and stages dedicated themselves to second-mile giving to causes
beyond the walls of this church. Simply amazing and totally inspiring.
Then, in worship on March 1, our church officers clearly set out the challenge of retaining
our church staff during a time of national financial contraction. Our personnel and finance
leaders asked you to pray and seek God's guidance. They set a deadline of today — March
10 — for your action.
This afternoon, March 10, the Finance Office reported the following:
New/increased pledges = $151,945.00
Cash collected = $187,318.51
Total = $339,263.51!
Way to go, church!
Our Finance Director, Debbie Vignes, wrote me: “Truly amazing. Never before have I seen
Christ working so powerfully in lives of the members in this congregation. It is
indescribable the humbleness I have felt in listening to the conversations with many
members this week.”
We've had a UTSA college student giving from her college fund, because of what this
church has done for her.
We've had a 10-year old give $11.25 — every dime she has — in response.
We've heard miracle stories of anonymous gifts, land transactions, business deals, and
estates settlements miraculously coming through for folks, empowering them to give special
gifts at this special time.
Way to go, church! Do you realize that, in a time of economic upheaval that’s
unprecedented for most people, you have come up with nearly $647,000.00 in new
ministry resources in one month? Just think of the people that you have affected - not only
the staff people and missionaries whose jobs you have preserved, but also the countless
people they will reach for Jesus. Truly, this past month has confirmed everything good,
right, and true that I knew and thought about this congregation.
God is good…all the time, and especially right now!”
• Reserve fund. Cross Timbers maintains controls that would ensure his money would be
substantial liquidity, for both current and well spent.
unexpected expenses. At any given time, the
church may have upwards of $2 million in The member was so impressed—and so excited—
the bank. that he ended up giving twice the amount he
originally had in mind.
• Contingency plans. When the economy
showed early signs of trouble—even before
Dwight is willing to be so transparent about
the church’s giving dipped—Cross Timbers
Asbury’s finances for one simple reason: “The
prepared emergency plans that would be
money, after all, belongs to God, not the staff.”
ready, if needed.
• “Family” meetings. In congregational Charles Stinson, lay leader at Asbury, says, “That
meetings, the staff reassures people that the type of transparency builds trust, and trust
church is keeping a close eye on its finances encourages personal generosity. Actually, these
and will make whatever changes prove to be difficult times bring a huge opportunity for many
necessary. members in our church. Because we are
• Web-based information. The church’s Web reasonably stable in what has become an
site invites visitors to request a copy of the unstable economy, we’re thinking more and more
church’s audit or call for more information at about how to live and give.”
University United Methodist Church recently took
their financial openness to a new level, with some
Asbury has also found that financial transparency quite astounding results. As the economy slid
and accountability builds trust. In Asbury’s case, deeper into recession and giving fell accordingly,
this starts with strong financial leaders who bring Directing Pastor Charles Anderson and his staff
to the church the same financial controls by concluded that without changes, they would have
which they manage successful for-profit to make significant cuts in the church’s budget,
enterprises. Asbury’s last two controllers have including staff reductions and pay cuts.
been CPAs. And the church’s finance committee
isn’t just composed of willing volunteers, but In one memorable Sunday worship service,
rather of truly skilled business professionals who Anderson and other church officers informed the
have experience building and managing financial congregation of the cutbacks that would be
complex financial systems. necessary if giving levels did not increase—full-
time clergy salaries reduced by 16.7% and overall
Executive Director Dwight Yoder reports that all staff budget by 11%. The candor was not a ploy,
the church’s finances are fully audited each but rather an honest admission of the reality
year—a $20,000 per year investment but one that facing the church. Personnel and finance leaders
Dwight says is more than worth it, for both humbly asked the congregation to pray and seek
practical and psychological purposes. God’s guidance.
