Building a culture of generosity


Workshop leader Robert Hay Jr. explains how to create generous disciples in churches at annual Stewardship Kaleidoscope conference

By Pam Greer-Ullrich and Robyn Davis Sekula | Presbyterian Foundation Communications

Robert Hay Jr. led a workshop on cultivating a culture of generosity at the Stewardship Kaleidoscope in St. Louis on Sept. 24. Gregg Brekke

ST. LOUIS – “Stewardship is about the joyous discipline of giving thanks,” says Robert Hay Jr. of the Presbyterian Foundation. Comparing joyous discipline with a “runner’s high” where the mind body and spirit start clicking after months or even years of disciplined training, Hay says the discipline of stewardship can bring true joy in giving.

Hay is a Ministry Relations Officer for the Foundation who assists congregations with financial matters, including changing the conversation about stewardship in churches. Hay spoke at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, an annual conference on generosity and giving in churches, on September 24. His Creating a Culture of Generosity workshop references Clif Christopher’s book, “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.”

Hay encourages congregations to look at all they’ve been given instead of what is lacking, changing that narrative from scarcity to abundance. A generous culture develops from the recognition of stewardship as gratitude and giving our time, talent and treasure: “God wants all of me,” Hay says. Stewardship is disciple making. “If we are out there telling our stories, the money will follow,” Hay says.

Taking stock

To be a stewardship leader, you must understand what you believe about stewardship, Hay says he encourages everyone to consider their first memory of stewardship, who taught you about it, and why is giving to the church important to you.

People give to the church because they believe in its mission and trust that the church is being fiscally responsible, Hay says. They want a relationship with the leadership.

Pastors should lead the way in stewardship, Hay says. Pastors should preach about generosity once a month from the pulpit, and discuss their own stewardship. Vulnerability from the pulpit helps build relationships. The pastor should be the storyteller; excite and energize people by telling about all the church is doing. Invite and ask people to give. Be sure to say thank you as well.

Rather than a stewardship committee, he challenges churches to create a generosity team that is tasked with hunting for and sharing the stories of the church. This helps strengthen relationships through authentic connections.

This team should work and be intentional about coordinating the stories, asks, and thanks year-round, not just in the typical fall stewardship season, Hay says.

Nonprofits have professionalized in the past few decades, he says, and churches should learn from them, taking the best of what nonprofits do, such as story-telling, and bringing it back to congregations.

Generosity verses stewardship

Make liberal use of the term generosity, rather than stewardship, and be sure the generosity team is different from the financial team. Generosity, he says, is about story-telling and promoting the good work that the church is doing. Some churches have called their committee the Generosity Team or the Gifts and Gratitude Team, Hay says. Ideally, there should be people on this team from all sectors of the church so that they will know the stories that need to be told from all across the congregation.

“If you can’t possibly have another committee in your church, designate one person as your generosity elder,” Hay says. Make that person the one who is on the lookout for great stories of the church, and make sure you tell those stories.

How do you tell the stories? Here are a few ideas:

  • Put the stories in sermons
  • Present a minute for mission before the offering is collected
  • Share testimonials of how God is at work
  • Print the stories in a brochure or church newsletter
  • Create a video
  • Share the stories in social media

Part of good storytelling is presenting the church budget in new and more engaging ways, Hay says. Use a narrative budget, not a line-item, that describes the activities of the church and illustrates each with photos. Present it to the church as a brochure or annual report style document. If you’re concerned someone will miss the line-item budget, you can provide copies of it.

After you’ve made the ask, you need to make it easy to give. Offer options to give with cash, check, online giving, credit/debit card, bank draft and securities While the front-end request is important, the final step is crucial: saying thank you.

Be sure that everyone who pledges gets a thank you note. Thank them not only for their monetary gift, but the gift of their presence in church and any additional activities they take on that helps the church, whether that’s singing in the choir, working in the nursery, serving as a greeter or serving on session.

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