I was doing a Generosity Audit recently and wrapping up the day talking with a group of high capacity donors and leaders in the church. This is a large church, and many of the people in the room were not only leaders in the church, but leaders in the community. We talked through some of the issues in the church, and then switched our conversation to topics of giving and generosity. 

One of the questions I like to ask is, “What does your church believe about the tithe.” As you can imagine the answers are all over the board and many in the room have different feelings on the subject. In that environment it’s not my job to give my opinion, but to drive them to solidify what they believe. But in this instance, the question that really ignited the conversation was, “Do you believe all of your tithe should go to the church.” Silence….

Finally one man spoke up and said that he and his family didn’t give their entire tithe to the church, but that he split it between the church and Kingdom causes. One by one, others in the room followed with similar answers. The consensus was although there are many fine charities, that the tithe should go only to the church and Kingdom causes. 

So what does the Bible say? Well there isn’t clear guidance on that. John Piper addressed the issue a few years ago in a blog post. He says, “As a pastor, if somebody came to me and said, ‘I’d like to tithe. Where should I give it?’ I would say, ‘Well, I think it’s a helpful rule of thumb to say that, considering that this is your family of believers with its own set of needs and that you benefit from the church and give your life to it, starting with a tithe here is a good idea. And from there you can give more here and more elsewhere.’ But I would never say, ‘You must give your tithe to this church. I just don’t find it in the Bible. I can’t put biblical texts behind it.’”

Let’s assume most of us can agree that Christians are not “required” to tithe. We know that salvation is through faith alone and not works. But can we also agree that the tithe is a Biblical concept, and that we would be wise to search God’s heart on the issue. So then, if you tithe, where does it go and why?

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Rory McIlroy is one of the most talented young golfers to come along in a long time. He recently won his third major championship, the British Open, by two shots. McIlroy had been through a tough stretch both professionally and personally but was finally able to put it all together to win a big tournament. Asked later what the keys were to his victory, he responded that he had focused on two words the whole week. Process and Spot. The latter he focused on in his putting game, making sure the ball rolled over a certain spot so the put stayed on line to the hole. But the first word is the one that caught my attention, process.

Many golfers don’t focus on process, we focus on results. When we hit a golf shot, the only marker of success is whether or not the ball went where we wanted it to go. But having a good result may or may not be because a golfer did the right thing. There are so many variables that can affect where a ball goes when it’s hit. Often I have hit what I thought was a great shot, but it ends up in the wrong spot. Likewise there have been times where I would hit a poor shot and it would end up on the green. But McIlroy changed his approach. He decided to focus on the process of giving himself the best chance to hit a good shot and leave it at that. He would calculate the distance, the wind, the shape of the shot, and where he wanted it to go. Then he would choose the club, make a controlled swing, and live with the result.

Often our churches look at one portion of the generosity journey, the result. We look at what was given on a specific Sunday or in a specific month and deem our process successful or not successful. But in reality that may not be the case. The generosity process may have been poor, but a large giver may have given that week which inflates the numbers. Or maybe that same giver forgot to give one month while on vacation, and the numbers seem down. Why not focus on the process, and study all the available data?

That is essentially why we began the Generosity Audit. We want to see your process, and dig deeper in the data. What happens during your offering time? Does your Pastor embody generosity? How well are you telling your church’s story? Let’s get the process correct to give you the best possible chance of success.

We’ve also now introduced a new tool to dig deeper in the data. Instead of looking at a month and seeing the total gifts, what if you could see how many first time givers have joined in, and how many long time givers have dropped off? What if, with one click, you could see how big of a burden your high capacity givers are carrying? Those are the type of metrics to track in order to judge the process.

Take Rory’s advice, focus on the process and the results will take care of themselves. If I can help break down the process for you in a Generosity Audit, let me know!

Getting Over the FEAR of Water Hazards

I was fortunate enough to attend the US Open last week at Pinehurst, just a couple of hours from my home. I enjoy seeing the best in the world play golf, and in fact this is the third major championship I’ve attended with only the PGA Championship left on my list. 

I’ve also always been a pretty good golfer, and at my best I could play in the mid 70’s pretty consistently. I’m far from being as good as the professionals, but as good as they are on the PGA Tour, there are hundreds if not thousands of golfers who have the physical talent to be successful, but haven’t mastered the mental game. 

