Talking about money in church

The regular ‘money spot’ can be one of the most awkward and divisive moments in the life of a church. The time comes for the person responsible to update the church on its financial health, and in most cases, to urge an increase in giving to meet the shortfall. That update begins to increase in frequency as the urgency of the situation intensifies.

What tends to happen is that the people who are already giving generously either

  1. find ways to give even more generously or
  2. get fed up with being asked to give more and react negatively.

All the while, there is a significant proportion of the congregation who are giving little, if anything. (Note: ‘little’ means ‘an insignificant proportion of our capacity’; see Luke 21:1-4.) What we need to do is not only thank those who are already giving generously, but strongly challenge those who are not.

Here is a script for how you might do this:

In a moment, I will talk briefly about how we’re tracking financially as a church. But before I do that, I would like to acknowledge that there are at least three groups of people here. Those three groups need to respond in different ways to what I am about to say.

  1. First of all, there are many here who have carefully considered their financial obligations and capacity in regards to supporting the ministry of the gospel here at [insert name of your church] and beyond. You have worked out what it means for you to be generous in your present situation. You have prayerfully considered your giving, and you have acted. If that’s you, then here’s what I want you to do for the next two minutes. I want you to ignore everything I am about to say. This doesn’t concern you. You’re already doing your bit. Thank you.
  2. Secondly, there are some here who are visiting our church, or who have not yet made up their minds that this will be their home church. Similarly, please ignore what I am about to say. You are our guest this morning/evening.
  3. But there is a third group. You regularly participate in the life of our church, and gain spiritual and relational benefits from the ministries here. BUT … you either don’t contribute anything financially, or you give in an irregular, insignificant and unreflective way. You enjoy the benefits of a ministry, but you rely on the person in the next row to pay for it. To put it in a straightforward Australian way, you’re ‘bludging’ off the rest of us. It’s our best guess that this third group represents more than half of all those here this morning/evening. What I want you to do now as you listen to what I am about to say is feel guilty: feel guilty in such a way that you repent, confess your sin to God, and commit to obeying God in this area of money.

There could be no objection to making an announcement like this virtually every Sunday of the year. There is simply no reason for anyone to complain. The first group can’t get offended by an announcement that they have been explicitly told to ignore. The second group is being educated that if they do commit to this church, then the expectation is that they ought to give thoughtfully and generously. The third group can’t complain; they need to believe the gospel and respond to the generosity of God in repentance and faith.

20 thoughts on “Talking about money in church

  1. You’re kidding right?  I’m looking for the April fool – but I can’t find it.

    You want to guilt people into giving more? By publicly shaming them (if not actually naming)?

    What about the gospel of grace?  What about giving generously because God gives generously to us?  What about rebuking people personally and privately?

    I’m all for talking about money in church – but lets not forget the gospel of grace, and the power of a personal conversation.


  2. No, Mike. No April Fools here.
    Just trying to find a way to talk about money without making the same people feel guilty and harassed (ie those who are already giving).
    You allude to 2 Cor 8 – as I do at the end of the post. But what about 2 Cor 7 – the godly grief/offence that produces repentance.
    Yes we teach and motivate people to give on the basis of gospel generosity. But what do we do when someone doesn’t respond? As well as continuing to teach them the gospel, don’t you also have to urge them to repentance – producing in them a godly grief?

  3. Thanks for your blog Gavin.

    There is one thing I’d like to add with respect to talking about money in church – giving thanks to God and praising him for his provision.

    Many churches have (for good reasons) moved away from an offertory time. This means we don’t have a regular point in the weekly meeting that we give thanks to God for his provision through his people.

    I’m sure some churches do thank God explicitly for his financial provision as a part of their prayer each week – but at least as many may have fallen out of the habit of doing it regularly.

    Many people are feeling the pinch in our society from the current economic down turn. More are going to. Our churches will not be immune – we should expect that we need to operate on less money in the coming couple of years.

    Without distracting from Gavin’s point – I think it is a great time to ensure we are thanking God for what he provides through his people – every week. We don’t need to do ‘old school’ offertory in our meetings but lets at least do ‘old school’, weekly, thankfulness and praise to God for his provision.

    My completely un-scientific hunch is that if we do that then we may need to do the explicit money talk less regularly. But that is just my 2 cents.

  4. There could be no objection to making an announcement like this virtually every Sunday of the year.

    Yeah, nice try Gav. Good luck with that.

    Problem is that the ones with sensitive consciences, perhaps on the whole more likely to be in your first group, will be the ones who squirm the most at hearing the rebuke of the third group. I don’t think there is ever a level where people with sensitive consciences would confidently say “no, he’s not talking to me, because I give as generously as I can”.


  5. Gavin
    an alternative is to preach a series on giving – preferably before you’re in the red.

    we did this. In one of the talks I spoke along exactly the same lines you suggested. Giving went up remarkably. For some, it was seeing themselves as bludgers for the first time. For others, it was the connection of giving and ministry. For some, it was appreciating how much God have given to them. For others, it was transforming goodwill into action – fill in this form… speak to this bank.. etc

    I wonder whether not just churches but the Sydney Diocese needs to think about doing this in light of the Global Financial Crisis

  6. If you make the same announcement every week, it will quickly lose it’s impact.

  7. Hi Gav

    I agree with Jason about being thankful – give the first group something to listen to!

    Also, the whole tone of your hypothetical makes it sound like money talk is always bad/exceptional/painful.

    I’d like us to think that money talk is just like talking of prayer, or faith, or whatever. There is good to support, there is disobedience to address, and there are God’s reasons to understand.

    At church, our plan is to talk about the budget each quarter so people will expect it (whether we’re behind, ahead or right on track).

  8. Apparently, when Martin Luther King was posted to his first pastoral position, he published the church giving in complete detail – names along with amounts.


    But, it’s better to feel it now than on the final day.

  9. Great post Gavin.

    As it happens I’m preaching on that passage from Luke 21 on Sunday night – a topical message on giving.

    A few thoughts:

    – Jesus says we should give sacrificially. I don’t see how a recession could affect that. (The amount possibly but not the sacrifice … unless, of course, we are not currently giving so much it hurts.)

    – I don’t see why we should be held hostage by over-sensitive consciences. Certainly we should handle issues with pastoral sensitivity but why should that muzzle us?

    – My current topical series is not normal. Our meat and drink on a Sunday is working through books of the Bible. That way we normally hear sermons on giving as often as scripture speaks of it. (BTW After Easter we start a new series on Malachi grin )

  10. There is certainly room for more and better money discussions, but I’d prefer to hear a sermon on “here is the right way to think of and plan your giving, and here is the wrong way”, including an explanation that will help the over-sensitive ones to discern a right basis for giving.

    John Smuts, the sensitive ones respond warmly but wrongly to standard exhortations.  They give too much of their time, money or energy, then collapse under the strain.  “Pastoral sensitivity” might not cut it.

  11. Hi Gav

    I first want to say I’m with you that money is an important issue, money needs to be talked about, and urging people to repent is a good and godly thing.

    Let me follow up by suggesting four reasons why your idea is a bad one.

    1) You will drive visitors away from your church.  To hear you publicly berate your congregation on a weekly basis is a fairly hostile thing to hear.

    2) It won’t work.  If you believe some people (80/20 rule), up to 80% of your congregation falls into category (3).  Being publicly berated will mean some will give more – but many more will become sick of being shamed in this way, and leave.  Alternatively, they will end up ignoring you.

    3) You are sending a message that if people are at church and not giving, you are bludging off others.  Surely we are happy for people to hear the gospel – whatever their situation?

    4) Those with sensitive consciences will think you are talking to them.

    5) When someone needs to repent of a sin, isn’t the biblical model to approach them personally and chat with them?  Not publicly berate them.  If there was sexual immorality in your church, you would approach the people personally, instead of a weekly blast.

    6) You have put the sin of greed (or not giving) into a special category that needs to be brought up each week – why that sin in particular?


  12. What proportion of the third group would believe that they are in the first group and stop listening?

    While I’m happy to talk about money and do, I think gospel preaching is the solution to money problems.  I suspect that giving only reflects ownership of the gospel message and the gospel mission of the congregation.

    Maybe using the first group as positve models, ie thanking and praising them might make your suggested message seem less negative, which is how it comes across to me, a bit.

    But thanks for raising something that is supposed to be hard to talk about.

