Is Your Church Making This Major Generosity Mistake?

Posted by Rusty Lewis on Mar 6, 2019 1:10:58 PM


As a church leader, you probably wish you had more money to do more ministry. But your church’s financial bandwidth is tied to your congregation’s financial generosity—and that can be frustrating. How can you encourage people to trust God and give more?

Some of the strategies for improving your generosity culture have to do with discipleship. Many others, though, come down to improving communication. After conducting dozens of generosity audits with churches all around the country, I’ve had the unique opportunity to gather some of the most common mistakes within the church generosity landscape. Today, I’m going to help you avoid (or fix) one of the biggest church generosity mistakes I see on a regular basis—ineffective sharing of financial information.

Sharing Financial Information: Out With the Old, In With the New

When I was young, our church posted stats on a large plaque in the front of the sanctuary: attendance last week, giving last week, number of people in Sunday school. I think they even listed the number who brought their Bible. Do you remember seeing anything like that? (I’m likely dating myself here, but it was very common practice back in the day.)

Today, I often see churches placing similar information in their weekly worship bulletin. That approach simply isn’t effective. What are we to draw from weekly financial information in the bulletin? Most people don’t know what to make of what they see.

In fact, those numbers can often be misleading. For example, if you print Giving Last Week, Budget Last Week, Giving Year-to-Date, and Budget Year-to-Date, you’re not providing an accurate picture. Think about it for a minute—if the need number (budget) is below the giving number (and it almost always is, at least until December), you’re communicating that you’re in trouble. “Our giving is behind our budget.” Well, who wants to give to something that might be failing? Would you purchase stock in a publicly traded company if you thought the business was in trouble? (Enron, anyone?)

The reverse is equally problematic. If giving is ahead of budget, what does that say? “Great! They don’t need my money!!”

When it comes to sharing financial information with your congregation, context matters!

Seriously, there are significant issues here:

  • Throughout the first 10 or 11 months of the calendar year, giving is often behind budget. You and I know giving in November and December can be exceptional, and it closes the budget gap. But for the majority of the year, people see figures that continually reflect that you’re behind budget. That’s not good. That alone is reason enough to not publish those numbers in the weekly bulletin. They simply aren’t helpful.
  • Numbers tell stories, and they need to be in context to portray an accurate story. Weekly numbers don’t precisely reflect the true finances of the church.

I’m a numbers guy. I study this stuff. I’ve counseled churches for 18 years on generosity. If I can’t figure out what those numbers are truly communicating, the average attendee isn’t likely to get an accurate picture of what’s going on. Weekly numbers are important for your leadership team, but they provide a distorted reality to the congregation.

So if not weekly, then how often? And if not in the bulletin, then where? Those are great questions, and I’m glad you asked!

Use Your Website to Communicate Financial Information, Not the Bulletin

Your church website is ideal for financial content because you can provide much more comprehensive information, in context, about your church’s finances. Being open and thorough with this information speaks volumes to your church family. Your givers will appreciate—and reward—your transparency!

  • Post a monthly summary on your online giving page.
  • Include comments that help interpret what’s reflected in the summary.
  • Consider including a brief video about the numbers, connecting those figures to ministry impact and church mission. This makes it much less about the “budget” and more about vision. Now that’s something I want to invest in!

Now you’re likely thinking, “What do I do with that section in the bulletin where we’ve been putting our giving data for the last 30 years?” This practice is in place from tradition more than anything else. After all, the bulletin was the primary form of communication back in the day. But not today.

Removing financial information from your bulletin without any explanation is a bit risky. Some people might think you’re hiding something: “Are we in trouble? What happened to the numbers that used to be in the bulletin?” Here’s a simple solution: In place of that giving information, include a simple statement: “For a full monthly update on our finances, visit our website…” and provide the exact URL to access the content. That says you have nothing to hide, that you’re fully transparent, and that I can trust you.

In addition to sharing regular, monthly updates, you will also want to produce an annual report. This provides the greatest opportunity to celebrate the finances of the past year and the amazing results realized through your ministry.

The good news? You have the power to fix (or avoid) this common generosity mistake!

Churches are notorious for getting into “we’ve always done it this way” ruts, and some of those ruts can be costly—literally. Identifying our mistakes is the first step toward fixing them. I pray that you stop feeling stuck and gain the financial freedom to fulfill your church’s mission!

Rusty Lewis

About the Author

Rusty Lewis

Rusty joined Generis in 2001 to team up with a dedicated group focused on accelerating generosity toward God-inspired vision. He engages with clients in ministry fund development, ministry expansion and capital projects, major donor development strategies, generosity audits, pre-campaign assessment and feasibility studies, special projects and planned giving initiatives. Rusty has written about stewardship and generosity since 2008, and has produced several e-books on topics that impact giving cultures within the church. He is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and a member of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals (AFP). Rusty serves as coordinator for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and is a Certified Financial Coach. He and his wife, Andrea, live in the St. Louis area. They are proud parents of two grown children and one granddaughter.