I noticed when I was at Pinehurst that the pro’s have a different approach to the game. While they understand the obstacles on a given hole…the water, sand, trees, rough, etc…instead the focus for each player is on exactly where the ball should go. If the ball does go into a hazard, they don’t let it affect their approach to the next shot. That’s a huge difference from an amateur who is hoping the ball doesn’t find a hazard and somehow ends up in a good spot. If the ball does find a hazard for us amateurs, we’re often scared to hit the next shot in fear that it will happen again. 

While out walking the course by myself I was able to think about how some of my church partners focus on what’s next in their ministry. Some church leaders see the obstacles ahead and are aware of them, but they are focused on what God is calling them to do, and the impact their church can make if they take bold steps. However many churches I speak with are worried about landing in a hazard, and are not willing to take the chances that will move their ministry to the next level. 

So where are you? Worried about who might get upset, what might go wrong, or waiting for God to just do it so you don’t have to make the effort? Or are you taking everything into consideration, while still following through on what you’ve been called to accomplish? 

In just over four years with Generis I’ve walked into many churches and had conversations about giving. Yet through all those conversations, I’ve only heard one pastor tell me about the legacy plan his church had designed and was implementing successfully. It just so happens that the church is my home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and the Stewardship Pastor is Dr. Don Mann. 

Full disclosure, I was just asked to serve on the board of the ProVision Foundation which is the arm that Dr. Mann and Calvary set up to benefit the church. It’s already been an eye opening experience for me, and I think that all pastors and church staff should have the chance to learn from Dr. Mann. So along those lines I asked him if he would be willing to do an interview with me, and he graciously agreed. 

Dr. Mann, you started ProVision back in 2002. What was the vision for the foundation at that time?

“The seed of the vision was a desire to fund the future of Calvary’s ministry advancement in the areas of missions, Christian education, and capital needs.”

What were your concerns when you started the program?

“Basically, the big concerns were gaining clear thinking about the real potential and liabilities of a church supporting foundation. We had to overcome overly optimistic thinking as well as catastrophic thinking about what a supporting foundation could be.  We came to discover that creating a foundation that was a separate organization with detailed operating agreements and governance was the key to addressing concerns and creating a partnership with the church and the foundation that could serve the church and at the same time serve individual donors with great confidentiality and professional direction for tax-wise gifts or bequests.”

How has the foundation proven important for Calvary?

“Over the years, the foundation has served Calvary by facilitating the gift planning process, by distributing over $1.2M in current gifts and over $20M in bequests to the church. Many of the current gifts were received through those who had a current gift component of their overall estate plan.”

What is the role of the senior pastor with a program like this?

“In one word, essential. Executive leadership (participation) and sponsorship (advocating because you know the real purpose) is the key to the congregation adopting the gift planning purpose and process.”

Why should churches have a plan for legacy gifts?

“First and foremost, it’s a matter of stewardship. The gift planning process with a Christian estate professional is less of a tax-avoidance conversation and more of an eternal values conversation. I think the conversation is ultimately what do you value?  The plan and the resulting gifts are the benefits of that stewardship conversation.”

From your experience in conversations, why don’t more churches have legacy programs or foundations?

“The main reason is no exposure to a model that is successful.  Some have had an attempt but started at the wrong place, such as a wills seminar, etc.  Having a ministry, not just of securing a legacy gift, but wanting to serve people and facilitate an objective and confidential conversation about their lifetime stewardship is important. This demonstrates a commitment to lifetime stewardship and not just seeking large gifts for the future.”

What advice would you give a church that is thinking of setting up a legacy program or foundation?

“The studies I have seen show that doing this as a church seems most effective when the size of the congregation is over 2,000 and the demographics include people from a range of ages and incomes. That doesn’t mean a pastor or leader can’t be proactive in encouraging planning, but for the program to be a success church wide participation is important. Secondly, choose someone in the church who can implement the solution with the pastor’s direction and blessing. Then have that person begin talking about options with the leader of an established program and find ways to adapt that program. 

It’s important to get the horse before the cart. You need a way to generate income (planned giving program or major gifts program) before you do the work of developing a solution for distribution of the funds which may come in (the foundation). Finally, even with a shaky economy, we are in the midst of the largest generational wealth transfer in all of human history.  That we participate in what God has provided is the key.”

 

A big thank you to Dr. Don Mann for his willingness to share his experience in the legacy giving arena. I am excited to be a small part of the foundation, and would encourage churches of all sizes to investigate the best way to offer some type of program to its members. As Dr. Mann said, it’s not simply for the church to receive more money. It’s more about serving those in our church and giving them tangible ways to make a lasting difference for the Kingdom. 

