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Flipping the Script on Church Giving

Flipping the Script on Church Giving

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Now that we’ve spent weeks laying the foundation, it’s time to build the house.  We’ve established that members, not just the staff and facilities, are the church.  We’ve shown that Jesus and the early church saw Christ-followers as “insiders” to train and send to win “customers” (i.e. the lost) to Christ.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be building with the sturdiest materials – God’s word.  We’ll reinforce the structure by demonstrating that successful organizations of any type apply those same Biblical principles.  We’ll hammer out the details and work our way through the punch-list.  As we do, we’ll see that the paradigm shift we’re advocating radically alters the perspective churches should have on nearly every aspect of their strategies, operations and outcomes.

Flipping the script, defining the community (and not members) as the “customer”, reverses the lens through which churches evaluate nearly every decision they make.  Let’s begin with the most controversial and challenging aspect of adopting a Biblical definition of the church’s “customer”…


Script Flip #1 – The Generous “Church”

Current Lens – Member Generosity

Member generosity is one of church leadership’s greatest concerns and the lens through which it views the generosity of its church.  They see the church as the object of generosity, not the instigator of it.  What percentage of members/attenders are giving?  What’s the average giving per family?

However, the congregation IS the church so if pastors are worried about whether members are giving enough TO the church, they’re missing the point.  It’s not about “them” giving to “us” (the church), they are us (the church).  If we’ve truly empowered the congregation to BE the church, we’ll ask a completely different set of questions.

New Lens – Church Generosity

What leaders should be asking is whether their church (the entity) is generous.  In other words, how much is the organization giving out of its budget to its real “customer” – the community?  And how generous are its members in sharing their wealth with those in desperate need of help and hope around them?  Would members be more generous if they fully grasped that they ARE the church and the community is their  “customer”?  Are churches aggressive enough in challenging members to give not only money to support community causes, but also their time and talents?  Generosity should be defined to include all three – time, talents and treasures.  Or are churches more concerned with getting members to do “church chores”?

Script Flip #2 – First “Fruits”

Current Lens – Member Priorities & Obedience

A common complaint among pastors is how churches winds up getting the “leftovers” after members pay all their bills.  The Bible is clear on this subject – the Lord deserves the first and best of what we have to offer.  Pastors know it’s wrong for churchgoers to lock in so many fixed expenses that they only have a couple cents on the dollar available at the end of the day to give to the church.

New Lens – Church Priorities & Obedience

Yet aren’t nearly all churches today doing the exact same thing?  Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s “customer” (“outsiders”).  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years.  They started the schools and hospitals.  They had far few fixed expenses and allocated a much higher percentage of their budgets to sharing the gospel through serving, as Jesus’ modeled.  Maybe if churches were more obedient in giving their first fruits, members would follow suit.

Script Flip #3 – Investing for Growth

Current Lens – Reinvest Inward

It’s interesting, and probably not coincidental, that churches budget roughly the same small percentage for local missions that members budget for their church.  New Christians never plan to short-change God – but then life happens.  Likewise, churches plant with a vision of the Biblical model – impacting the community mightily – but then get sucked in by the demands of running a church.  Gradually, budgets get redirected toward staff and buildings to attract and retain people.  One day they realize they should have never compromised, but as we said earlier, by then it’s too late to extricate the organization from its fixed costs.

New Lens – Invest Outward

The same cycle occurs with nearly all entrepreneurs.  The companies that survive reorient outward at some point.  If they persist in serving internal stakeholders and neglect the marketplace, they go under.  Over 90% of today’s churches are not growing because they fall into the latter camp.  They don’t adequately equip churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”.

If church is not the end but the means, what does it mean to live that out financially?  What if we budgeted to maximize community impact?  Strategic planning with that as the goal would reverse some of the percentages.  How many more people in your city would want to know what’s up with your church if you reallocated 40% of your dollars to year-round community engagement – e.g. school partnerships, neighborhood “adoption”, and employment assistance?  What if you challenged members much more to BE the church and 40% of them engaged in weekly community service activities all over town?  How would the brand awareness and perception of your church change?

Script Flip #4 – Give More, Get More

Current Lens – Catering = More $s

Are churches being rewarded for “bad behavior”?  In business, you don’t make profits if you ignore your target “customers”.  Yet in churches, many leaders believe their financial viability hinges largely on catering to members – and wind up ignoring their intended “customers”.  For example, a wealthy family leaving is cause for concern in most small churches.  That mentality is natural and expected, but wrong.  It’s also wrong if pastors would be more inclined to challenge their congregations more directly and preach the gospel more boldly if NONE of their funding came from members/attenders and if everyone HAD to come back the next weekend.

New Lens – Challenging = More $s

Would your church bring in more income if it were more focused on community engagement?  No doubt that reallocation of funds would be painful at first.  What about if leadership stepped up its challenges for members to BE the church?  You’d quickly lose some long-time attenders who weren’t prepared to alter their lifestyles for Christ.  However, in the long run your church’s income would actually increase:

  • Evidence shows that members are more generous with generous churches
  • People are more likely to donate if they know their dollars will go toward more emotional “causes” than administration and buildings
  • More challenging translates into greater community impact, which in turn produces more attenders

Would you give to a charity that essentially gave back 97.5% of its donations to benefit donors?  Charities and churches both share the same “customer” – the community.  The beneficiary of a charity’s or church’s services shouldn’t be almost exclusively those who give to it (e.g. members).  In fact, charitable receipts state that “no goods or services were provided in exchange for this donation”.  Instead, the “customer” – those the church and charity are trying to reach (e.g. the community) – should be the primary beneficiary of those donations. 

It’s your turn…

Is your church as generous with its intended “customer” as it should be?  Would your church’s members be more generous in giving (internally and externally) if your church‘s budget better reflected a spirit of generosity?


6 Responses

  1. Jim- great message Brother!! In fact, there was so much depth to this I have to take a lot more time to try and digest it all. Thank you for the challenging message, approaching a difficult topic- and once again executing it with grace and humility. Press on Brother!!

  2. Great truths regarding the church. People show their support for what they believe in with their feet and their funds. You’re spot on, the end goal is transforming the outside community, not just what happens inside the church walls.

    Keep up the encouraging and challenging words Jim.

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