On a dry, sun-baked morning, Pastor Miller could feel the temperature rising as he drove through his drought-ridden Phoenix neighborhood. He couldn't help but notice the foreclosure signs and neglected shrubs in the yards on every block. He thought of John and Ann, the broken-hearted couple he had met with that morning.
Just three years into their marriage, John had lost his job at a local high-tech company during a round of layoffs six months earlier. Now, with a baby on the way, they'd just learned the bank was foreclosing on their home. The pastor's heart broke as he had looked at the young husband with his head hung low as Ann said, "We've lost everything and now the house!"
Finally, Pastor Miller arrived at his next destination, a well-appointed home in an affluent neighborhood. He was here to counsel one of the couples in his church whose financial blessings seemed to be turning into curses as they fought with each other and their adult children over their assets, their investments, and their giving.
He glanced across the manicured lawn before knocking on the heavy mahogany door, and he wondered, How do I teach about giving when my members are coming from such different places financially?
One of the challenges most church leaders face in developing a missional church is the economic diversity of their members. Funding the missional church is a constant issue, but so is the perception that some people are funders and others are fundees. Is it true that some people are to be the givers while others are to be the receivers?
That dichotomy is a faulty one, and part of a truly missional church is demonstrating that generosity is for everyone, regardless of their position on the economic spectrum. Over the last five years, I've had the privilege to help pastors address this issue in my work with Generous Giving and The National Christian Foundation.
I've talked with hundreds of pastors and lay leaders about creating a culture of generosity in their church that includes every member, from the wealthy to the poor. I'd like to share what I've learned through these conversations: the practices that are making a difference and some stories that demonstrate these strategies at work.
The Stewardship Continuum
Almost every congregation includes both the under-resourced and the well-resourced. I've found it helpful to distinguish "scarce stewards" (who are struggling to survive another day) and "surplus stewards" (who are struggling to handle the complications that wealth creates). But often overlooked is the majority in the middle, the "stable stewards" (who are relatively secure in their finances but don't have any surplus).
Despite their differences, people in each of these groups can benefit from learning to be generous.
Often the group that gets the most attention within a church is the scarce stewards. They have the most urgent needs. Whether caused by poor habits, poor choices, or a background of poverty, these members usually need immediate help.
While it's essential to address their current needs, it's equally important to uncover the issues that are at the root of many financial woes.
Debt has brought even many middle-class families to the point of scarcity. Yet even scarce stewards can learn generosity. Often it begins by a church providing financial counseling through lay volunteers, who can address the root issues of the cash crunch. Resources from groups such as Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org) or Good Sense (www.goodsenseministry.com) help to teach basic biblical principles regarding money.