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Raising generous children


Churches encourage giving in simple but effective ways

By Pam Greer-Ullrich | Presbyterians Today

Children at First United Presbyterian in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, are encouraged to bring loose change to place in buckets, making the offering noisy and fun. Here, a child presents a bucket to the Rev. Phil Beck. Carrie Harris Photography

The children practiced long and hard to sing their song on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. When the big day came, they clambered to the front of the sanctuary, listened to the first few plinks on the piano and watched for the nod to begin from their Sunday school teacher.

Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One … give thanks … .

Along with the excitement, joy and anticipation of a new baby, parents often worry whether they can guide a child into becoming a healthy, happy and confident adult. Most would say they hope to raise a child who is kindhearted and generous — a child who not only can give thanks, but can also turn that thanks into acts of sharing. But how do you teach generosity to a child?

Gina Struensee, director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Neenah, Wisconsin, has this advice: Start young.

It doesn’t take long for children to recognize the value of money. In a 2018 study, psychologists at Purdue University found that by age 3, children can grasp basic money concepts. By age 7, money habits that will follow children into adulthood have been formed.

“The younger the parents start, the better,” she said, adding that the church can be integral in nurturing generous givers.

“Stewardship can be woven into the fabric of our Christian education programs and throughout all of church life,” Struensee said. “It would be amazing if the culture of every church involved the whole congregation in discussion, classes and opportunities for stewardship activities throughout the year — not just during the annual ‘campaign.’”

While most children and youth will not have significant financial resources to give, Struensee said, it is still important that the church engage and expose kids to activities of generosity and stewardship education.

Get children involved

A few years ago, First Presbyterian in Neenah let the children take over the church’s Heifer International program, deciding for themselves what animal to buy and how to raise the money.

The kids took a vote on the congregation’s fundraising options and decided a bake sale was the best method. The children then organized the bake sale, asking various members to provide the goodies. Afterwards, they counted the money raised and presented the results to the church.

Not only did it give children a sense of ownership, but “it taught them how to handle money in general,” Struensee said.

The church also played a game with children in second grade and up called “Where Does Your Money Go?” The game, Struensee said, prompted conversations with the children about how and where to spend their money and the importance of generosity and giving back to God.

The game started with each child being given an envelope containing a different amount of toy money to represent their monthly income. Four baskets were then labeled with causes relevant to the children: repair of tornado damage in their hometown, purchasing new iPads for Sunday school, balancing the church budget and giving to Heifer International. Two other baskets were labeled “living expenses” and “other.” After the teacher described each of the baskets and explained that the money in the envelope was the children’s monthly income, they were asked to decide and record how much money they would place in each basket.

“It was a great way to talk about tithing, as some of the children gave all their money away and didn’t leave any for living expenses,” Struensee said. The activity was a great conversation starter at home too. “Many of our parents are still talking about it,” she said.

Loud can be good

Many churches use what they call “noisy offerings” to involve children and to help them learn the importance of giving to others.

Northminster Presbyterian Church in Ames, Iowa, uses its noisy coin collection to fund food mission projects in the community. On one Sunday each month, the youngest children walk up and down the aisle with metal coffee cans that make lots of noise as members drop their coins in. The average collection is around $200.

First Presbyterian Church of Oshkosh in Wisconsin has what it calls “Joyful Noise” offerings. A recent offering, to the children’s surprise, got a huge boost when the church’s Service Club — a group of members who volunteer their help wherever there is a need — added $500 to the $341 already collected in what was 20 pounds of coins. The money went to Take 5, a local organization providing clothing and haircuts for local kids.

At First United Presbyterian Church in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, the congregation collects small change and bills on Quarter Sunday and designates the money for the local food pantry. Children collect the offering in metal buckets, making the collection noisy and fun. Parents encourage their children to bring money for the offering, and congregation members enjoy making the buckets “ring” when they drop their money in the buckets.

“For our children, it’s an important reminder that we need to think about the needs of everyone in our community,” said the Rev. Phil Beck, pastor of First United Presbyterian in Tarentum. “It helps that this is fun, and noisy, and a little chaotic. The children’s joy in collecting the offering and bringing it forward is just a delight to witness.” 

Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis made the Joyful Noise pail a weekly fixture in the front of the church so the children can drop their coins in when they come forward for children’s time during the worship hour.

“Noisy offerings serve as a reminder that when we give to God, we make a joyful noise,” Struensee said.

Beyond Sunday morning

The Bible has a lot to say about generosity as an important character trait, and being generous is one of the most important principles a parent can model for their children beyond the church setting.

“When kids see parents giving and helping, it becomes more natural for them to begin giving and helping,” Struensee said.

When someone becomes a parent, it is an opportune time for them to look within and evaluate their ideas about generosity and how they model generosity. It’s an ideal time to determine what values they want to pass along to the next generation.

“Teaching children is 20 percent teaching and 80 percent living what you hope they learn,” said Minner Serovy, the Presbyterian Foundation’s ministry relations officer for the Upper Midwest Region. “Children are uncannily astute at noticing when our own actions don’t match what our mouths speak. They are mimickers, and they’ll repeat behaviors that get a response. It will be difficult to teach things that you don’t believe and practice yourself.”

Telling children why adults are giving is just as important as showing children how to give.

“It’s important to also share your reasons for giving a portion of your paycheck back to God through the church for its missions and ministries,” Serovy said.

Giving, though, also goes beyond money. For example, caring for the earth is another important part of stewardship.

“Parents should be intentional about engaging their children in environmental responsibility. Recycling at home, planting a vegetable garden, walking or bicycling instead of driving for short errands, and planting a tree in your local park are all things that you can do to raise awareness of the environment,” Serovy said.

A kid-friendly spiritual discipline

In her book Giving Together: A Stewardship Guide for Families, Carol A. Wehrheim says that we serve by using our time and talents for acts of mercy and social action, and we give to share our financial resources and material goods. As with any spiritual discipline, acts of generosity must become a part of life.

Parents who worship with their children model the importance of giving time to their faith community. Serving among the various ministries provides opportunities to connect them to biblical teachings.

“The role of the family in nurturing children to be generous financial stewards cannot be underplayed,” Wehrheim said, adding that children who participate in giving to the church continue that spiritual discipline as adults.

Pam Greer-Ullrich is the former director of public relations for the Presbyterian Foundation.

The Stu Bear book returns

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center is republishing Stu Bear: A Story About Stewardship for Young Children, a full-color book in which Stu Bear learns about giving from children he meets at home, at church and in the community.

Stu Bear was created by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1995 to teach young children about stewardship. Recently, the Ecumenical Stewardship Center received permission to reprint Stu Bear resources and to create new ones using the Stu Bear character. The anticipated release date is November 2018. For more information, visit the Ecumenical Stewardship Center at

Toy box lessons

When a toy box gets too full, ask children to help clean it out and give some toys away. Use it as a teaching moment to emphasize the generosity of family and friends who give gifts, and the importance of sharing with other children, who may not receive such gifts.

The same goes with clothes. Have children organize clothes that no longer fit into a box to give to a church clothes closet or local charity. Let the children tag along when you drop off the box so they can see how the process works.

Talking money with children

In The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving, Ellen Sabin offers the following questions to help begin a conversation with a child about money:

  • Who shared with you? What did they share?
  • Who taught you something? What did they teach?
  • Who showed you love? How did they show love?
  • Who made you happy? How did they make you happy?
  • What can you share and teach? To whom can you show love, and who can you make happy today?

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