“We must disciple believers to grow their generosity, which is a kingdom behavior. A faithful disciple gives time, skill, money, and influence to bring the good news of God’s kingdom to more people.” – “How Congregations (and Their Members) Differ on Generosity” by Ruben Swint, 2015 Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On July 12, 2017, the Barna Group (a research firm that focuses on the Christian church, faith and culture) along with Thrivent Financial released the findings of a survey on perspectives on and practices of generosity and how those differ between generations. This online survey included 1,556 interested Christians—those who have reported that “my religious faith is very important in my life today” and who have attended church in the past year or more often, as well as 606 pastors. This survey included people from a variety of Christian faith traditions. The findings showed a generosity gap between how clergy and congregation members viewed generosity, between millennials and other generations, and between individuals’ beliefs and practices. Here are some of the study’s key findings:
- Nineteen in 20 Christians surveyed (96%) said generosity is important to them.
- Just one in six Christians (16%) said they are most often generous to others through monetary support.
- One-third of Christians surveyed (32 percent) most strongly associated generosity with service or volunteering, and 30 percent associated it with emotional or relational support. About one in five Christians (22 percent) connected it with giving money, 12 percent associated it with hospitality, and five percent said it was giving non-monetary gifts. When segmented by generations, Millennials were least likely to associate generosity with monetary giving (13 percent).
- Just more than half of Christians surveyed (56 percent) said they gave less than $50 to church and charity last year. Eighty-four percent of Millennials reported that they gave less than $50 dollars, the highest percentage of all generational segments. Nearly four in five Millennials (78%) said they were satisfied with their level of giving.
- While strong majorities of pastors and Christians agreed that generosity is always or often a response to Christ’s love, pastors were more likely to hold this belief (91 percent vs. 73 percent).
- Nearly half (47 percent) of Christians surveyed agreed that it is okay for church members who volunteer extensively not to give financially; just nine percent of pastors surveyed agreed (and 85 percent disagree).
So what do these findings mean for us as a Christian and as a part of a larger faith community? First, we need to recognize that the language around stewardship and generosity is larger than what we individually grew up learning. Second, people give for a variety of reasons such as duty/obligation, personal knowledge of or involvement in an organization, their heart is moved by a particular story or person, or a personal invite by a friend. Third, people view generosity or giving in a variety of ways including monetary donations, volunteering time and skills, or giving gifts such as a home-cooked dinner, visiting a homebound person, or mentoring an at-risk youth.
Generosity encompasses all of the above activities. Ultimately, generosity is a spiritual practice, just like prayer, reading the Bible, and worshipping and praising God through Jesus. It is a practice that helps to build God’s kingdom here on earth and share the Good News of Jesus Christ in our community and with the world. Our challenge is to see and experience the full breadth and depth of cultivating and celebrating generosity by God, by ourselves as individuals, by us as a community of Jesus, and by our larger community and world. Today, start by honestly asking yourself how am I generous and why am I generous. You might be surprised by your answer. And then ask yourself, how am I creating a culture of and celebrating generosity? Is generosity a daily spiritual practice in my life?