And when people do see that you are being wise The response was immediate and overwhelming.
with their money? Well, great things can happen. Within 10 days, University’s people gave
Dwight recalls receiving a call sometime back substantially more than the minimum
from one member. He had been blessed required to avoid the painful cuts. Just as
financially, was interested in giving more and set the church had shown its commitment to
up a meeting with Dwight to ask a simple good stewardship, the people showed that
question, “If I gave X amount to this church, they too were willing to make whatever
where would it go? What would you do with it?” sacrifices were necessary to continue the
Dwight proceeded to outline the purposes to church’s great work.
which the money might be put and the financial
Perhaps no example of financial transparency and groups, after just six months Pastor Rick Rusaw
trust goes further than that of a pilot program decided to take it church wide. As the initiative
launched by LifeBridge Christian Church with a expands, expectations are that the benefits will be
handful of their small groups. even more dramatic—and not just financially.
Individuals, neighborhoods and entire
Pastor Rick Rusaw is known for being bold, communities will see in a very direct way how
especially when it comes to the church’s external deeply LifeBridge cares and loves.
service. That boldness extends to the generosity
arena in the form of the church’s “50-50
program.” The idea is as simple as it is
revolutionary. Participating small groups get to `êÉ~íÉ=_áÖ=lééçêíìåáíáÉë
decide how 50% of their contributions to the Too often, a church’s members live
church are spent. solo lives. They are connected to
the Lord and to each other through
LifeBridge has long had a large benevolence and their membership in the church but
mission budget, including all sorts of systems for do not truly share a unifying
deciding the allocation of those funds. The 50-50 purpose in their daily lives.
program seeks to give the church’s small groups
more say in the process. Churches that are developing a
culture of generosity, especially in
The church office tracks the contributions of down economic times, are working
participating small groups over a period of time. to change this pattern. Central to
Fifty percent of those funds are managed as their culture is not only a shared
always. But at the end of each accounting period, vision and a sense of accountability
Fields of Gold by Andy
the church reports to the group the cumulative but also a sense of shared mission.
amount of their contributions and invites them to Many of these churches have found
decide how to disburse 50% of those funds. In that when they create a large-scale
other words, rather than the church identifying opportunity—when they go big—the
the missions and benevolences to be helped, the congregation can be drawn together in ways
members make those decisions directly. never previously thought possible. They see
miracle upon miracle, in generous giving and in
The 50-50 program brings the money closer to the changed hearts. And that attitude then carries
needs that are personally known to the group. over to the members’ individual lives.
Perhaps a co-worker needs help with a medical
bill or childcare expenses. Maybe a single mother “Going big” means different things in different
in a member’s neighborhood needs a car for basic churches.
transportation. The group can decide how the
money would best be put to use. Go Big on Teaching
At Asbury United Methodist Church, Pastor Tom
By moving some authority directly to the Harrison built one sermon series around Andy
members, the 50-50 program encourages real and Stanley’s book, Fields of Gold. But he didn’t want
direct generosity and aid becomes more the congregation to simply listen to his summary
decentralized. Sometimes, the groups literally of the book’s teaching on generosity. He wanted
write a check to address an immediate need and as many members as possible to be personally
then get reimbursement from the church after the involved with the content. So, instead of merely
fact. Other times, they ask the church to make a encouraging members to buy a copy, Tom
disbursement. Whatever the situation requires, informed the congregation that Asbury would
the group has the authority to act. give a copy to anyone—and everyone—who
would commit to read the book in the week
While LifeBridge wisely began the 50-50 program before his first sermon. The response was
on a pilot basis with just a handful of small overwhelming: some 2800 individuals made the
commitment and received a copy of the book. It memorable Sunday, Toby introduced the offering
was a tremendous investment on Asbury’s part— with a rather unusual message: “As a staff, we
but an even bigger statement. The book-buy take your trust very seriously. We know people
generated much conversation both inside and are struggling. And I want you to know that we
outside the church, even as the generosity are here for you. In fact, if you have a financial
teaching took hold. need this morning, I encourage you to take
money out of the plate rather than put money in.
Go Big with Symbolism And I mean it.”
