What would a nation of generous churches look like?

by John Richardson  |  September 24, 2013

It’s no secret.  Churches in the Western world are addicted to money.  We scarcely know how to minister/serve/operate/survive apart from it.  Because we have taken so many of our financial cues from the culture around us, we have come dependent on ministry dollars.  Our buildings cost as much (if not more) than any other non-profit organizations…so that we can attract more members.  Our salaries are competitive in the marketplace…so that we can attract the top leaders.  Growing budgets for television slots, radio spots, full-color postcards and newspaper ads have become a critical part of our outreach.  We pay for janitorial services, Wi-Fi capabilities, cutting edge videos and occasionally even drop a couple grand to keep up with the trends on pulpit styles.

Please don’t hear me wrong.  I’m not bashing the church for spending money and adapting to culture.  I’m just stating the obvious…we scarcely know how to minister apart from money.     

In his book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John Dickerson notes that many ministries today are like gas guzzling, high horsepower, V8 engines.  They’re exciting.  They’re fun.  And they made (some) sense in the 1980’s, because gas was ninety cents per gallon.  But, today…when gas is $3.50 a gallon…maybe it’s a good time to rethink our attitude toward consuming and spending.

In fact, maybe it’s time for the church to consider a complete overhaul.

Imagine this – what if churches of the Western world made a giant shift from being money and consumer driven to being driven by generosity?  What if we reduced our dependence on money to the point that we started giving huge chunks of it away?  What would a nation of churches with that mindset look like?

Indulge me for a second in this idea.  I know that money and ministry will always be intertwined.  (Even Jesus has a treasurer.)  I know that common meeting spaces, utility bills, insurance and salaries will regularly factor into the operation of the church.  When communities gather, there is always some need for material resources.  So, let’s not go off the deep end.  But, think about the possibilities that would be present if one nation of churches decided to unify around the God-characteristic of generosity.

Skeptics would no longer be concerned about what we want from them…because we would continually stay focused on what we want for them.

One of the biggest hurdles in the church today is the hurdle of authenticity.  With the fall of modernism, and with the rise of readily accessible knowledge, people in the Western world are far less inclined to blindly follow church leaders.  Beyond that, people are far less inclined to believe something simply because it is coming from the church.

Today, we trust peer reviews and we are constantly looking for authenticity.  Most people can sniff out a sales pitch from a mile away.  We can spot hypocrisy on a single glance.  We are trained in the tricks of Photoshop and we recognize a façade even in the most professional settings. 

Imagine a nation of churches that had five star ratings from both the believers on the inside and the skeptics on the outside.  Imagine a nation of churches that received peer reviews stating, “They genuinely care about me.  In fact, I think they care more about me than they do about the well-being of their (fill in the blank…facilities, salaries, or newspaper ads).       Imagine what the nation would look like if every single church, on every single street corner had a reputation for giving and caring rather than taking and judging.

The kingdom of God would be visible and tangible rather than unknown.

In the gospels, Jesus talks more about the kingdom of God than virtually any other subject.  When Jesus was coming, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven (God) is near!”  When Jesus spoke, He often began with the phrase, “The kingdom of God is like…”  When He sent the 72 disciples into local ministry situations, He told them to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9).  And in Matthew 21, Jesus announced that even tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God.

More than anything else, Jesus wanted people to know and experience the joys of truly knowing the King and the delights of living in the kingdom.  And one of the most common ways that Jesus directed people toward the kingdom was through their use of money (think Zacchaeus…the parable of the rich fool…or the parable of the sower.)

Can you imagine how frequently the kingdom would become “visible” to a watching world (and inside each church) if all of the churches were generously helping their neighbors and generously improving their neighborhoods?  Can you imagine how the kingdom would be joyfully experienced if wrong-doers were sought out so that they could be forgiven or if it was commonplace for churches to love each other so much that they “gave to everyone as they had need?”

Or imagine these possibilities:

  • Believers would have a better handle on being disciples as they imitated the generous ways of God
  • The Great Commission would be properly funded
  • The evening news would regularly contain positive stories
  • There would be a remarkable freedom and release from the captivity for those enslaved to material possessions
  • Businesses across the nation would run with entirely different principles and practices
  • There would be very little need for government assistance and the assistance received would come with a warm conversation rather than as an impersonal paper check
  • There would be a drastically reduced gap between the 1% and the 99%
  • High adoption rates would end the need for foster care
  • There would be a natural development of community over and above our tendencies toward isolation
  • Grace would shower the nation like rain

And that’s only scratching the surface.

What do you think an entire nation of generous churches would look like?  Maybe more importantly, what is your church doing to tip the needle in that direction?

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The end of Schindler's list is what I generally think of:
He looks at his wedding band, and his car, and tells those he did save:
I could have saved more!

There's a whole spectrum of churches out there. Plenty of them ARE doing things for their community. Plenty of them ARE fully funding "The Great Commision". Just like there's plenty of them that don't do a thing for the poor to fund a building and a name for themselves.

But no matter what level we give at, the grief that we're likely to have at the end is Schindler's. I could have done more!
Cynical Christian
September 30, 2013 - 08:59:13 AM
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your letter is like rain on a dry surface, so needed and so welcome! We are guilty as a nation of Christians and Churches, of being so worried about all of the politics and 'moral' issues of the day. Millions of hour and dollars are being spent on combatting human nature, instead of introducing the only Person who can change that nature within us. I am grateful for you words and underlying passion behind them. The next step is how to jump start this idea to become an actual 'doing' . It will take one large or even enormous church to radically give out and keep giving and then challenge others to break the standard of church as we know it in America.......doing this on a personal level, and it works:)
Beth Ray
September 29, 2013 - 05:16:36 AM
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I think this is personified in the

"Handful of Rice" project started in India...
does not take a large church, or wealthy citizens, but rather
each one giving a portion of what he has, steadily, daily, even multiple times daily.
Perhaps this is the solution to our problem with overweight. Instead of spending
billions eVERY YEAR to lose weight, why not simply eat less and GIVE the money
we have saved to feed the hungry!!
Think about it!!
Donna Jeanne Schneider
September 30, 2013 - 10:42:27 AM
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Working on just such a program now. Maybe we can collaborate. Good piece--good job.
September 28, 2013 - 10:20:23 PM
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Thanks Les. Would love to hear what you are developing!
September 28, 2013 - 11:45:31 PM
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An entire nation of generous churches would look like the United States of America. Just look at the volunteers in the aftermath of a disaster, or the volunteers at a rescue mission, or volunteers at pretty much any good cause, in most any town in the country. The blessings that these people provide would be immediately apparent in their absence, if they were to cease.
The Sanity Inspector
September 28, 2013 - 06:53:03 PM
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