Without a scoreboard, how do we know who wins? This was a question I had when my kids were entering T-ball. The local YMCA didn’t keep score, and several of us parents didn’t understand. Everyone knew how to keep score, right?
How do we keep score in church? Too often we track attendance, buildings, and cash. However, those are not the markers Jesus gives. Our churches have the Great Commission as our mandate to make disciples. What is elusive is how to “keep score” of whether someone is actually being transformed.
Research in the 2023 State of the Bible report from the American Bible Society shows that when people fully engage with biblical teaching, they are more likely to donate and to do so more generously. This points to a long-held belief that generosity is a by-product of discipleship.
Pastor, we care about our members’ giving primarily because it reflects their spiritual state. We get in trouble if we focus on their giving only because of budget shortfalls. Our desire is to make disciples, not just converts. And when people become faithful disciples, they tend to become more generous.
Biblical engagement is waning through the generations and shows up in levels of giving. To measure biblical engagement, American Bible Society considers frequency of Bible use, Scripture’s impact on a person’s relationship with God and others, and its centrality in daily decision-making. These ideas can be grouped into three main categories: Scripture Engaged, Moveable Middle and Bible Disengaged. The research shows:
- The Scripture Engaged (92 percent) are more likely to give than those in the Moveable Middle (76 percent) or the Bible Disengaged (54 percent).
- The Scripture Engaged give almost a third more dollars than the Movable Middle and twice as much as the Bible Disengaged.
- And the Scripture Engaged give more money and give more often.
Helping people engage and relate to Scripture is vital for maturity. And generosity is an indicator of Scriptural engagement. Focus on raising biblical literacy for the sake of the Great Commission. One way you can track that is through giving. But this can prove tricky.
A 2017 Lifeway Research study showed Americans have a favorable view of the Bible. But more than half have read little-to-none of the Bible. Raising the level of biblical engagement begins with getting our people to read it. Then we can help them practice it. Provide a reading plan in your weekly worship guide or offer plans in your church app or newsletter.
Pastor, if you begin to share how reading the Bible challenges and changes you, others will identify and be inspired to read. Working statements into your sermons and conversations goes a long way in leading people to want to do it, too. However, I have found that being transparent about areas that challenge you or areas that are confusing to you has a more significant impact. Many do not read because they fear what it says or are confused by phrases and wordings. Help them unpack it. Develop groups or short-term environments to help shamelessly unpack those difficult areas. This moves people from awareness to engagement.
Church engagement includes attendance and service. The State of the Bible found people engaged in church are far more likely (91 percent) to give to any charity than the unchurched person (52 percent). Interestingly, online attendees (95 percent) are slightly more generous than in-person attendees (87 percent). We cannot ignore the presence of online church and its constituency.
Church attendance provides opportunities for everyone to practice their faith in real-time, whether it be worship, Bible study, committees or ministry teams. Those engaged in church are more likely to give. However, we must be careful not to assume attendance means spiritual growth. It plays a part, but it is not the whole. Engaging through attendance is an excellent start to engaging through service.
Those who serve in church are more likely than those serving in the community to give and to give more money. Whereas 64 percent of those who volunteer in their place of worship give $1,800 or more to charities in a year, only 44 percent of those who volunteer in their communities give at the highest level. Notice that people serving in the church or community are both giving. However, as God transforms lives in and through the church, He develops hearts of generosity.
When we prevent the younger generations from fully engaging, we are stifling their spiritual growth. The church that is discipling will provide avenues of service and volunteerism because it is spiritually vital. It is also financially beneficial.
The State of the Bible report revealed what we might expect: The younger generations are not giving as much as the older generations. The most revealing statistic is the percentage of non-givers.
- Elders (17 percent)
- Boomers (24 percent)
- Gen X (30 percent)
- Millennials (42 percent)
- Gen Z (38 percent)
While many would say life stage is a root cause for the younger generation’s lack of giving, I have witnessed them give to what they believe in causally. Charities that provide tangible ways to engage and cast vision for how such physical or financial engagement affects others often have high rates of success with the younger generations.
Pastor, develop pathways to increase engagement with millennials and Gen Z for the sake of the Great Commission. Cast a vision and show how engaging in the church, physically and financially, heals the broken hearted, brings Good News to the poor and frees the captive. If every believer has gifts, we should engage members of every generation and afford them opportunities to utilize their gifts. Engagement drives discipleship, and giving can be an indicator of impact.
Gen X, millennials and Gen Z need a sense of engagement in value-driven and cause-level mission and vision. While each yearns for biblical literacy, they mostly want to know how to live out their faith and beliefs. Casting the vision for the younger generations not only draws them to engage but provides a pathway for Gospel discipleship. When this occurs, growth and health rise in full discipleship. A disciple gives more.
Why should the church be interested in its members’ giving? Because their giving correlates to the kind of disciple they are becoming in your church.