The 4 Reasons People Give to their Church

During my 30 years in ministry, I’ve discovered that people give to their church for 4 primary reasons.

1. Obedience-because the Bible teaches it, they believe and practice it.

2. Challenge-some are motivated by big vision and challenge.

3. Reason-it costs the church money to run, so some give because it makes sense.

4. Compassion- touching their heart through a need motivates others to give.

What other reasons have you seen that motivates Christians to give?

I’ve unpacked these motivations in the post below. It’s a rather long post.

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What do tadpoles, an empty pickle jar, Styrofoam© coffee cups and my young daughter have in common? They helped me discover four personality traits that motivate believers to give. Several years ago my youngest child Tiffany, six years old at the time, planned an unusual fund-raiser at our church picnic so she could raise money for our church’s building fund.

With no regular income source, she decided to sell tadpoles to raise money for the building fund. She appointed me inventory manager while she handled the sales department. The morning of the picnic three inches of squishy mud covered my shoes as I stood at the tree-lined pond behind our house. As I precariously perched over the pond’s edge I began to swipe a twelve-inch aquarium net at groups of black, quarter-inch squiggly froggies-to-be. After a fifteen-minute balancing act in the oozing mud, Tiffany approved my catch. Her pickle jar now contained her inventory, a dozen squirming jet-black dots-with-tails.

Their pickle jar prison sloshed the tadpoles around as I drove to the picnic and unfortunately left us with two “expired” no-longer-froggies-to-be. But that didn’t damper Tiffany’s spirit. With jar in hand, ten tadpoles, a tube of Styrofoam© coffee cups and an infectious spirit, Tiffany began her fund drive. I forgot about her until thirty minutes later I noticed several kids who held coffee cups. I thought, Those kids are too young to drink coffee. As I moved closer to the crowd, I noticed several other kids jockey themselves to peer into the coffee cups to see . . . you guessed it, tadpoles. Tiffany sold out her tadpole stock and raised a dollar seventy-five for the building fund.

I still admire Tiffany when I think about that experience. I thought to myself, What motivated her to give? What stirred her heart to devise this tadpoles-for-Jesus project? These questions helped me realize that key giving motivations lie at generosity’s heart. Just as God wires each believer with different spiritual gifts, He also gives each believer different types of giving motivations. When we discover and nurture our primary giving motivations, generosity will become a more consistent and “joy-filled” aspect of our walk with Christ. Scripture reveals four basic giving motivations.

Giving motivation number 1: Obedience

Imagine this scenario during one of your church’s Sunday services. Your pastor sets up the morning offering with prayer and begins the announcements as the offering begins. He abruptly stops the announcements when he notices the ushers look at him with perplexed expressions. They don’t know what to do with a problem they’ve never faced. Halfway through the offering, each velvet lined offering plate bulges with so much money that each time someone else places an offering envelope in, it tumbles to the floor. The ushers do their best to keep everything in the plates, but can’t because the mounds of money in the plates allow no more room. When he sees their dilemma he says, “Ushers, please stop passing the offering plates. The first few rows gave so generously to today’s offering that the offering plates can’t hold anymore. So, I must stop today’s offering because we have too much money.”

Every pastor I know would love to face such a problem. As far-fetched as this may sound, it happened in Moses’ day.

After Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, they moved to the desert and lived as nomads. God then instructed Moses to build a place of worship, a “tent church” called the Tabernacle. He gave Moses detailed plans for the Tabernacle and its furnishings. He also directed him to tell the people to bring offerings of precious metals, gems, and cloth to construct it. As they brought their offerings, the craftsman charged with building the Tabernacle astounded Moses with this report. They said that, “the people are bringing more than enough for doing the work . . .” (Exod. 36:5). Their offering plates overflowed. Moses then ordered the people not to bring any more offerings. Obedience to God’s command motivated these Israelites to give liberally. God commanded them to give, so they gave.

This example teaches that obedience alone motivates some to give. Since the Bible teaches generous giving and some believers need no other motivation, they give because God says so. This motive fits me. I grew up in a Christian home and my parents taught me to do the right thing whether I felt like it or not. They also taught me that God expects believers to give generously. Now as an adult, because of my parent’s influence, I give to obey God. However, obedience, even though a biblical motive, may not resonate with as much force in others as would this next motivation.

Giving motivation number 2: Challenge

An incident in King David’s life embodies the challenge motivation. After God established the Israelites in the Promised Land, David felt embarrassed that he lived in a palace while God’s house remained a tent. So God commanded David to begin plans to build a permanent place of worship, the Temple. He instructed David to design it and the articles to go in it, mobilize the building team, and raise the funds for its construction because his son Solomon would actually build the Temple. As the fund-raising effort approached its end, 1 Chronicles describes a high point in Israel’s life.

It recounts King David’s gifts toward this building project. In addition to large quantities of precious metals, stones and marble, he also gave the finest silver and gold from his personal treasures (1 Chron. 29:2-3). He set this example and then made the big ask in verse 4. “Now then, who will follow my example?” (NLT). His example gave credibility, and his question posed the challenge.

His challenge inspired the leaders to give with abundant generosity which, in turn, caused the people to rejoice. God fashioned some Christians to give in response to such challenges. When a church leader shares a mountain to be climbed or an obstacle to overcome that requires financial resources, that challenge will strike a chord in some Christians to give generously.

