How to Grow Generosity

Joseph Grenny, in his book Influencer, teaches that leadership is all about intentionally influencing people to grow and change. Joseph Grenny would argue that positive influence happens when you develop a strategy for growing a culture of generosity in your local church. Growth that is gradual is sustaining.

The reality is that sometimes, good behavior may feel bad and bad behavior may feel good without influencing leadership. In other words, acting selfishly may feel good by those motivated by greed, and acting selflessly may feel bad by those motivated by generosity. What makes the difference? Our feelings may work for or against us. Social behavioral studies indicate that people will not change unless they are influenced.

Strategy creates leadership for the future. It must be innovative. The innovative strategy is not managing the present. It is selectively abandoning the past. Strategy responds to changing needs of people and creating the future. Vijay Govindarajan offers an excellent strategic leadership model in his book, The Other Side of Innovation. Growing generosity requires a dynamic strategic planning process that happens every year. Year by year growth will result.

It Takes a Team
How can you organize your stewardship team to be more innovative? What new ways can you create that will result in increase giving? This is the challenge every year as we begin planning for the annual stewardship team. For innovative change to result in increased giving, there must be a dedicated leader and a creative campaign team.

Who you select to serve on the leadership team makes all the difference. The project team will be focused on creating a better future, not managing the present. The statement, “We have always done it this way,” will not work. The team will need to make room for change for selectively eliminating past practices that did not bring good results.

Vijay would also say that there should be two teams. One team should create the new and innovative practices. Another team needs to execute the project. Most churches can take the time to dream, innovate, and create a stewardship campaign to meet the needs of their particular congregation. These churches recruit a team approach. . . . Every stewardship campaign can be like a spiritual revival to help people with teaching that informs, inspires, and leads to action and change. Vision becomes reality!

It Takes Time
At Resurrection, our Discipleship Journey is to know, love, and serve God. Our vision for stewardship is also an expression of knowing with our minds, loving with our hearts, and serving with our hands. We teach that giving grows as we know, love, and serve God. Generosity becomes an essential part of the Discipleship Journey. Generosity really is a result of our commitment to being a disciple of Christ for the transformation of the world.

To be candid, few successfully complete this journey. We estimate that in most churches this might be ten percent of the most active and devoted Christians. We also admit that many never get started on this journey. This might also be ten to fifteen percent of the membership. The vast majority are members who are on the journey stop short of experiencing the joy of generosity because of other priorities that come before giving to God.

Dr. Walter Russell says, “(The journey) thesis is the belief that generosity is the natural outcome of God working in individuals so that they are conformed to the image of Christ and become generous, as Christ is generous. As a result of this journey, they grow in the grace of giving and will take hold of that which is life indeed.” (I Timothy 6:19)

Karl Barth makes this wonderful theological observation: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth, grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder following lightning.”

Professor Russell describes the different stages of maturity that we experience on the road to generosity. As children toddling on the road, we give because we see others give (imitation). As we mature, our motivation for giving deepens with our awareness of the needs of others (compassion). There are also those times when we learn to give because others will notice (recognition). Many times in life, people sense their absolute dependence upon God. Their motivation for giving becomes more internal (matter of the heart). There is an observation by some that generosity has a strong connection to one’s soul. People may ultimately realize that life and faith become more important than selfishness or possessions.

Romans 6:22 (ESV) puts it this way: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are and what we have are gifts to be received and shared.”

Nouwen goes on to remind us of our vision: “Fundraising is a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing your vision, and inviting other people into your vision with the resources that are available to them. It is saying, we have a vision that is so exciting that we give you the opportunity to participate in that vision with the resources God has given you and be pleased for that occasion.”

Do What it Takes
What is your vision for stewardship and generosity? Do you have the courage to cast this vision and teach its values? Casting a vision for such in your church can be the fuel and motivation others need to respond to God’s call on their lives to benefit the common good of Christ and the church. It is a long and beautiful journey to creating a culture of generosity in your local church. Be patient. Take your time. Sow seeds of generosity along the way. Make sure that every year you move forward with greater faith and fruitfulness propelled by your vision. The task of creating a generous community of faith happens as we “creep, crawl, run” toward the fulfillment of your vision and purpose.

Excerpted with permission, Propel, Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity, Clayton L. Smith (Abingdon Press, 2015) pages 25–27.

Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith has served as an Executive Pastor of Generosity at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection since September 2005. For twenty-five years prior to this, Clayton served as Senior Pastor in the Missouri Area at Schweitzer UMC in Springfield, Manchester UMC in St. Louis, and Centenary in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Dr. Smith received our denomination’s top Circuit Rider Award for Church Growth as a Senior Pastor at Schweitzer United Methodist Church. His book, Propel: Good Stewardship, Great Generosity is available on