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How to Take an Offering
At a recent meeting with our campus pastors, I offered thirteen considerations related to church giving and finances. One of our deacons was kind enough to take notes, and so here they are.
1) Times are tough.
It’s taken awhile, but the poor economy is affecting our main base of operations in Seattle. I’ve spoken with a number of churches over the past few months—locally and nationally—and all have reduced budget by about 25 to 40 percent. The budget is tight at Mars Hill, but God continues to provide all that we need. It’s important to maintain this perspective.
2) Our theology hurts.
Mars Hill members generally get married young, have lots of kids, and live off of one income so mom can stay home. This is a direct application of key biblical principles that we teach regularly: husbands are to lead their home as Christ leads the church; children are a gift from God; and men must provide for their household. We will continue to preach the Bible—even if it means our people have less income to give.
3) The bottom line is not the bottom line.
Number of givers matters more than total given. As you check the giving report each week, don’t place so much emphasis on the bottom line. If you’re making budget on the backs of a few super-generous givers, when they lose their job, leave the church, or stop giving for whatever reason, you’re sunk. On the other hand, if a lot of people are giving faithfully, that probably means a lot of people are following Jesus, which is more important than making budget.
4) Don’t be timid.
I struggled with “the ask” for a long time. I knew people were suspicious of pastors asking for money, and I didn’t want to be that guy. But the truth is, we’re calling people to a lifestyle of worship—not a cause or a corporation or a minimal standard of token contribution. Yeah, there will be the cynics who roll their eyes or fold their arms when the basket comes their way, but anticipate the objections ahead of time and address them head on. Don’t wing it. Be prepared. Look people in the eye. Be courageous.
5) Disrupt the service order.
Just like a morning commute you’ve driven a thousand times, Sunday services too often coast on autopilot. Unless you change the route from time to time, a lot of people are going to zone out. Disrupt them. Take the offering before the sermon sometimes, and use it as a time to cast vision and share stories of God’s grace and generosity. Take the offering after the sermon sometimes, especially if the topic relates to obedience and giving. Be flexible. Mix it up.
6) Tell stories.
Guys who can’t tell stories can’t lead. People respond to stories on a heart level. And as Jesus says, where the heart is the wallet will follow (Matt. 6:21). Stories show the mission of the church. When people share their testimony, the connection is natural: that’s why we’re here; that’s why we give. But encourage testimonies—not biographies. Biography is a personal history where the gist is often, “Life was bad and now it is good.” Testimony is a story where Jesus is the hero, a story that reveals a personal encounter with Jesus as the basis of heart-level transformation.
7) Be generous.
If you’re not a generous church, you can’t expect your people to follow where you fail to go. At Mars Hill, we give away roughly $1.5 million each year to church planting, we give away books to newcomers and soldiers overseas, we’ve sent more than $650,000 to Haiti, we give away $200,000 to mercy projects through MicroMissions via our Community Groups, we give away all of our content online, and we provide all kinds of free counseling, training, and resources. We hope to set a good example, but we give generously because God’s has been generous to us, and we are grateful (2 Cor. 9:6–15).
8) The stewardship drip.
Rather than a few big asks a few times a year, take a moment to talk about stewardship every week. Don’t operate out of your own authority. Connect the offering to the Bible, and teach about it briefly and often. This constant reminder provides more opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move and convict.
9) Let it be awkward.
Before you take the offering, invite people to consider what a generous gift would be and prepare their contribution. Explain stewardship from the Bible (see #8) and leave them to deal with God: the offering is their opportunity to decide whether or not they’re going to obey him. Then wait. In the awkward silence that follows, pray for the Holy Spirit to move. At our church, most of our faithful givers give by automatic deduction or online during the week. Thank them and invite them to pray as well, for the church and for those who have yet to learn good stewardship and generous giving.
10) Make membership personal.
In the past, Mars Hill pastors taught our membership class in person. Today, people have the option of completing the material online, but we will likely eliminate this as an option. A relational membership process gives people the opportunity to ask questions, see the inner-workings of the church, and build trust—all helpful in making disciples of Jesus who are committed to his mission with their whole hearts.
11) Use pulpit time wisely.
On days when our campuses have live preaching rather than video, it’s a great opportunity to be flexible, tell a lot of stories, and address family business. Put some of the principles from this article into practice and pursue the heart of your people.
12) Organize campaigns.
People give to visible needs. The response to Haiti was incredible. And recently, when I gave away a few hundred copies of my new book, some people came forward—unsolicited—and offered to help pay for the freebies. Our plan is to run at least two giving campaigns per year (in June and December, to finish strong at the end of both our fiscal and calendar years) and tie them into the big vision of the church. The purpose is more than making budget. It’s a chance to explain the mission and get people excited about being a healthy church—one that gives generously, preaches the Bible faithfully, loves Jesus, and wants to see more people meet him.
13) It’s not getting any easier.
Giving will always be a difficult issue at Mars Hill Church. In fact, I pray that it’s always difficult. If 100 percent of our attendance is faithful givers, that means we’re no longer reaching non-Christians and nobody’s meeting Jesus. As long as new believers and non-believers are at Mars Hill Church, our budget will suffer. We’re talking about spiritual health and maturity, which doesn’t happen overnight. Expect financial frustration. We can lament, complain, or spiritualize the matter—or we can deal with it. It is what it is. Run lean, and run hard. The church is growing and people are coming to Jesus. By the grace of God we will have exactly what we need and likely nothing more. For more on giving, stewardship, and money, see Doctrine, chapter 12.