Leading People Through 4 Stages Of Generosity

Thursday, February 20, 2014 6:00:00 AM Categories: Generosity
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Software and technology can make the job of tracking donations easier, but can it be used to lead to greater generosity?  Alan Danielson is a senior pastor who is learning how theology, leadership and technology can be leveraged together to teach and facilitate generosity.  We hope you enjoy reading his thoughts.        ~ChurchTeams


In my experience, there is no better place than the local church to teach people how to become fully-generous. The reason for this is that the church is uniquely positioned to help move people through, what I call, the 4 stages of generosity.  As you read the rest of this post, go ahead and ask yourself:  ”Where else, other than the local church, can people easily experience and move through all 4 stages?”

Stage 1 – Giving Is A Duty. Something painful happens to an individual during this stage. This is when giving is a chore; it’s something people do because they have to or because they feel guilty if they don’t. This is one of the main reasons people don’t like going to church. When people are not giving and they hear about giving at church, they feel uncomfortable, guilty, beat up or frustrated. The vast majority of human beings never move passed this first stage because it hurts. And since people don’t like pain so they try hard to avoid any reminder that they are in this stage.

Why is this stage painful? Because all of us like generous people and we all dislike stingy people. This stage hurts because it reminds us that we are more akin to the people we dislike than the people we like. The answer to the pain is to push through it, and determine to become the kind of generous person others want to be around.

Stage 2 – Giving Is A Priority. During this stage, something spiritual happens. People who don’t like the idea of remaining in the first stage make the spiritual decision to give. Truly generous giving is not a financial decision; it is a spiritual one. When people give merely for a tax advantage they are still in stage 1. When they give because they’ve determined to become a fully-generous people, they have moved on to stage 2.

This stage is the first step to becoming a generous person. Giving shifts from duty to priority when people decide to make giving the default rather than an option. People do this by making their giving automatic. One of the best ways people automate their giving is by establishing a budget. The first money to leave their account each month is the money they are giving away. They decide immediately how much they’re going to give, when they’re going to give, and then they do it! Another great way people make giving a priority is by setting up ACH bank drafts, or by setting up recurring credit/debit card payments. This removes the possibility of not giving, and when people make the conscious decision to automate their giving, their actions scream, “Generosity is truly a priority in my life!”

Stage 3 – Giving Is A Habit. During stage 3 something subtle happens. Once people consciously decides to make giving a priority, something happens after a while: giving becomes easier, less painful, even normal. Somehow without even recognizing that it’s happening, giving becomes a natural habit. We’ve all seen that person for whom generosity is an easy choice, and we long to be like that person. When we enter stage 3 and giving becomes a habit in our lives, we are then becoming that person.

Stage 4 – Giving Is A Privilege. Something supernatural happens when we move into the fourth stage of generosity. When we give with consistency, we begin to notice God working in ways around us that we never noticed before. We begin to see how our generosity touches other lives and how it changes people. We begin to see the impact of our giving multiply and expand! Then it’s in those moments that we fall to our knees in worship and thank God that we have been given the privilege of contributing to his work! Now giving is no longer a duty, it’s no longer just a priority, it’s no longer even a habit. Now giving is something that we get to do…something we want to do.  In stage 4 giving truly has become a privilege!

May we all strive to reach the fourth stage of giving because…

…God loves a cheerful giver.
~2 Cor 9:7 (NIV)

Now let’s talk about how the local church can help people progress through each stage.  Other organizations can help people move through some of the stages, but I believe only the Church can help with all four.  So the question is, how do we as church leaders guide people through these four stages?

Stage 1 – Giving Is A Duty. Since this stage is painful for people, it is important that we are sensitive to their pain while helping them move beyond it.  Think of it like a patient being given a lung cancer diagnosis.   The doctor would not beat up the patient  or make the patient feel guilty by saying, “If you hadn’t smoked for the last 20 years, you wouldn’t be in this boat.”  Instead, the doctor would be frank, but comforting.  The doctor might say something more like this:  ”There’s hope.  We can treat the cancer, and I believe there’s a good chance we can beat it.  You’re going to have to go through with every step of the treatment and you have to stop smoking.”  See the difference?  When communicating to people that they should give, make it clear that selfishness is a cancer, but generosity in Christ is the cure.  Never make people feel guilty.

The key here is to communicate vision and hope.  For example, rather than preaching a message entitled “The problems of being selfish” we should flip it around and preach one entitled “The benefits of generosity.”  Helping people see giving as something other than a burdensome duty requires painting a beautiful picture of what can happen in their lives when they become more generous.  The overall message should empower people by communicating that Christ wants more FOR them, rather than Christ wanting more FROM them.

One way that we communicate a generous vision to people is by giving them a booklet and a hand-written note when they give to our church for the first time.  It’s called “What happens when you give.”  I wish we could take credit for this idea, but we can’t.  Our church purchases these books from Giving Rocket.  You can find out more about these books here.

Stage 2 – Giving Is A Priority. Once a person decides they no longer want to be selfish with their finances, they’ve taken a huge spiritual step.  At this point we, as church leaders, must empower our people by giving them the tools to make giving a priority.

When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist church, we were sent offering envelopes in the mail.  This system reminded our family to make giving a priority.  Thanks to internet technology we can do far better than mailing a box of envelopes.  Creating a link on your website where people can set up automatic ACH withdrawals or recurring credit/debit card payments is a simple way to do this.  Additionally, including a link in your weekly e-newsletter that simply says “give online” will remind people to give even when they’re on vacation or just missed church.

It’s vital that we not only help people believe that giving is a priority, we must help them make it a priority by providing them the right tools.

Stage 3 – Giving Is A Habit. This stage is both fantastic and dangerous.  It’s fantastic because giving has become automatic for people.  It’s dangerous because people can give without thinking.  This can lead to either complacency or a sense of arrival.  We must help people move beyond this stage by teaching about giving as an act of worship.  We should continually remind those we lead that giving is not a mindless activity, it is a meaningful gesture of worship.

Stage 4 – Giving Is A Privilege. There are two methods that are helpful here:  personal stories and personal example.  Personal stories of changed lives are a great way to promote the privilege of giving.  When people hear how our churches are impacting others, they are inspired to give.  Playing these videos during weekend services, including them with contribution statements, and featuring them on our website reminds people why they give.

While stories of changed lives are powerful, the greatest way for church leaders to help people get to the fourth stage of generosity is to live in this place ourselves.  The only way for us to convincingly talk about giving being a privilege is if we personally believe it.  Evaluate yourself, church leader, are you giving consistently?  Are you giving sacrificially?  Are you seeing God’s miracles of provision that make you fall to your knees in worship?  Only when we inhabit this space will we be able to help lead people here as well.

How is your church helping people move through these stages?

What steps do you need to take this week to begin making generous disciples?

Alan Danielson is the Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Previously he served as Central Team Leader for LifeGroups at LifeChurch.tv in Edmond, OK, where he led over a thousand small groups on LifeChurch’s thirteen campuses in six different states. He then founded 3Threat.net to help leaders master three essential leadership skills: vision-casting, creating strategy and fostering relationships. Alan is a popular conference speaker and consults regularly with ministries and leaders on topics relating to small groups and leadership. Learn more from Alan at http://www.3Threat.net.