Sometimes, a big idea can be expressed through a Far from sparking a dangerous dip into the
very small, even symbolic step. church’s finances, Toby’s
One Sunday morning at The Journey, attendees message was an incredible
were asked to write down all the important boost to the church’s generous
possessions they own (house, car, bank account, spirit. Two weeks later, Cross
clothing, phones, etc.) and then put that paper in Timbers took in the largest
the offering plate. Inherent in this exercise is a offering they had collected all
message that is as profound as it is simple. If God year.
is the true owner of everything, we need to give Cross Timbers handed out
$5000 worth of $50 gift
all our stuff to him. Generosity isn’t necessarily a But receiving the offering was
matter of writing a check, it’s using what we only a start. Cross Timbers
have—time, talent and treasure—for His used some of the extra money
purposes, not ours. that came in to purchase $5000 worth of $50 gift
cards, which were then distributed with love and
Subtle changes in a church’s normal patterns can sensitivity. At the close of a worship service, those
in need were invited to come forward for prayer.
As the prayer time concluded, the folks who had
come forward were told that because the
church—their church—had been so generous,
each of them would receive a special gift card.
The recipients were blessed in a very tangible
way, but every person in attendance saw a
powerful example of the good that their
Go Big by Being Distinctive
Having established that a truly generous culture
Cross Timbers encouraged members in need to take money out is about more than money, the next question is
of the offering plate during a memorable service. obvious. What makes the church distinct from
any other group? After all, there are plenty of
helping agencies out there. How can the church
also be symbolic. Pastor Jeff Wells at WoodsEdge be the church when it comes to giving? What’s
Community Church, for example, normally uses different and special about the church?
an expository teaching style. When he breaks
from that pattern, the congregation automatically Steve McCarthy, site pastor with LifeBridge
knows something special is going on. During Christian Church, gives an indication of how his
difficult economic times, Jeff may do a standalone church answers these questions.
message on courageous faith in the midst of
financial challenges. The members automatically In the face of mounting local unemployment,
know this is big—big enough that they should LifeBridge wanted to do something that would
give extra consideration to Jeff’s words. help those who had lost jobs. Perhaps through
Cross Timbers provides another example. On one some sort of job assistance program. Perhaps
through financial counseling. The challenge? missionaries University United Methodist
There are lots of personnel agencies and financial conducted at the end of a weekend-long Global
planners out there. Impact Celebration. For two days, members had a
chance to meet the church’s missionaries, hear
Steve and other leaders at LifeBridge began to ask their stories and be introduced the exciting
the crucial question: How could the church offer opportunities on their horizon.
distinctive help—deeper, more meaningful, more
spiritually based than other programs? After all, a On the final Sunday, Charles put the challenge to
job is a job. Could the church add to the efforts of his congregation this way:
those other organizations—or would they merely “What would you give to this mission if you
be duplicating the work of other more qualified knew God would not let it fail?”
The congregation answered in a big, big way—
Today, the church is answering those questions
stepping up with over $300,000 in Faith Promises.
with a multifaceted program that goes beyond
financial and vocational assistance. In the
Go Big with Creative Community Service
LifeBridge program, expert coaches—lawyers,
At LifeBridge Christian Church, an external focus
financial planners, real estate experts and
is central to their DNA. And partnerships are a
counselors—do more than provide solid
professional advice for those who have lost a job.
They also bring prayer, encouragement, support
and accountability into the mix. As Steve puts it:
”If you’re struggling, these folks can help.”
The counselors are always kind, but also direct
where they need to be “You’re going to call the
mortgage company on Tuesday? Let’s get together
and pray on Monday night.“ The church
assistance team can provide some practical
advice and emotional support for those who have
never before faced hard times before.
Steve recalls just one example. A member had
been out of work for a year, resulting in enormous
financial problems and debt. Through the
encouragement of a LifeBridge coach, he started
a conversation with his mortgage company—
carefully explaining his situation and expressing
a desire to bring his loan current. The lender
responded favorably to his honesty and
conscientiousness—soon offering to restructure
his loan to create a new, more manageable
payment plan. A small thing? Not for this family.
Thanks to LifeBridge’s involvement, the family
was able to overcome embarrassment, take
initiative, be proactive and move toward a much
more stable future.
