How the Right Question, Interpreted the Wrong Way, Led to a Demise in Giving

How the Right Question, Interpreted the Wrong Way, Led to a Demise in Giving

I have been thinking lately about how the right question, interpreted the wrong way led to a demise in giving… 

I know.  The title and concept are a lot to get your mind around.  But, let me unpack what I mean.

I blame the Contemporary Church Movement. 

DON’T HIT THE X BUTTON!  Let me explain.  We need to know HOW we arrived where we are.

Many of the pioneering large mega churches today tell the similar story of canvassing neighborhoods basically asking, “What don’t you like about church?”  Surprise, surprise, the answer was, “All churches talk about is money.”

OK, wait, before I get to my point here, think about this.  To design our future church in such a way as to attract the unchurched and nonbelievers, we ask them what THEY want?  How smart is that?  I mean, I get it, but think about that.  Do we cater to what lost people WANT or deliver to them what they NEED?  I’ll come back to this in a bit.  But, I digress…

So, the founders and leaders of the Contemporary Church Movement, put any talk of money, finances and especially giving, way, way on the back burner of importance.  Many stopped passing offering plates all together.  Giving was seldom if ever mentioned.  When it was, it went something like this…

As we take up the offering, we want all our guest to know that this is a time for our members.  You don’t need to participate.

I call that, The Apology!  You have heard it.  You may be saying it.  If so, please stop.  Why?  It isn’t working!  Consider this…

Since 1968 American giving to a church has steadily declined.

Now here is the really scary thing, by 2050 Americans will only give 1% of their disposable incomes to churches.  It is not that there is a storm coming.  The storm is here but it is going to get much, much worse.

So, the right question, finding out why people were staying away from church.

Led to the conclusion that removing talk about money or at least infrequently talking about it, would increase attendance.  Increased attendance was to lead to more salvations, etc.  And that indeed happened.  BUT, the demise in talking about giving…

Led to a demise IN giving.  When The Great Recession hit many churches as a result faced massive budget cuts, staff terminations and in some cases closure.

Still wondering, how the question was interpreted the wrong way?  All of the above is just background.

What if…

We misinterpreted the answer to the church question?  We assumed that ANY talk of money or giving was what they meant.  But what if they meant something different?  Consider that study after study shows that the vast majority of churches talk about money infrequently if at all.  So, how is it that unchurched people thought churches talked too much about money if very few churches are talking about money?

What if…

It was HOW we talked about money and giving?  Or, that we never helped those attending realize the power of generosity through a local church.  Both lead to a demise in giving.

First, all too often WHEN we preach on giving we do so from what I call an “ought to,” approach.  That is a kind way of saying we take people on a guilt trip.  Guilt is never a good motivator to give.  Those that hear that kind of message get turned off.  It leaves a long lasting bad taste in their mouths.

Yet at the same time we fail to connect the dots for them.  How a dollar given here, your church, impacts the world for good.  The Church does amazing things and people like to give to things that do amazing things!


The right question, interpreted the wrong way, led to a demise in giving.

Nice theory but how would you prove it?  Charities.  Think about it.  About all charities do is ask for money.  All the time.  In every appeal they are asking you to give them more money.  Guess what?  Charitable giving is at an all-time high as a result of their asking.  Charitable giving in the United States in 2017 topped the $400 billion mark for the first time last year.  So something is working for them.

Take the Red Cross for example.  They not only ask you for money they ask you for your blood.  And we give it.  Yet, when was the last time you ever heard anyone say, “All the Red Cross talks about is money?”  Or, “All the American Cancer Society wants is my money!”  You never hear that.  Why is that?  Because…

We know what they do and where our gifts go and what it does.

We also understand that we can give or not.  We can throw away the letter without even opening it.  We can delete or ignore the email.  We can even unsubscribe.  Yet we don’t completely shut charities out.  We know their good.  While we might not give right now, but we might later.  And you can most certainly count on me calling you if a crisis occurs in my home town.

So, I contend that we need to do what charities do.  We are doing amazing work that last an eternity.  Top that Red Cross!  We have amazing stories of life change.  What we must do is…

Tell our story so people will know what we do and where their gifts go and what those gift do.

That is not THE answer.  But it is a huge part of the answer.  It starts with our being aware of the giving crisis we are in.  We have to change how we think about giving.  Instead of apologizing for taking up the offering, let’s make a case for why people should give to the offering.  Why would you want to do that?  Because…

The mission God has called your church to do deserves to be fully funded!

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach