Building a Stewardship Culture in your Church

The following article is based on a presentation by Andy Stanley at Exponential ’04 – a stewardship conference for pastors and ministry leaders.

Stanley’s main assertion in his message about stewardship was you’ve got to PREACH IT, TEACH IT, AND CELEBRATE IT. You have to do all three if you want to develop a stewardship culture, an ethos of generosity within your congregation.

  • If you preach it and teach it but don’t celebrate it –it doesn’t work.
  • If you teach it and celebrate it but don’t preach it – it doesn’t work.
  • If you preach it and celebrate it but don’t teach it – it doesn’t work.

And you need to be intentional about how, when and where you do all three. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When it comes to finances, what do you want for your people?
  • When it comes to finances, do your people know what you want for them?

For them – not from them.

If you don’t know the answer to those questions, and your people can’t articulate what you want for them then you have some work to do. Because people need to know what you want for them financially before they can be open to what you want from them financially. If you haven’t developed that context then people think that the church just wants my money.

One Sunday Stanley was supposed to have a guest speaker at his church but at the last minute the speaker fell ill and couldn’t come. So Stanley decided to tell his congregation what he wished for them and he came up with a wish list of 5 wishes – one having to do with stewardship and here are some of the things that he said:

I wish that you would reorder your finances so that you would be able to give, then save, then live – give, save, live.

I wish that there was so much financial margin in your life that when God calls you to do something, go somewhere you wouldn’t be held back by finances.

I wish that you would be a fully devoted follower of Christ. I wish that you would understand that money is the acid test of your faith in Christ and if your finances are out of whack, then it is impossible to be a fully devoted follower of Christ.

I wish that you would no longer be prisoners to your cars, your houses, your stuff.

I wish that you could be more generous in your giving.

I wish that you would take whatever drastic measures you need to so that whenever money comes into your life you would give then save then live.

I wish for you to change from living first, saving second and then saying “God I wish I had more available to give to you.” I don’t want you to live upside down anymore. I don’t want the way you live financially to be shaped by our culture any longer.

I wish for you to experience the daily benefits of doing what God wants you to do. I long for that for you.

I wish that when God calls you to do that unusual thing or the opportunity of a lifetime comes your way – finances won’t hold you back.

That’s pretty clear isn’t it?

What is it that you want for your people financially? When you consistently communicate what you want for them, when they understand that and know that you are sincere, they will trust you. You will motivate them to get their financial house in order.

But preaching it is not enough. Yes you need to preach it – to motivate people but then you need to teach it – educate them.

Here’s another question to answer:

Where in the life of your church are people trained, taught, educated in the art and science of stewardship?

It’s one thing to be motivated to do something, it’s another to know how to do it. Changing the way we handle finances is not easy. It is a difficult and complicated process.

Preaching without teaching is almost a waste of time. Robert Lewis in his book “The Church of Irresistible Influence” says:

“Brilliant ideas spill from thousands of pulpits every Sunday, destined for a quick, premature death. Why? Because only structure, well thought out structure, which effectively unleashes people with purpose, can get results.”

A church that supports preaching through teaching will get results.

People will start to try and change their financial situation but when things get too difficult and they don’t know what to do, they give up. We need teachers – people who will take others by the hand and help them step by step.

If we don’t do this, it’s difficult to ask them to give. When they are in debt so deep, we need to teach them how to get out of debt, how to save. The average Canadian household has over $70,000 of debt and less than $2,500 in savings. And unfortunately evangelical Christian households don’t look different from the rest when it comes to finances.

Crown Financial Ministries has some great resources for teaching and educating people. For adults there are seminars, workshops, small group studies – all geared to training people how to be good stewards, be financially responsible. And there are resources for children and teens as well.

Andy Stanley wrote a book called “Fields of Gold”. In his book he states:

“For many believers, cheerful giving has become fearful giving. We are not opposed to supporting God’s kingdom with our resources. And we’re really not greedy. But we are concerned. We’re concerned that if we don’t look after our own needs first, they might not get looked after at all.”

There aren’t too many people who are truly greedy. Most people want to be more generous but the reality of their financial situation makes it so they can’t participate in giving at the level they want to.

So where in the life of your church do you help people improve their financial situation and learn how to become faithful stewards?

Finally you need to celebrate stewardship. Preaching motivates, teaching educates, celebrating punctuates.

Here’s another question – where do you celebrate good stewardship in your church. Do you do it intentionally?

Every church celebrates something – attendance, membership, missions, new carpet – but often it’s accidental rather than intentional. Whatever you celebrate reinforces a value in the minds and hearts of your people.

When your child comes home with an A and you reward them with something and celebrate the A that tells them you value A’s. When they come home with a B and you say “oh, that’s good” – that says you don’t value B’s.

If you want to reinforce the value of stewardship you need to celebrate it. The reality is that everything we do in ministry is tied to stewardship. There is always a correlation between ministry success and someone’s generosity and willingness to give.

So every time you celebrate a ministry win – celebrate stewardship. If you had a great DVBS program, thank the people who gave of their time to make it happen. If you have a missions team going on a trip – celebrate the generosity of those who gave money to make the trip possible.

Thank your people well and often for their generosity. Recognize your staff and ministry leaders for their stewardship. Every person in your church who has a budget is a manager – a steward. Thank them for managing those funds wisely.

Use stories. Recount stories of people who have been generous. Every story about someone who was a faithful giver even when it didn’t seem like they could afford it is a celebration of stewardship.

Again quoting from Robert Lewis’ book “The Church of Irresistible Influence”, with a couple words added by me:

“The Christian life is intended to crescendo around each person finding his or her place in the constantly unfolding fabric of kingdom work that engages the unique gifts and abilities (and resources) with which each person has been endowed by God.”