Getting a group of people to be generous is like getting a group of people to eat healthy—it’s hard enough to get 1 person to do it, far less 100 or 1,000.
You can’t coerce people into it.
You can’t force someone to be generous at gunpoint.
You can’t guilt someone into generosity (then giving becomes transactional).
Generosity is a quality of a loving heart.
And yet, there are things you can do to cultivate generosity among members in your church.
More than that, there are strategies you can implement in your church that cultivate generosity among your most skill-wealthy (and wealthy-wealthy) members so that the church is resources to do the work of the kingdom on a larger scale, to grow, and to fulfill the great commission.
Use these 10 strategies to help your church members to become more generous.
Once a few become generous, it inspires others.
In this sense, generosity is just as much caught as it is taught.
As a church leader, all you need to do is plant the seed and cultivate it.
This is why the Apostle Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
The garden metaphor best explains how generosity comes into existence.
Not through hacks or tricks or shortcuts.
Through the miracle of seed-to-plant kind of growth.
So use these gardening hacks to reap an abundant harvest as early as a year down the road.
1. Know what generosity is
It’s easy to think of generosity as just a way of being really nice.
If helping an old lady across the street is “nice,” then giving your hard-earned money to people in need is really nice.
But to God, generosity is more than that.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
Generosity is love manifested in the exchange of material goods or services. Consider some key biblical passages which speak to the nature of generosity:
“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Prov. 21:13).
“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Prov. 22:9).
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
Just as generosity is a cycle, greed and selfishness are a cycle.
The generous are blessed by blessing others materially because they understand that their own possessions are blessings from God. It’s a self-fortifying perspective.
The selfish always see generosity as a loss, and need a tax incentive just to bump a few dollars here or there.
Generosity is an indicator of the heart’s status before God.
Do we live in God’s world?
If we do, then we are called to advance his kingdom in this world, and our resources are a tool in service of that calling.
2. Know what you want generosity to look like in your congregation
Make two lists.
First, list evergreen needs in your church that continually prompt requests to give.
What needs continually give rise to expressed need?
What needs keep you going back to wealthy members in your church asking for money?
What initiatives are mission-critical, but also critically underfunded? And why are they underfunded? Are they not marketed well? Do your members lack a passion for your church’s mission?
Make this list—what are perennial needs, and why are they in such desperate need?
The second list should be a list of your “dream partnerships” in the church.
“Jan → Financial Freedom. Jan is an accountant at a major accounting firm in the area, and our church’s budget is a mess. In a dream scenario, she would donate her expertise to help us as a church get our finances in order and project a path to financial security.”
“John → New Building. John is a wealthy local businessman, and has a passion for missions. We don’t currently support a missionary, but we do need help with our new building fundraising plan. So, my dream would be if we could incorporate a missions element into the new building and have him partner with our church in a major way to make this new building possible once and for all.”
Make an entire list of these dreams [Person] → [Need].
Now match these two lists, and you have a list of real-life hypotheticals to ask God for.
In other words, you have your prayer list and you have your mission success list for teaching your church to become generous.
3. Ask the most generous people in your church what compels them to be so generous
Find out why people want to give.
One indicator of what compels people to give is where else they give.
Do your members give to charity besides your church?
If so, what are those causes to which they give?
Is there any way that you as a church could channel those concerns through a ministry in your church to increase your giving stream, and therefore your resourcing potential as a church?
Every pastor should have a list of major donors in the church—and especially potential major donors.
Every pastor should be building positive working relationships with these donors to ensure that there is an alignment between God’s call on the church and the desires of potential major donors for their charitable giving.
Likewise, pastors should find a way to help those with fewer resources to think about ways to be generous with both their time and their money.
Helping normal people conceive of their generosity as significant, even when it’s not a half-million dollar gift, is crucial to the kingdom.
If a church is working correctly, even small donations of $5 go just as far as a millionaire’s $5—which is to say, as far as God can take it. Which is very far.
There is no such thing as wasted generosity.
It’s impossible for generosity to be a waste.
Yes, some churches could do better at balancing the budget.
But God always makes the most of $1 given—in the heart, he is doing work that can’t be mimicked by keeping that $1 in your pocket.
4. Identify the least generous people in your church
It’s important to know who in your church isn’t giving—not so that you can shame them, but so that you can pastor them.
Giving is a crucial aspect of discipleship.
If someone isn’t giving, this is related to their spiritual life.
It either means that they are selfish, or that there is no margin in their life, or that they are going through desperate times.
No matter which of these situations is their situation, they need a pastor.
Lack of tithing is an indicator that someone needs a spiritual guide to help them figure out a way to get a place where they can be a cheerful giver.
Make a list of the people who aren’t giving so that you can fulfill your role as a pastor to those in need.
