What if our churches were generous?

On this morning’s run I ran past a dozen plus church buildings and many more dozen empty commercial spaces looking for a renter.

Our church is walking through the facilities game, praying and researching what possible spaces we can rent for the future. (Haven’t been entirely received with open arms by other churches, and that is expected.) As Jared Wilson wrote this week, there are three levels of generosity for churches, giving reasons why each one is more challenging than the previous one.
MoneyChurches shall be:

  1. Generous with Facilities
  2. Generous with Money
  3. Generous with People

The simplest and easiest way for an established church is to share their biggest brick and mortar resource: their building. Lots of churches do this, and I am grateful to work with two churches in the last seven years who are immensely generous with their buildings. When Willamette built a new building it was meant to be a blessing for the whole community, and it has. Scores of groups use it freely or for a nominal fee. It’s a regular meeting place for all kinds of good organizations. The city is better for the presence of generous, courageous and wise Christians, and their gathering place.

I recently taught that an implication of “getting” the Gospel is embracing whole-life hospitality. Without it we won’t become who we are. Part of being hospitable is opening our homes and using our stuff to bless others. That’s a first step to opening our actual lives. Yet it’s necessary to resist the first-world urge to splurge on ourselves and skimp towards others. Consider these statistics, shared in Kari‘s newest ebook Faithfully Frugal 1 (to be released next week):

It’s a very sobering statistic indeed that only 4% of Christians tithe to their local churches. That Christians give, on average, only 2% of their income. 2 That of that 2%, only 2% then goes to funding international work—the world. It’s sobering that the total annual income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion, that the amount available if each of them gave 10% of their salary is $520 billion. That the estimated annual cost to eliminate extreme poverty in the world is only $65 billion. That the annual cost for universal primary education for ALL children in the world is $6 billion. That the annual cost to bring clean water to most of the world is $9 billion. That the annual cost to bring basic health and nutrition for the world is $13 billion. That, therefore, the total amount needed to eradicate the world’s greatest problems: $93 billion (just 1.8% of American Christian’s income). Quite simply, the world God loves in dying and we are … doing what?

Yep. I might want to ask Jesus why He let all these atrocities happen in the world. Then He might flip the question and ask me the same. We are responsible to steward and provoke ourselves to radical generosity. An explosion of joy can overwhelm your heart when you give your life away for bigger things. Our core emphases with RENEW aim at embracing and embodying these truths.

When a church leadership is courageous and generous, increasing financial gifts to groups and causes beyond their walls, it can become contagious, even leading to a new culture of generosity. This is the second level of generosity, as Wilson continues:

“A church’s budget will tell you what is most important to them, just like our bank statements reveal what is most important to us. It can be difficult for a church to be generous with its money because the drift to inward focus and enhancing the internal experience of the church is automatic.”

While a building is a valuable asset, and cash money is king, there’s something even more valuable in our churches that needs to be given away. And since this level holds more valuable resources, it’s the hardest to open up freely. Wilson concludes on this third and hardest level of giving:

This is the hardest generosity, especially as it pertains to our “best and brightest.” Churches tend to be stingy with their leaders and leadership prospects.
Many churches will not endeavor to plant churches because they cannot trust God enough to send quality missionaries away — or, more bluntly, to drop in attendance.

Many churches will not cooperate with other local churches for fear of losing people to the other church. This stinginess with people is an idolatry very difficult to kill.

But a gospel-centered church will grow into a kingdom-mindedness that is a constant reminder that no local church owns anybody and that what is best for every local church is whatever is best for the expansion of the gospel and worship of Christ.

On this level we become not only generous. More than that, we are becoming courageous in a way that will lead others to taste and see the Lord is good. Grateful for the churches and leaders who have been generous with Kari and I.

  1. Faithfully Frugal: Spend Less, Give More, Live More, releases the first week of March on Amazon Kindle (ebook only at this time).
  2. Research by the Barna Group: “Americans Donate Billions to Charity, But Giving to Churches Has Declined.”