Growing Generosity and Gratitude

A few weeks ago Chi-Chi and I had the pleasure of leading a session on Growing Generosity and Gratitude at the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries' Leadership Focus held at Friedberg Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. As you know from an earlier blog post, we are participating in a program on religious giving at the Lake Institute in Indianapolis; we are very excited about what we've learned and are eager to incorporate it into our work for the Moravian Church.

At the Leadership Focus session, we asked participants first to share what immediately came to mind when they heard the words "money and the church". Their responses included grateful giving, never enough, stereotypes, anxiety, tithing, Jesus talked about money a lot, few at church want to talk about money, and God will provide.

We then presented some facts about money and the church from Giving USA Foundation's latest survey. Did you know Americans gave $316.23 billion to charity in 2012, and of that religious organizations received 32%, or $101.54 billion (more than any other kind of charity)? However, people can be less generous to their church due to mistrust, misinformation, the taboo of money talk, and our culture's focus on scarcity rather than abundance. It's also important to consider how people give; for example, most young adults in their 20's will never have a checkbook and adults between 25 and 45 are giving more online through websites, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

When you think about your church, what is the general state of its financial health? Is it able to meet expenses, pay its provincial share, and fund the ministries which are important to it? Are people pledging, giving occasionally, or responding to specific asks? Where are the opportunities for growth in giving?

After reflecting on those questions, we then asked attendees to share what immediately came to mind when they heard the word "stewardship". Answers included money, all we ever talk about, discipleship, time and talents, campaign, and responsibility. Next we presented the word "generosity" and asked for responses; those included love, sharing, something we aspire to, graciousness, and money in a positive light.

At the Moravian Ministries Foundation we are focusing on growing generosity rather than stewardship, as generosity is our response to the abundant gifts God gives us. Furthermore, as Dr. Carol Johnston of the Lake Institute wrote, "Generosity is not an accident, or a trait some people are born with. It is a result of transformation. In the church, people experience a generous welcome (Christian hospitality) which is linked to the generous, gracious love of God- a linkage that was clearly meant to be for each and ever human being."

What is your church's giving or stewardship practice? How do you nurture and inspire generosity in your congregation? How do you reach out to the next generation of givers? How do you help adults and families teach their children to give? How do you thank members of your church for their gifts, whether of time, talent, or treasure?

As Dr. Johnston wrote, generosity is the result of transformation. When people receive and are transformed, they want to give. Thus we want to reverse the giving paradigm from transactional giving to transformative. Transactional gifts are typically out of obligation, a result of wanting to "do my fair share" or responding to a crisis, and usually less generous. Transformative gifts are connected to a person's values, often a result of someone's experience of receiving (God's grace and generosity must be received before they can be shared), lead to change, and are usually more generous.

"The Christian practice is not that of giving alone, but receiving and giving. Given the entrapment of all human beings in alienation, inability to trust God, and so 'sin', God acts first to provide the grace and love in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in people's lives, that people need in order to enable them to receive that grace and be restored to right relationship with God, with neighbors, and the rest of God's beloved creation. Then, and only then, can people begin to join in as members of the Body of Christ, as beloved children of God, and begin to participate in the family of God and in God's reconciling work in the world by offering what they can, including the gifts God has given them. Gratitude arises from this process of receiving the grace of God, and generosity grows out of this. This is the arithmetic of grace: that Grace + Gratitude= Generosity." -Dr. Carol Johnston

So what should every church do to grow generosity and gratitude? We recommend:

  1. Talk honestly about money. Pastors, lay leaders and all members should feel comfortable with the conversation.
  2. Use a narrative budget to connect dollars with ministry. Tell the story of how money supports the outreach and many missions of the church.
  3. Invite every member to be involved in the life of the church. Ask.
  4. Engage children in rituals of both giving and receiving.
  5. Have a year-round/year-after-year giving plan led by a team of members of all ages.
  6. Offer members multiple ways to give.
  7. Incorporate a planned giving program into the year-round giving plan.
  8. Increase opportunities for Christian hospitality.
  9. Let the Moravian Ministries Foundation help!

We hope you will let us be involved in your church's conversation about generosity and gratitude. To view our presentation from the Leadership Focus, please click here.

Laura Watson, Coordinator for Philanthropic Services