, And what a year it’s been! So here’s what I’ve learned, what you’ve asked for, and how I’ve responded to your needs.
So what is it all about?
First and foremost this project is encouraging a long-term change in attitudes to generous giving, so that our churches feel like places where giving in all forms is celebrated, done joyfully, and is totally inclusive. Because no matter who we are or how much time or money we’ve been blessed with, God and our church values our contribution. And it’s really important that everybody understands that.
I’m supporting parishes in their understanding of God’s generosity (in scripture and in how we’re blessed in our lives), whilst also asking how we respond to this generosity by living generous lives, as individual Christians. Then the big question for our churches is “Are we a Generous Church?”
And what is a “Generous Church”? Of course within our churches there are plenty of really generous people. That’s a fact. But a big part of being a generous church is how we communicate that, how obvious we make it that we’re about serving others, that we value hospitality highly, and we’re all clear that giving is a basic part of being a Christian (the amount itself is between us and God).
This is the long-term change approach I mentioned.
What have I learned?
Well, it’s true: most people really don’t like talking about money. I think I already knew it, but it just seems to come into beautifully sharp focus during a PCC meeting or Synod! Talking about money is tough, and early on I learned that this job would require prayer support, so a big thank you to all of you who regularly pray for me and the Project.
Back to money. I’ve made attempts to take the sting out of the subject by employing all kinds of tactics. The most successful is the “My Money Story” activity, based on these two blogs. This short activity gets folk sharing as many money memories from childhood as possible in two minutes with a partner, and then reflecting in private how these memories might shape and influence their approach to money today.
It always works.
It always seems to clear the air and get a meeting off on the right foot, proving we really can talk about money. But in the long term does it stop us feeling uneasy about discussing money? Probably not.
Yet whilst talking about money is hard, this doesn’t seem to impinge on our generosity. People are still very generous, even if they’d rather we only ever talked about being generous with time and skills (and people give very generously of those too).
I think that, by and large, if people don’t give generously or sacrificially of themselves or their resources, it’s not always because they don’t like talking about money (though sometimes it is), and it’s not always because they lack the resources (giving generously isn’t an amount, it’s an attitude, which is why we so often see poorer people giving the most). It’s often for the same reason that I didn’t used to take giving seriously: a complete lack of awareness.
Clearly, one of the keys to changing our attitudes to generous giving is to raise awareness.
So, the Generous Giving Project is working hard to help others to consider:
- What does the Bible say about giving?
- How does God’s generosity influence my giving?
- How is my giving an act of faith?
- What are the needs of my community?
- Do I understand the financial situation of my local church and my diocese?
- What difference will my contribution (time/money) make?
- Do I understand how all the ways I’ve been blessed could bless others?
*Not an exhaustive list*
What have I been doing?
Mostly I do this by working closely with parishes “on the ground”. This close support approach seems to be what you’re asking for and what you value. In 12 months I’ve worked one-to-one with 92 churches over 125 meetings (including PCCs, Home Groups, Synods, Chapters and Sunday services).
Whilst I’m tasked with encouraging long term changes in our culture and attitude, I’ve found that what churches want is something that will help with the here and now. But you’ve told me you don’t want to be burdened by lots of paperwork, because over the last year we’ve had a big focus on other important mission activities.
That got me thinking. I developed a set of practical resources that are low-effort but high-impact that help to raise awareness and bring about that change in attitude. And the good thing is, you can cherry-pick the best resources according to your specific context. It means that I can support each church in a unique way, meeting your exact needs. If you want a Home Group series, I can provide the resources for that. If you think some in-depth meetings with your Standing Committee is the way forward, where we can do a “generosity audit”, then that’s what we’ll do.
You’ve told me you like this bespoke approach where all the resources are entirely provided for you, and all you need to do is use the ones you like. You also like the fact they are not rigidly set in stone, rather you can change wording and usage to suit your needs.
How do we show generosity in church?
And you agree that we, as a church, need to get better at celebrating generosity, because we are already generous, but we tend not to say so. The bit of our worship service when we give to the ongoing mission of the church (the offertory/collection) just before the act of thanksgiving (Eucharist/Holy Communion) is sometimes done rather too discreetly, modestly, even awkwardly. It can be fraught with embarrassment and most churches prefer to avert their eyes and sing loudly over it with the offertory hymn. I’m doing a lot of work with churches on this and how we could change attitudes to this part of our worship.
But I can only be in one place at a time. So how I can continue to support people when I’m not physically there is something I take very seriously. I do this by providing resources that, with your help, can be made available to the entirety of our 16,000 strong worshipping community in Durham Diocese for when I can’t be there in person.
The articles/blogs I write can reach so many more people at once, than I can on my own. But I do need your help. I need you to print and hand them out in church, to link the website to your Facebook page and Parish website, to retweet, to like, and to share. I need your full buy-in if this particular method of communication can be accessed by everyone. I can’t do it on my own.
Because I believe that these articles/blogs really do raise awareness and answer those questions in red. And what if this greater awareness inspired more people like me to actually change their approach to giving their time and money to the mission of our church? How much more could we achieve in serving God and God’s people? I think that’s the point of the Generous Giving Project.
Now before I end this birthday blog, I want to acknowledge that I actually can’t meet all your needs. I’m not an accountant. I’m not a Gift Aid guru or whiz at book keeping and I’ve never made a grant application for a leaky church roof. Yet many of you still need help with this, and our wonderful and devoted treasurers need and deserve support and recognition in the work that they do. So I’m delighted to tell you that help is on its way. Hurrah!
Our diocese will soon be joining the Parish Giving Scheme, and we’re appointing someone to launch this and deliver direct support to parishes regarding their finances. Please join us in praying about this hugely exciting and a really positive step forward.
God is good.
So, thanks for an amazing first year, and here’s to the next one. Cheers.