5. Find ways to showcase worthwhile opportunities to get involved in your church
One reason people might not be giving is that you aren’t sufficiently showcasing opportunities to become participating members in your church.
If people can’t have a hands-on experience with the institution to which they’re giving, they’ll be less likely to give.
You should give as many members as possible opportunities to serve so that they can see and feel the needs of the church.
This comes down to basic marketing.
Volunteers will be your biggest donors.
Ask from the stage, in the newsletter, and in the Sunday service program, for people to get involved in as many opportunities as possible.
You can invent jobs if you need to—just to make sure that people have opportunities to volunteer at church.
6. Ask low-generosity members to get involved in those opportunities
Low-generosity members may simply need an on-ramp to start giving.
If they can taste and see the goodness of God poured out in the form of mercy ministries, they will see that the sort of work that effects real change costs real dollars and cents.
Don’t just guilt people for money.
Don’t hammer them over the head about how bad they should feel for not being generous.
Show them that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
When Jesus said those words, he wasn’t speaking of an imaginary spiritual world that isn’t our world.
When Jesus said “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” he was talking about reality—our reality.
So show them that reality.
Reality is on your side when you say, “Come serve with us. It will be a blessing.”
You introduce people to the cycle of generosity that is blessed and blesses through generosity.
This could be the very opportunity low-generosity members need to catalyze their giving potential.
7. Ask low-generosity members to give to the cause they’re involved in
When you ask low-generosity members to give to the cause they’re involved in, this can be in a variety of ways.
You can ask volunteers to give while they are in the field giving.
You can ask volunteers to give in order to go deeper into volunteering.
For example, you can offer basic volunteer opportunities to anyone who wants to volunteer.
But afterward, you can offer advanced weekend or week-long opportunities that cost money—and this money would subsidize the money spent meeting needs and doing kingdom work.
Sometimes, businessmen need to see generosity as transactional simply to understand what a blessing is.
Giving is cause-and-effect.
Blessing is cause-and-effect.
Transaction is cause-and-effect.
Giving low-generosity members a way to invest in a ministry opportunity with their time and money with an eye toward a spiritual ROI is a great way to walk them toward the perspective of Jesus.
8. Preach on generosity
Some preachers are hesitant to preach on generosity, because they don’t want to bash their congregants over the head with guilt about tithing.
But this perspective is wrong entirely—generosity isn’t about guilt. Generosity is about blessing.
And when you preach about generosity, God’s Spirit will work through the preaching of his word to create the effect he desires in the hearts of his people.
Also, it’s not like you can never preach on generosity.
Scripture speaks about generosity very often, and to preach the full counsel of God on matters of the spiritual life, you must preach about generosity occasionally.
Pro tip: You can download a free sermon series on generosity right here.
9. Ask small group leaders to discuss generosity
This is an opportunity for your church to bring home some of the principles of your preaching on generosity.
This is an opportunity for high-generosity church members to ask, “How should I plan my giving this coming year?”
This is also an opportunity for low-generosity church members to ask, “How can I give? Where can I give? To whom can I give?” And most importantly—”Why aren’t I giving?”
Don’t shy away from giving your church the opportunity to be convicted by God’s Spirit to become more generous—or to give elsewhere.
This is God’s opportunity to organically prompt the hearts of people with capital and skills to distribute those assets in God’s kingdom according to his calling.
This is God’s opportunity to place on the hearts of his people the needs of the world.
Making this a church-wide topic of discussion in small-groups gives people a moment to be honest and contrite about their own finances before God and in community.
10. Make generosity a key subject of your membership class
Some Christians have simply never conceived of generosity is a core spiritual discipline.
This is because we too often take for granted that Christians ought to be generous, so generosity is often not seen as a fundamental spiritual practice in the Christian life.
In fact, generosity is not a “rich Christian” thing.
Generosity is a spiritual habit that Jesus commands and incentivizes through spiritual reward.
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want” (Proverbs 11:24).
This is a spiritual law that balances the laws of economics.
It is a truth that every Christian should now, and it should be part of your church’s membership class.
Once the topic of generosity—and specifically, tithing—becomes a core aspect of your church membership class curriculum, every single church member in your congregation will have this as a basic category: “Tithing is a critical component of discipleship, not an optional one.”
Over to you
What steps can you take in your church to prompt more generosity?
Will you make time to create the lists mentioned here, or will you hang your church’s growth on a wish and a prayer?
Get detailed, practical, and strategic about your church’s health measured on the axis of generosity.
God certainly looks at the heart—and generosity is a key performance indicator of spiritual wellbeing that God checks to see the spiritual status of Christians.
If we are greedy, hoarding, selfish, and closed-minded, there is something deeper going on that God wants to address.
If we are generous, intentional with our giving, and proactively tithing, this is a sign that we are taking the right steps toward practicing the lordship of Christ in our lives and cherishing the work of his body through the advancement of the kingdom.