5 Mistakes Churches Make When Talking About Money
My article last week focused on a particularly negative reaction I received to a blog post about online giving. That response – and the misunderstanding it belied – galvanized me to talk about generosity, stewardship, and all things giving even more than I had before.
And I want to start that conversation by looking at a few of the ways I, and many others along with me, have missed the mark when it comes to money.
When I hear the same tired refrain about churches being money-hungry fundraising machines, I am often quick to discount the critic as either (1) a non-believer heckling from the sidelines, or (2) a lapsed giver looking for an easy excuse for their own lack of generosity.
True or not, this gut reaction fails to acknowledge the culpability that churches and church leaders must bear for our own failures in correctly framing the conversation around finances. When listeners repeatedly fail to grasp the intent of a speaker’s message, at some point, the fault must lie with the speaker for failing to communicate clearly.
And so it is with giving. Specifically, here are five things pastors and “giving professionals” do to confuse our messages about money:
1. We’re Bashful About It
Considering all of the caveats that so often accompany any mention of money in the church, it feels sometimes like we’re more interested in people NOT giving. We tell visitors to feel free to abstain. (As if God’s call to generosity doesn’t apply to them.) We tell casual attenders to not worry about giving until they’ve gotten plugged into a life group. We ask our members to please forgive this brief commercial interruption. Is it any wonder that giving to the church continues to decline? If we were half as bold in encouraging giving as we were in providing exemptions from giving, people might start to feel differently about it!
2. We Only Talk About It When We Need It
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a great eBook I read recently from the folks at Generis: “When generosity becomes just another word for increasing church funding, it will lose its ability to impact people’s lives and develop them as disciples of Jesus Christ.” Couldn’t have said it better myself! Why do people think churches are little more than “religiously-themed businesses?” Because we treat “giving” as synonymous with “cash flow.” Now yes, there is certainly a time and place for you to have frank conversations with your congregation about your church’s budgetary needs. But that should NOT be the only time the topic comes up. The more frequently money is discussed, the easier it will be to talk about “generosity as discipleship” without sounding disingenuous.
3. We Talk About Giving In A Silo
This is closely related to the point above. And it’s a point I’ve mentioned before in previous articles on this site. We have a tendency to compartmentalize our conversations about finances. It’s almost as if we regard money as a dangerous contagion that needs to be cordoned off from the other aspects of our ministry – lest it make those conversations awkward as well. Nothing could be further from the truth! Generosity flourishes when church leaders “connect the dots” (and the dollars) between the offering and missions, outreach, education, spiritual formation, fellowship, and every other vital element of a church’s ministry.
4. We Forget To Say “Thank You”
Among nonprofits, aid organizations, para-church organizations, NGOs, and all other companies who depend on donations for their survival, churches seem to be among the worst at saying two simple words: “thank you.” I think this is due, in part, to our belief that giving is more than just a good idea; it’s a Biblical mandate. And if someone is “supposed” to do something, what’s the point of saying “thank you,” right? Perhaps part of it is also due to our general squeamishness around people’s money. It’s almost as if we don’t even want to acknowledge that we’ve seen the gift. Whatever the reason, when churches forget to say “thanks,” their giving suffers. A direct and personal expression of gratitude is about way more than just being polite. It is one of the best ways to encourage continued generosity!
5. We DON’T Talk About It
Due to the manifold discomforts associated with preaching, teaching, or merely bringing up “The Almighty Dollar,” many churches have taken the approach of simply ignoring the topic altogether. Not surprisingly, all of this not talking about money has done little to properly orient peoples’ attitudes toward their finances. Materialism and greed are still two of the chief sins of our nation. As Hosea 4:6 says, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Even if your church has decided to stop “passing the plate.” Even if you routinely exceed your annual budget. That does not take money off the table. If we believe (as I hope you do) that generosity is more about the heart of the giver than it is about the health of the church, then it should continually factor into our conversations.