  13. Thanks for all the comments. They are useful in working out how to hone this message.
    Just to clarify… this is not something I imagine that you would say every week. I’m just saying that it is something that you could say (that is, there is no logical reason for anyone to take offence – although we, of course, aren’t logical).
    On the public vs private rebuke thing… isn’t there a place for both. The harsh words that lie behind the ‘grief’ in 2 Cor 7 were presumably in the form of a public written rebuke to the whole congregation.
    Also, I am completely on board that a positive message on this issue with exhortations from gospel generosity, should be the staple diet of what you say to a congregation on the topic of money. However, the reality is that it is sinful for Christians to not give generously to the local church from which they gain spiritual benefit. Whatever words you use, you need to find ways of rebuking that sin forcefully.

  14. The issue of people hearing the message and putting themselves into the wrong category is a more complex and difficult one.
    In each church context there will be ways you can be clearer about that, so your people know which group they are in. For instance, in a church where all/most giving is electronic (as mine is) you know exactly how many families/individuals are giving, although not precisely which families. In that situation you can say something like this, “We know that 25 families in this congregation are giving between $50 and $1500 a month. We also know that the other 25 families are giving a combined total of precisely $0.” In that situation you are in the first group if you are giving anything, and you know if you are in the third group.
    In my experience those who give electronically, or the same regular amount by other means such as envelopes, are giving thoughtfully and generously.

  15. Just one last comment…
    The issue I am wrestling with can be put as follows… How do you give the occasional strong corporate encouragement to give more generously, and the accompanying rebuke to those who have not allowed the gospel to transform them in this area of life?
    Almost every approach that I have seen to this issue has the primary effect of making those who are already giving feel guilty and harassed… when in fact they need to be hearing our thanks.
    Without clarifying that there are these 3 groups sitting in the congregation, I can’t see how that miscommunication is to be avoided.

  16. Gav – the reason I (and others) heard you advocate saying this every week is because you said:

    There could be no objection to making an announcement like this virtually every Sunday of the year

    And as you can see – I strongly object.


  17. Mike (and others)
    Apologies that the post wasn’t clear at that point. What I was trying to say in the phrase you quoted is that the logic of the 3-way division means that no one has a reason to complain, no matter how many times they hear it. Of course, there are all sorts of other factors that would determine how often you actually make an announcement like this.
    Do you have any problems with the script if it was used once a term?

  18. I tried Gav’s ‘script’ out last night in my weekly congregation.  So far the reception has been positive.  We offered forms for people to organise electronic giving, and a good number of these were taken. 

    I’m sure some from group 3 reacted badly, but I take that in some of these cases it may be just a symptom of a more general spiritual malaise.  As and when those conversations come up, I want to talk about how people are going generally in their Christian lives, not just their giving.  On the other hand, if some took offense at something specific I said, I want to listen to that and evaluate whether or not I spoke wrongly. 

    But on the whole I found it really useful to identify the three groups of people, and I pray that it bears godly fruit.

    Also, this came one week after a men’s event on the topic of money, and previous teaching in this area.  I think for most people, including myself at times, it’s not that they don’t know their responsibilities or the principles of generosity.  It’s just a lack of turning good intention into action.

  19. I think we’re still bottling it on this one.

    I’ve had another look and I just can’t find any examples of Jesus being ‘pastorally sensitive’ in his public statements about the use of money. He was more than happy to make very challenging blanket statements about how we use our money.

    The ‘prosperity gospel’ has got us running scared. The golden rule is ‘never sound like the prosperity gospel’ and thus we get to keep hold of our gold.

    I’d go as far as to suggest that the NT uses our financial generosity as one of the most common evidences of regeneration. (The analogy Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 8: 9 is worth reflecting on.)

    I really struggle with Christ’s teaching on money – not because I can’t understand it but because I can… and don’t obey it.

  20. The constant reminder of God’s generosity towards us as a church family and our gratitude expressed through words and deeds should always be an essential part of our weekly service/meeting.

    A church that actively and as a priority,supports financially and prayerfully God’s work with the “poor” of our world,ministry overseas with churches that enjoy little of the resources we take for granted, including the Bible, and a persecuted church suffering daily in ways we can’t envisage will encourage a generosity of heart which reflects God’s love for the world.

    A leadership of the church that is relational and obviously loves and knows its people well and as far as possible includes them in the determination of directions,programs and initiatives will also encourage financial support and make the issue of giving much easier to address.

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