Generosity

What Is First Fruit? A Short Guide

What is first fruit? What is the difference between first fruit and tithes? Find out these answers and more in this short guide.

What Is First Fruit? A Short Guide
by

Jesse Wisnewski

There are plenty of terms and phrases in the Bible you frequently hear in church but may not understand. One such term is first fruits.

First fruits may be mentioned when pastors talk about giving or generosity. But what exactly does it mean? And why is it good to know for the average church-goer?

What is first fruit?

“When you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.” —Leviticus 23:10

The concept of first fruits is rooted in biblical times when people lived in an agrarian society. Harvest time was significant because that was when the hard work the farmers had poured into their crops all year began to pay off. They were literally reaping what they sowed.

God called his people to bring the first yield—the first fruits—from their harvest to him as an offering. This was to demonstrate the Israelites’ obedience and reverence for God. It also showed that they trusted God to provide enough crops to feed their family.

Back then, there were plenty of rules associated with making first fruit sacrifices. They had to be brought to the temple priests. No other crops could be harvested until after the first fruits were presented. It was a complex process.

The Hebrew word for first fruit is bikkurim—literally translated to “promise to come.” The Israelites saw these first fruits as an investment into their future. God told them that if they brought their first fruits to him, he would bless all that came afterword.


We no longer live in an agrarian-based society. Most people reading this are probably not farmers. You likely don’t worry about harvest time or giving away the first yield of your crops. But the idea of first fruits is still relevant—it just takes on a new meaning for us.

What the Bible says about first fruits

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” —Proverbs 3:9

We see the term first fruits initially mentioned in the book of Exodus when Moses is leading God’s people out of captivity in Egypt. God instructed the Israelites to give up the first of their crops so that they could understand the value of God’s blessings.

Through the first five books of the Bible, Moses brings up the idea of a total of thirteen times. That’s because it was an essential concept for his people to understand. First fruits is mentioned throughout in the Bible, and it’s even referenced in the New Testament.

In the New Testament, the term first fruits takes on a symbolic meaning. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul mentions Christ as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus was God’s first fruits—his one and only son, and the best that humanity had to offer. God gave Jesus up for us, in the same way that we sacrifice the best we have for him.

What started as a specific instruction for bringing crops to the temple priest was expanded on later in Scripture. It no longer refers to literal fruit—firstfruits means any income, wealth, or blessings that a Christian has received over the course of the year.

Difference between first fruits and tithing

“The first of all first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests: you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house.” —Ezekiel 44:30

To give a tithe means that you give a tenth of your income to your church. Tithes are generally given throughout the entire year. Tithes are meant to be given in an automatic sense of obedience after you receive your income--e.g., paycheck, commission, bonus.  A first fruit offering is something different.

First fruit offerings are typically an annual gift to the church done at “harvest time.” Because we’re not actually harvesting crops, the harvest can mean different things to different people. Perhaps you just got a bonus at work. Maybe you just received a huge tax refund check. Maybe you saved 15% or more on car insurance.

These are all harvest time moments when your hard work paid off. These are also great opportunities to turn back to God in gratitude for the blessings.

Whenever you decide to make a first fruit offering, the important thing is that you do it freely, with no guilt or obligation. This is supposed to be a celebration of all that God has done for you. It’s a kind of worship that you can use to support the work of others. A first fruit offering is our opportunity to give above and beyond just a regular tithe.

Why giving first fruits is important

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” —Genesis 4:3-5

The famous Bible story of Cain and Abel begins when the two brothers make an offering to God. Cain brings some of his crops before the Lord, and Abel brings an offering of slaughtered animals. But there is a distinct difference between these two gifts.

Cain brings some fruit and vegetables—probably something he had left over after he had fed himself and his family. But Abel brought the best of what he had to God—the firstborn of the flock, the healthiest of his animals. God noticed this difference in these sacrifices, and he had a clear preference between the two.

Disregarding what famously happens in the rest of the story, the sacrifices of Cain and Abel teaches us a valuable lesson. Giving our firstfruits means giving our best to God. It means sacrificing something that costs us a little. It means putting God first, even before ourselves, or our family.

Making a first fruit offering opens us up to allow God to work in our life. When we approach God with open hands—rather than clenched fists—it makes it easier for him to give us more to work with.

Giving of our first fruits reminds us that God is our ultimate priority. It shows God that we are obedient to him and we can be trusted with more. Perhaps most importantly, being generous in this way shows that we are grateful for all God has given to us.

How to give a first fruits offering

“If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.” —Romans 11:16

What does this practically look like? How do you determine how, when, and how much you should give as a firstfruit offering? This is going to look different for every person and each season. But here are a few steps you can take to help you get started in the right direction:

  • Pray: If your goal is obedience to God, it only makes sense that you would first go to him in prayer. Ask him what you should do with your money and resources. Listen to what he says.
  • Prepare: God calls us to be good stewards of the blessings he gives us. That means knowing what we’re able to give and when. Have a plan in place for your offering. Approach each harvest time with an open mind and a generous heart.
  • Prioritize: The whole idea behind a first fruit gift is to put God first. That may be donating your first paycheck of the year to the church. It may mean that you put this donation first in your budget. Just make sure that you’re prioritizing God in your finances.
  • Give: Know where you are going to give the money to. Is there a specific fund at the church you want to contribute to? Is there another nonprofit you want to support? It also helps to know the amount you’ll give.
  • Repeat: How often do you want to give a first fruit offering? This was traditionally an annual practice, but you can give as often as you’d like. Making it a part of your routine will help keep it a priority, not something you do spontaneously or sporadically.

However you give, the key thing is that you’re giving with an open heart and mind. The process of giving above your normal tithe can help prepare you for God to make a difference in your life. Making a first fruit offering demonstrates obedience to God, rather than your money.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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What Is First Fruit? A Short Guide