“I have found without exception that the lack of pastoral involvement in stewardship is the number one reason churches are failing to realize their potential in giving.” That is a line from the first chapter of my 2012 book entitled The Top Ten Stewardship Mistakes Churches Make. That first chapter was titled “The Disconnected Pastor” and, in the ten years since I wrote that, nothing has changed my mind that this is the number one mistake of all stewardship mistakes.
I thought about that chapter and book when I recently read a new report from the Barna Group entitled Revisiting the Tithe and Offering: The Reality of Church Giving Today. I want to share with you my insights into this study with this edition of the Coach entitled The Hazy Approach to Stewardship.
When I wrote my book in 2012, highlighting how pastors were disconnected from the stewardship process of their church, I meant they were not involved in the process. While that remains an issue, this study may reveal one key reason why. Pastors have a more positive view of stewardship than their members. This view causes them to be disconnected from the reality of how members see, sense, and respond to calls toward giving. What I wrote ten years ago remains true today as pastors and church leaders have a disconnected view of stewardship when it comes to their members.
Perhaps, in no other way is this disconnection more evident than when it comes to how generosity is most frequently expressed – 94% of all pastors say through tithes and offerings. Pastors were asked today, how is your church primarily funded? 98% of pastors said through the tithes and offerings of individual members. It might not surprise you that the study found that 99% of all pastors asked by Barna’s study said they were familiar with the concept of tithing and its meaning.
Compare the pastor’s response to the response of the laity in the study. When asked, “Are you familiar with the term “tithe,” here are the responses:
Comparing the above results with nearly all pastors being familiar with the tithe, the study states, “If this is true, it’s striking that this overwhelming majority of church leaders is not imparting their knowledge of the tithe to those in their pews. This finding highlights a significant gap in understanding.”1. In other words, church leaders are disconnected from the reality of church giving.
That gap in understanding results in a small percentage of Americans giving at the ten percent or tithe level. The Barna study discovered that only 42% of practicing Christians set their giving at 10% or more of their income. This means that more than half of your regular attendees are giving less than a tithe. The study sums this up by stating, “…as a fundamental, scriptural idea of Christian stewardship becomes a hazy concept, it appropriately raises questions – about how modern ministries sustain funding and resources, and, more importantly, about the broader culture of generosity being nurtured among Christians.”
Why stewardship is a hazy concept for many. As churches moved into an attractional mindset of designing worship services for guests, any talk of money, finances, or tithing was downplayed. Pastors were asked this question; how often do you speak from the pulpit about each of the following? Gratitude was listed first, followed by serving in the church, practicing hospitality, practicing generosity, and contentment made up the first five responses. Number six was speaking on donating or tithing to the church, where 39% of pastors said always or often, with a whopping 61% saying sometimes, seldom, and never! One result of this lack of stewardship education is that 72% of Christians believe there are other ways to tithe besides financial giving. Church leaders have all too often had a hazy approach to stewardship. No wonder stewardship is a hazy concept for many. And no wonder giving is in a continual decline.
So, what do you do about this? I gave this answer in my last edition of the Coach, where I wrote, “focusing on making disciples and teaching them the joys and benefits of a life of stewardship benefits not only this year’s budget but for years to come.” Easier said than done, so let me give you a few ideas.
Elevate Every Offering Time! Give setting up the offering the same amount of time as announcements. Done right, the offering time is the best way to teach and inspire stewardship. It’s the easiest way to increase giving and givers.
Preach and Teach Stewardship Regularly. My biggest takeaway from the Barna study was how poorly people understand stewardship because of the lack of preaching and teaching on stewardship. Pastor, stop worrying about attendance and the crowd and make disciples! I recommend a sermon series on stewardship at least every eighteen months. When was the last time you preached on stewardship? Let’s start working on your next series.
Help younger generations live responsibly. “I can’t afford to give” is the number one excuse for why people say they don’t give. Let’s eliminate that excuse by helping the next generation understand biblical stewardship. I recommend you regularly host some debt reduction programs like Dave Ramsey and others.
Encourage Boomers to leave a legacy behind. The world’s greatest transfer of wealth is happening. Every member of your church has an estate. Let’s encourage members, especially your Boomers, to leave a legacy behind through estate planning.
Become a Connected Pastor – Here is how I closed out my chapter ten years ago on the disconnected pastor. “You can’t change anyone else but yourself. You can make a decision to become more connected in the stewardship process of your church. I can assure you that the time you spend on stewardship can and will increase the dollars your church receives. Those dollars will go to fund life-changing ministry for people in your community and around the world! Get connected today!”
How do you overcome a hazy approach to stewardship? Let me quote the Barna study when they wrote, “Pastors and church leaders must be able to communicate a compelling vision for the value of tithes and offerings, not only to “keep the lights on” but to have a greater collective impact in their church, their community, and the world.”
The good news of their report is that practicing Christians are more generous than any other group. That is a result of making disciples. Let me end this Coach as I ended the last one by saying, Let’s go and make disciples!
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach
- Revisiting the Tithe & Offering: The Reality of Church Giving Today Barna Group 2022 p. 25