Did you know that the Book of Discipline states “tithing is the minimum goal of giving in The United Methodist Church?” Meanwhile, the average Methodist gave just 1.6% of their income to the church according to a 2009 study by the Indiana University. 1.6%! Apparently Methodists aren’t relying too much on the Book of Discipline…or even the Bible…to guide their giving.
The good news is that there is a ton of room for growth…if people are challenged to grow in giving and generosity. Think about it. If your church is average, and they grow to just 2%, the income to the church will increase by 25%. Here’s an example of what it would look like in an average church:
The Median Household Income in the Dakotas is $60,000.
The average giving (1.6%) ends up being $960 for the year ($20/week except they miss four weeks of the year).
If they gave 2%, their giving goes to $1,200 for the year ($20/week without missing PLUS an extra $160 gift on Christmas Eve).
A church of 30 households sees their income increase from $28,800 to $36,000.
If people are never challenged or invited to think about their giving, they usually give the same amount year after year. While not everyone will accept the challenge, some will. Churches that are courageous enough to challenge their people on giving through New Consecration Sunday or the like will see their income grow year after year. Also, I and others have noticed that people growing in giving are usually more joyful and engaged.
I’ve been preaching on tithing for quite some time now so I occasionally run into someone I’ve converted to tithing. Some years ago, a woman from Groton UMC blessed me by sharing that she had decided to tithe her Social Security check after I had preached at the church some months prior. She was so excited to tell me. And then she said this: “When I saw how well behaved your three kids were in church, and heard that you tithed, I thought, ‘if this guy can do it, surely I can too.'” It wasn’t my theological points that convicted her. It wasn’t my cleverly crafted one point. It was my testimony…in a way.
People love a good story. They tend to perk up and pay closer attention. It’s easier for them to remember. There is power to a story. A person’s giving testimony is a powerful story…as long as you keep these points in mind.
Authentic: It’s easy stretch the truth or maybe ignore struggle. The temptation is to maker ourselves the hero instead of Jesus Christ.
Relatable: The listener should be able to imagine themselves in the shoes of the person’s testimony. An exceptional life of an exception person can be demotivating for us regular people.
Format: Not everyone is comfortable or capable of sharing their testimony up on the stage. You don’t want the presentation to detract from the story.
The subject of giving and generosity is usually not a popular subject to preach on. While it’s tempting to avoid the subject altogether, most pastors know that this is an import part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. So, when the pastor does eventually preach on the subject, they are then tempted to rip off the Band-Aid and tell the congregation everything they need to know about giving and generosity in one message. This is one of the rare times when ripping off the Band-Aid will do more harm than good.
Every point in your sermon is a challenge to the listener. They are challenge to either accept or act on the idea. In such a weighty subject as giving and generosity, every challenge can feel like you’re handing the listener a cinder block. If you hand ONE cinder block to someone, they’re likely ABLE to carry it…but will they be WILLING to carry it. If you hand THREE or FOUR cinder blocks to someone, few will be able and practically no one will be willing to even try. If you are serious about life change, stick to one point. If you want to make multiple points, you’re going to have to make it a sermon series.
One of the most awkward and difficult subjects to preach on is giving and generosity. I have lost track of how many times I’ve preached on giving. There are times when I’ve preached when no one wants to look you in the eye afterwards. There are other times when they really seem to appreciate the message. I have the huge advantage in that I’m preaching at someone else’s church. I will say what needs to be said and then disappear. The pastor doesn’t have that luxury.
Before you begin to write a message on giving, you need to have a solid foundation. Without a solid foundation your preaching will do more harm than good. Fix these truths in your mind first:
The Giver is Blessed: A person’s giving can draw them closer to Jesus or push them away from Jesus. Jesus is a blesser. The closer you can draw to Him, the more blessed you will be.
The Church is Worthy: Giving to a church is importing if you want to make this world a better place and see lives transformed through Jesus Christ.
Live it, then Preach it: You can’t preach effectively about what you haven’t experienced. You need to be tithing or growing towards it.
As an accountant, I love a line item budget. It speaks to me as clearly as a short story, but I’m in the minority. The vast majority of people need to hear the story in order to understand the budget. They don’t need more numbers. How do you transform your budget into a meaningful story about how your church is and is planning to impact this world? That’s what I walk you through in this video.
A narrative budget is a lot of work. Is it worth it? If a narrative budget helps you align your budget to your mission and helps your congregants see how their giving is making a difference, what is that worth? That’s like hiring a leadership consultant mixed with a capital campaign consultant which would normally costs thousands.
Like individuals and families, the church also needs an emergency fund. Assuming that the Holy Spirit hasn’t told you specifically otherwise, not having an emergency fund doesn’t show your reliance on God. It shows your lack of respect for the work of God. Emergencies happen…COVID-19, flooding, fires, and tragedies happen. Do you care enough about Jesus Christ to prepare for the emergencies so ministry doesn’t have to go on hold while you scramble to respond? I walk through how to actually build an emergency fund.
The other danger is for these emergency funds to take on a life of their own. A lot of church trustees have a savings account or checking account that acts as an emergency fund. I’ve heard plenty of stories where the trustees abuse their control of these funds to try to control the mission of the church. That’s an issue that can be solved as well by getting clarity on the purpose and use of those funds. Sheri Meister of the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation addresses this in a recent webinar.
For those of you that are Dave Ramsey students, you probably appreciate the value of an Emergency Fund. This is useful when the car breaks down or you lose your job or if the furnace dies…in January. But what about those smaller emergencies that you haven’t planned for? When you have unexpected company and need to buy extra groceries or you finally run our of printer ink or the school fee you forgot about?
These aren’t exactly emergency-fund worthy so how do we care for them. Most churches just allow all their programming staff to pad their budgets to be prepared. Actually, if you’re the one program that fails to pad your budget, what do you do when the unexpected happens? I like Steve Stroope’s strategy of removing the padding and creating a simple process for when programs have an unexpected expense or opportunity. In this video, I illustrate the strategy: