Generosity during economic downturn


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Generosity during economic downturn

  1. 1. L E A D E R S H I P N E T W O R K Connecting Innovators to Multiply `ob^qfkd=^=`riqrob=lc dbkbolpfqv=arofkd=^k=b`lkljf` altkqrok What Truly Generous Churches Are Learning by Rick Long Article Summary 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 living. Further Reading Avoiding the Money Conflict: How to Ask for Money in a Culture that Has Avoided Fundraising by Alexis Wilson 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
  2. 2. 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 (, 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. 2
  3. 3. They build credibility through uncommon • LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, financial transparency and accountability. And CO (, 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 of generosity. dÉí=íÜÉ=dÉåÉêçëáíó=jÉëë~ÖÉ=oáÖÜí 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 ATTEMPTING TO 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 THE CONGREGATION 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 ( 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 (, has experienced just such • University United Methodist Church, San a case. Their staff once wanted to raise money to Antonio, TX (, 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 3
  4. 4. 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.” questions: 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 (, 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. compelling message. 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 (, 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 4
  5. 5. 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 and privately. 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 Word. 6. Every member bringing the tithe (one-tenth) in loving obedience to God’s gracious provision. 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 5
  6. 6. 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 6
  7. 7. 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.” 7
  8. 8. 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. GENEROSITY 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?” TOGETHER MAKING 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. 8
  9. 9. 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!” 9
  10. 10. • 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.” any time. 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 RICK RUSAW 10
  11. 11. 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. Stanley 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 11
  12. 12. 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 cards. 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 generosity accomplished. 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 12
  13. 13. 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?” helping agencies? 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. 13
  14. 14. 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. those dollars. • 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. qÜÉ=cìíìêÉ=çÑ=dÉåÉêçëáíó 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 14
  15. 15. 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 program. don’t like the results, we’ll give you your IF WE ONLY DEFINE money back.’” 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 15
  16. 16. Rick Long is the president of Tulsa-based © 2009 Leadership Network ( SOURCEmpi (, a strategic communications firm he founded 20 Want to find more resources like this one? For the most years ago. SOURCEmpi provides marketing, current listing of free and purchasable resources, some publication and interactive services for of which are distributed solely through Leadership leading corporations, associations and non- Network, go to (alternate: profits, including Leadership Network. A, then select “resources” then RICK LONG licensed attorney, Rick is an elder at Kirk of “downloads”) or call toll-free 800-765-5323 or the Hills, Presbyterian in Tulsa. 214-969-5950 outside the U.S. and Canada. Leadership Network welcomes your response. Leadership Network’s mission is to identify, connect The primary writer is Rick Long. Editorial and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their advisors were Chris Willard, Director of impact. Generous Churches Leadership Communities for Leadership Network and Warren Bird, * Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from CHRIS WILLARD Director of Research and Intellectual Capital the NIV translation. Support for Leadership Network. Contact them via 16
  17. 17. 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.” PODCASTS 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. LENGTH: 23:57 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 ( offers many practical ideas in this fast-moving podcast. BOOKS 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 Leadership Network Advance is an indispensable, twice-monthly, free email newsletter featuring the best in innovative 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: LEADERSHIP NETWORK BLOGS Books @ Leadership Network — The place to talk about Leadership Network books. Learnings @ Leadership Network — First-hand reports of what innovative churches are doing! Digital @ Leadership Network — How technology relates to your innovative ministry. 17