 

Why I Give to Get

April 6, 2014

I was at a client’s church recently, paying attention to what happened during the offering time. After a song one of the pastors came up to begin the process. He introduced the giving time by mentioning that we give so that all the ministries of the church can continue to go on. I’ve heard some variation of this very often and while it is true, I don’t think it’s the best way to explain why we give. So let’s go over some other familiar ways of introducing the giving moment.

“We give because God has blessed us so much”

“We give because God has commanded us to do so”

“We give because we are stewards of what God has given us”

“We give because God will bless us when we do”

Depending on the context of these statements, all can be true. But for me recently it’s been something else. I give to get, and no that doesn’t mean I give so I’ll get more money in return.

I’m no theologian or Biblical scholar, but this is a topic that I spend many of my waking hours contemplating with others who have this calling in life.

So let’s dig further, why does God want us to give?

I believe it is because He knows how important material possessions can be in our lives. We know how hard it is for a rich man to inherit the kingdom right? So God is saying that for some of us, money will become so important that it takes the place of the other important things in our life. Chief among those is Him. So I give to get. I give so that money loses its power in my life, and I get more of God in that spot. Money and finances and stuff loses power, God gains power.

For those of you on this journey with me as followers of Jesus, you know that a funny thing happens at that point. Despite circumstances in our lives we find peace and happiness and fulfillment when He is in charge. At least with where I stand with God at this point in my life, that’s what I’ve come up with to explain giving.

Now what are the secondary benefits? We bless God through our giving and showing that He is number one. We fulfill God’s call for us to give. We demonstrate good stewardship. We receive blessings that He has in store for us. Not only that but we further the ministry of the church, and lives are changed.

Giving is a discipleship process, and not everyone will understand this message. Some will begin giving because of those other reasons, and I think that is fantastic! However someone starts giving, I celebrate it as a win in their lives. But let’s keep teaching that there’s more to the story. If you open up more room for God, you will become more like Jesus because of it.

So now how much should you give? Well that comes in the next blog entitled… Give til it Hurts? No thank you!

You didn’t hear that?

March 24, 2014

My two year old daughter is a consistent little girl. She has a routine and likes it! The other day she was right on schedule as she woke up from her nap around 3pm. I went upstairs to get her and change her clothes before bringing her back downstairs. As I sat her down on her changing table she said, “Do you hear that dad?”  “No I don’t sweetheart, what is it?” “I hear an airplane,” she said. Sure enough as I was quiet and listened, I could hear the airplane. 

 
A similar event happened this morning as we walked into the gym for a morning workout. “I hear a motorcycle,” she said. Again as I took a moment to listen I heard it too. 
 
Airplanes, motorcycles, trucks, I don’t even hear them anymore. But for her, everything is new. Every sight and sound is new and exciting and she can pick it out quickly. We live in a city and those sounds have become so common that they don’t even register in my brain. 
 
The same can be said about the leaders in a church. You’ve been there so long that most things just blend into the background. What do guests see as they enter the parking lot? What do members hear when you do your announcements? What is said when you enter the offering time? All these things are normal to you, but can make a huge difference in the life of your church. 
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So why should you bring in someone from the outside to gauge what you’re doing as far as generosity is concerned? Or for that matter for how well you’re taking care of your church building? Or to audit your books to make sure everything is being accounted for financially? 
 
The answer is because the sights and sounds of your church are under the microscope when we enter your church. They are new and exciting and we notice every single one. 
 
From now on when my daughter and I are out somewhere, I’ll listen more closely to what is going on around me. I’ll pay attention to the unique noises and the beautiful flowers. And if I’m fortunate enough to spend a day in your church, I’ll help you notice the small things again as well. 
 
What is going on in your church that needs a look from an outside source? Ask your staff that question and then find a trusted partner that can help to open your eyes to the things that may be holding your church from taking the next big step. 

 

The landscape of capital projects is changing. In the past, a church would have to go through a capital campaign to fund a capital project whether it be a new building or renovation. But keep in mind there may be other ways to accomplish the goal.

I recently had lunch with a pastor who is seeking options as his church wants to move from a rented school facility into a permanent facility. Through the calculations we found that by redirecting the lease payment (which has just ballooned), and with a small increase in regular giving, the church would be able to easily afford a mortgage that they might acquire.

Of course the option is there to do a capital campaign and pay off a big chunk of the new facility, but the timing isn’t always right.

