Creating a Culture of Generosity in your Presbyterian church

October 2, 2019 by Robyn Davis Sekula

Editor’s note: For more stories and coverage from Stewardship Kaleidoscope 2019, click here .

What are your earliest memories of stewardship? Who taught you what it means to be generous?

Robert Hay, Jr., Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, used this as a starting point for his presentation on Culture of Generosity at Stewardship Kaleidoscope in San Diego this week. About 300 pastors and lay leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathered to attend the annual conference.

The conference’s goals are to help both pastors and lay leaders build successful stewardship programs at their own congregations to sustain and grow churches.

Hay’s Creating a Culture of Generosity workshop references Clif Christopher’s book, “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.”

It all starts with accessing those earliest memories, Hay says. It helps us discern why we believe what we do about money, and whether or not we were taught to be good stewards of all that we’ve been given.

And it starts, too, with the pastor. “Pastors should lead the way in stewardship,” Hay says, adding that pastors need to be comfortable with their own stewardship and generosity stories before they can ably lead a congregation. “Vulnerability from the pulpit helps build relationships.”

How to lead

Robert Hay, Jr. presenting on creating a culture of generosity. Photo by Erin Dunigan.

Great stewardship and generosity campaigns are built around compelling stories. Excite and energize your congregation by telling them about the great things your church is doing. Even small churches can have a big impact when you think of all the ways members of the congregation serve the community.

Congregations should look at all they have instead of the things that are lacking, Hay says. Move the narrative away from scarcity. A generous culture develops from the recognition of stewardship as gratitude and giving our time, talent and treasure: “God wants all of me,” Hay says.

Think about all who receive blessings from the church and members of its congregation, and tell those stories – and ask those who are blessed to share those stories, too. Members who are homebound after surgery have received meals. Children have benefitted from religious education during Vacation Bible School. Your choir’s beautiful music ministry has buoyed the spirits of your congregation – and fed the souls of the musicians who are participating.

There are lots of ways to tell those stories. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Put the stories in sermons.
  • Present a minute for mission before the offering is collected.
  • Share testimonials of how God is at work.
  • Print the stories in a brochure or church newsletter.
  • Create a video.
  • Share the stories in social media.

Narrative budget

While stories may be the most engaging way to prompt generosity, you still need to provide a budget to the congregation. The best way to do that is to change the type of budget you present.

Use a narrative budget that describes the activities of the church and illustrates each with photos. Present it to the church as a brochure or annual report style document. If you’re concerned someone will miss the line-item budget, you can provide copies of it.

Hay’s own church provided copies of both, leaving the line item at the back of the church, and a few folks picked it up the first year. By the third year, the church had decided not to print it – and no one missed it.

Make it easy

After you’ve made the ask, you need to make it easy to give. Offer options to give with cash, check, online giving, credit/debit card, bank draft and securities. The Presbyterian Foundation offers an online giving program for churches and Presbyterian-related ministries. The program allows churches and ministries to receive online gifts through your own web site. You can find out more about that here.

While the front-end request is important, the final step is crucial: saying thank you.

Be sure that everyone who pledges gets a thank you note. Thank them not only for their monetary gift, but the gift of their presence in church and any additional activities they take on that helps the church, whether that’s singing in the choir, working in the nursery, serving as a greeter or serving on session.

Robyn Davis Sekula is Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Presbyterian Foundation. You can reach Robyn at or (502) 569-5101.