Go Big with Questions
Sometimes, the big idea comes from asking a very
direct question. Take the special offering for
LifeBridge Christian Church Fast Food Drive menu.
common strategy. That’s why when the church to donate 10% of the proceeds from all food
launched its “Fast for Food” drive, they worked in purchases by LifeBridge members. Again, the day
cooperation with local agencies that could was a joyous one as members met for a meal,
multiply the impact of their dollars. shared the stories with other friends and watched
the dollars mount up.
The idea was simple. Over a four-week period,
members were encouraged to give up a meal or Stories of how various families responded
two and donate that money to the Fast for Food abound:
drive. The dollars would then be funneled through • One family ate peanut butter and jelly
a local non-profit that could use its buying sandwiches instead of having a weekly pizza
power to leverage and multiply the impact of night, as had been their custom.
• Another family’s school-aged children
decided that instead of purchasing pizza,
Steve explains one fundamental thought behind
hamburgers, chicken nuggets, etc. in the
the effort. “People feel paralyzed during truly
school cafeteria once a week, they would
difficult financial times. Those with needs don’t
make their own lunch and donate the $2 or
know where to turn. And those who could help
$3 they saved to Fast for Food.
don’t know how to start or believe that the little
they could do won’t matter. In Fast for Food, one • A family that had a pattern of eating out
of our goals was to say to our folks, “Here’s almost every day decided to eat in for an
something you can help with. Even without a ton entire month. They saved and gave $1000 to
of sacrifice. If we all just transfer a little of what Fast for Food—and made a fundamental
you have, let’s see what we can do together.” change in their dining habits.
Members were encouraged to think creatively from On the final Sunday, LifeBridge members dropped
their own life. What could they give up? What all the coins and bills they had saved in a big
could they give? Fast for Food sparked all sorts of glass aquarium at the church. It was not
conversations within the church and within uncommon to see children emptying their piggy
individual families. Conversations that raised banks with a big smile on their face.
awareness, brought parents and children together
and gave them an outlet for inventive giving. The financial results were just as impressive as the
spiritual results. The church’s original goal had
Drawing from Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6 that been $25,000. By the time they actually launched
“When you fast, do not look somber as the Fast for Food, they had upped the goal to
hypocrites do…,” the Fast for Food program also $36,000. But when all was said and done, well
was intentionally designed to demonstrate the joy over $42,000 was raised—almost 70% above the
of giving. In fact, every aspect of the program took original goal. And the church’s regular giving was
on a fun tone. For example, LifeBridge printed a up too. There were even positive lifestyle
“kids menu”—letting the little ones see how the changes; one member reported that he lost ten
money they might spend on even a single slice of pounds during the month—because he wasn’t
pizza could purchase multiple meals under Fast eating his usual junk food diet!
for Food. The church’s senior leadership also
allowed time for families to discuss during the
worship service what they might want to give up.
And they passed out unused fast food sacks and
Even as difficult financial times cause some
boxes that participants could use for their spare
churches to retrench and get overly cautious,
change throughout the week.
generous churches tack against the wind—
searching for new and bigger ways to respond in
In the final week, Fast for Food became Food for
love and generosity.
Food. Approximately ten local restaurants agreed
Perhaps the greatest excitement comes as a about the money that has been provided to fund
church’s members adopt a true personal lifestyle this program. We’re even more excited about the
of generosity—giving through their living. A life changes in both the donors’ and the recipients’
recently launched initiative at LifeBridge hearts.”
illustrates the point. LifeBridge is now offering job
and life training for single mothers. By providing Buoyed by the inspiring results to date, the
help on budgeting, parenting, discipline, leaders at generous churches will continue to ask
forgiveness, communication and other essential questions, dream and innovate. Ken Williams at
skills, the effort is making a real difference in the WoodsEdge Community Church exemplifies the
lives of young and often vulnerable mothers. But, kind of innovative thinking that is so common in
interestingly, this much needed initiative was not these churches:
part of some long-range strategic plan hatched by
the church’s staff. Rather, it grew organically “As we encourage our congregation to give
when some of LifeBridge’s high-capacity givers boldly, maybe we should be thinking even
got involved with a group of single moms. The bigger as a church. For example, could we
relationship between those with substantial promise our congregation that if they tithe
means and those with substantial needs changed and lose their job, we’ll take care of them?
everything. As the members saw firsthand the Is there a way we could build something
depth of the challenges the young mothers faced, like that into our plan? That could be
they wanted to do more. Their solution was to especially valuable in a down economy.
create—and fund—a more organized assistance
“Or maybe we could say, ‘If you tithe and
don’t like the results, we’ll give you your
IF WE ONLY DEFINE
That’s generous giving—
GENEROSITY AS and generous living.