What if we took a closer look at the generosity culture and made some changes to grow everyday giving? What if we did a smaller campaign for everyday giving to grow to the level we need? Or what if we did a one fund campaign to grow everyday giving and potentially pay off a chunk of capital as well? Depending on your balance sheet and cash flow, any one of these might be an option.

I will soon be diving deeper into this church to assess what the best option might be, but suffice to say that in this day and age a capital campaign is no longer a one size fits all solution.

Through my conversations with pastors, I can usually tell early on if a pastor gets it or not when it comes to generosity. If so, we can dive in quickly and plan a strategy that will grow the generous spirit of his church. If not, it will be a struggle, and in some cases we don’t even get far enough to talk about partnering. So in that light, here are a five reasons why a generosity focus will not work for your church. 

 
1. If you’re afraid to talk about finances the way the Bible does, a generosity focus is not for you. 
 
2. If you’re worried about someone getting upset about the generosity conversation, a generosity focus is not for you. 
 
3. If you don’t think discipling your members in the area of finances is important, a generosity focus is not for you. 
 
4. If you don’t have a vision for what you would do with the money if giving did increase, a generosity focus is not for you. 
 
5. If you as a pastor or staff member don’t give generously, a generosity focus is not for you. 
 
However, if you are willing to show what God’s word says about giving…if you are willing to defend your reasons for talking about money…if you are passionate about discipling your members in their finances..if you have a vision for what the increased money would fund…and if you get IT, and give generously….then and only then could a generosity focus be just what your church needs to take the next step forward. And if all those things are the case, you motivate me to do what I do, thank you! 

The Olympics are always an exciting time, and Americans apparently love watching if the ratings are any indication. I don’t understand all of the events, but no matter what sport it is obvious that intense training has been done to get the athlete ready for what could be a few seconds of an event that have at least been four years in the making, more for most. 

 
A few of my clients are also coming down to an extremely important day in the next few months, one for which they have waited decades. Call it what you will….committment day, pledge day, faith promise day, etc. Like an Olympic athlete, can your church just show up on that day and expect a great outcome without some preparation?
 
We know what an Olympic athlete goes through leading up to the games. The coach would probably start with the basics of the skills needed, the fundamentals. Because without a good base there’s no need for the more complex details. There also will likely be some intense training times followed by times of rest. There might be some pain included and even an injury that needs to be healed. All of that will help shape the athlete to be ready for competition. 
 
So what does that preparation look like in a church? It would also likely start with the basics, maybe as long as four years out! What does the Bible say about giving? How do those who have more experience with generosity give? How can I find room in my family’s budget to give? We have to lay the foundation for people before moving on to more complex subjects. 
 
And yes this might be painful for some. Whenever people are challenged to grow in any fashion, there will be some hurt feelings. But this can’t be an excuse not to engage at this level. 
 
So if you’re a pastor or church leader who has vision and can see what might be coming years ahead, how are you preparing your people? It may be time for a vision strategy session to help others understand what the goal will be down the road. It could be time for a generosity audit to see what the strengths and weaknesses of the church are in order to build a good foundation. But rest assured that if you are intentional about it now, your people will be prepared once the big day arrives.  

1. Stop saying this is only for members

I often do Generosity Audits as do many of my Generis teammates, and one of the first questions I’ll ask pastors is do they think that the offering time is a time of worship. They all say yes. But yet we tell visitors that they shouldn’t feel compelled to give. Do you tell them that they shouldn’t sing during the service? Or to feel free to tune out the pastor during the message? Of course not! I’m not saying you should tell them that they should give, but you should let them decide. It could be a time that a person makes a critical decision to invest in the Kingdom.
 

2. Stop doing announcements

 
Back to the worship part…Yes it’s a time of worship but we’d like to take this time to remind you that the deacons will be meeting tonight and that the Wednesday night dinner will be spaghetti this week. Really? Leave some room for people hearts to be moved. Maybe not complete silence, but there should be something going on that reminds people what the offering time is all about. A giving testimony, a story of something amazing happening because of generosity, or sometimes simple music. Which leads to the next point…

 
3. Stop doing the same thing
 

I’ve done a blog post on this before, but it’s a simple guideline. Change it up! If you do the same thing every week, you will engage the same people. You don’t sing the same songs each week (at least I hope not), the pastor doesn’t give the same message each week(see parentheses above), so charge your worship leader to spend a few minutes each week planning this time just like he or she would the rest of the service.

 

So Pastor, what will you do this week to make your offering time better?