A few years ago my church began a building fund for a new facility. The Sunday we returned our pledges and initial gifts, a story circulated about one couple’s gift. A few months prior they purchased a nice home for investment. However, in response to the pastor’s challenge to the church body to give, they signed over to the church the deed of that home which netted our largest building fund gift. Their personality make-up resonated with the God-sized financial challenge a new facility posed. A believer motivated by challenge may also find that this next motivation will inspire as well.

Giving motivation number 3: Reason

The Apostle Paul wrote a section in 1 Corinthians to motivate the church in Corinth to give toward a special need. The Christians in Jerusalem faced financial hardship from persecution and famine and Paul encouraged the Corinthians and several other churches to provide financial aid. In verse 2 of chapter 16, he gives a key principle that strikes a chord with some: plan your budget to include giving.

He first describes the need to plan when he writes, “On the first day of every week” each person should set aside money for this need. He reinforces budget planning when he writes that they should save it up so he could receive it when he arrived. Paul teaches that biblical giving happens best when we plan to give (budgeting) rather than when we rely on haphazard spur-of-the-moment giving.

Some believers’ motivation to give stems from this budgeting aspect of money. God wired them to often think about money management and about how giving to the church makes sense. Some businesspeople in my church reason that just as their business and personal financial plan includes income and expenses, so must the church’s. They intuitively understand their church as an organization with expenses such as capital improvements, staff salaries, and office costs. They understand churches don’t receive income from sales as a store would. They also realize that their church does provide a spiritual service and it counts on its members to provide the income.

Giving, to a believer motivated by reason, makes sense. It’s logical. So he includes an expense category in his budget for tithes and offerings just as he budgets his monthly mortgage payment and utility bills. Although budgeting can help every believer give with more consistency, some believers more easily find motivation when they reason through the needs to give. Giving from the reason motivation appeals to the mind while the fourth motivation appeals to the emotions.

Giving motivation number 4: Compassion

Kennon Callahan writes in his excellent book, Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church that most believers respond to the compassion motive. The Apostle Paul describes how compassion motivated the early church to give. When he asked the church at Corinth to help the poverty-stricken Jerusalem church, he used the Macedonian churches as an example of generosity. Even though they faced economic instability, high taxes, persecution and extreme poverty themselves he writes that, “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor. 8:1). Their own poverty did not hinder their generosity because their sister church’s need stirred their hearts to compassion. The desire to help alleviate human suffering motivated them to give.

In one of our church services an Ethiopian believer shared a crisis that the Ethiopian church now faces. As he showed photographs of the village where he grew up, he told about the famine that looms on that country’s horizon. With sadness he explained that two adults from his own village recently starved to death. As tears rolled down his cheeks, he shared that even small amounts of money could purchase enough corn to feed a family for weeks. As I listened to him, I sensed that he connected with our hearts. Our pastor then stood to explain that we would take a special offering the next two weeks. With amazement we reported two weeks later that the gifts totaled over $19,000, over and above our regular weekly offerings. Compassion for people in need motivated my church’s extravagant generosity.

From these four motivations, most believers will find one or two that resonant the most. However, these motivations won’t sustain generous giving unless we nurture them. Three simple choices will deepen our giving motivations.

  1. First, we must ask the Lord to intensify our newly discovered motivation through prayer. Pray this prayer often: “Lord, thank you for helping me discover what stirs me most to give. I want to grow my giving to impact the world for You. Please take this motivation and drive it deeper into my heart.”
  2. Secondly, when asked to give or when we know we should give, we must try to connect the giving need to our giving motivation. If compassion motivates us most, and our pastor challenges us to tithe, we must think about how our tithe will help meet human needs. If reason motivates us and our small group leader brings a compassion need to our attention that we’ve not budgeted, we can use our reasoning skills. Those skills help us see that giving toward such a need would make sense.
  3. Thirdly, we must draw from the Source that will keep each motivation balanced and our hearts “joy-filled.” Without this source, obedience giving alone can breed a begrudging, “have-to-give” attitude. Challenge giving alone can create hesitancy to give if no challenge exists. Reason giving alone can hinder spontaneous giving. And compassion giving alone can stifle generosity when a need does not spark an emotion inside us.

What is this Source? Three of the Scriptural examples above reveal a common thread woven throughout the stories.

  • When the Israelites brought offerings for the Tabernacle the Scripture says, “everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD” (Exod. 35:21, emphasis mine).
  • When the people followed David’s generosity and gave toward the Temple’s construction, 1 Chronicles 29:9 says that, “they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (emphasis mine).
  • When Paul described the Macedonians’ generosity he said that they “did not do as we expected, but gave themselves first to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5, emphasis mine).

The common thread in these three examples, passion for the Lord, prompted generosity. They gave out of deep gratitude for what He had done for them. The word for “wholeheartedly” in 1 Chronicles encapsulates this heart attitude. It comes from the common Hebrew word, shalom which means “full and complete.”

When love for Christ fills our hearts, He will stir our giving motivations to resonant with generosity. When Tiffany sold tadpoles for Jesus that summer day, did reason, challenge, obedience or compassion motivate her? I doubt she even gave it a second thought. But her tender, child-like love for Jesus stirred her heart to bring her simple gift. How much more will generosity flow from us when we intertwine the giving motives that stir us most with a passionate heart for Christ.

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