DOLLARS, WE'VE Those ideas may or may not be part of the future,
As Pastor Rick Rusaw puts but with that kind of bold thinking, WoodsEdge
MISSED THE POINT. it, “Getting people into and other churches like it will continue their push
experiences, getting them toward an even stronger culture of generosity. A
GENEROSITY HAS engaged in other people’s culture that never asks how to get people to give
lives is the springboard. If more, but rather how to get people to love God
TO DO WITH LIFE.
we only define generosity more – especially in tough economic times.
as dollars, we’ve missed the
point. Generosity has to do with life. We’re excited
RESOURCES FROM LEADERSHIP NETWORK
GENEROUS CHURCHES CONCEPT PAPERS
CREATING A CULTURE OF BALANCE: A MANDATE FOR NEXT GENERATION PASTORS
This concept paper exposes many of the stresses and struggles that next generation pastors-senior pastors in their 20s
and 30s who are growing in influence and impact-are dealing with, and opens conversations to creating a balance
between the demands of a busy schedule, a growing congregation and maintaining spiritual vitality.
COMMUNICATING WITH THE POSTMODERN CULTURE: AUTHENTICITY AND TRUTH
“Wow is out; real is in.” Next Generation pastors have observed a significant shift in the culture. Pastor Toby Slough
observes, “If we’ll invest the time and effort we used to spend in ‘Wow!’ and put those resources into authenticity,
people will come in droves, and they’ll respond to even the most demanding truths in the Scriptures.”
LEADERSHIP LONELINESS: HOW PASTORS DEAL WITH TIMES THEY FEEL ALL ALONE
Loneliness is a painful and familiar emotion that many pastors experience. Dr. Sam Chand’s unique position as a
consultant to pastors has allowed him to have several authentic conversations about lonely times leaders have gone
through and how they have dealt with those feelings. He explains where different types of loneliness can comes from,
what leaders should expect, and healthy coping mechanisms that can alleviate some of the loneliness they feel.
GROWING AS A LEADER BY INCREASING YOUR PAIN THRESHOLD: AN INTERVIEW WITH SAM CHAND
All leaders experience pain, but healthy leaders find appropriate ways to increase their pain threshold. Doing so helps
them grow as a leader to new levels, enabling them to take their churches and ministries to new levels as well. Failure
to deal with their pain leads to a “leadership leprosy” in which they, like someone with leprosy, do harm to themselves
or those around them because of their inability to deal with pain. Author and pastoral consultant Sam Chand
(http://www.samchand.com) offers many practical ideas in this fast-moving podcast.
More than 30 titles from the leading thinkers and practitioners in church ministry are available through the Jossey-Bass
imprint series, and the Leadership Network Innovation Series with Zondervan. Books in each of these series illustrate
effective leadership in today’s changing cultural landscape, with the intention of reaching the growing numbers of
people who seek God but are yet to know God.
LIVING A LIFE ON LOAN: FINDING GRACE AT THE INTERSECTIONS
By Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
As a Christian, your life is no longer about you. It is allowing God to write his story through you and your story.
LEADERSHIP NETWORK ADVANCE E-NEWSLETTER
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church strategies. You’ll gain insights from the ministry pioneers who are setting the standard for tomorrow’s church.
Each issue will also point you to resources, tools and events that will help you build a more effective ministry. For sign
up information: http://leadnet.org/epubs_signup.asp
LEADERSHIP NETWORK BLOGS
Books @ Leadership Network — The place to talk about Leadership Network books.
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