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Let the children give

When a fourth-grade Sunday school student at Los Altos United Methodist Church realized how much money her class needed to raise to purchase a llama for a family in need, her passion and creativity stirred.

"Mom, I'm worried we are not going to raise enough," Faith Watters said. "I'm going to sell lemonade and artwork to make sure we can do what we promised." Through her hard work, she raised $300 for Heifer International to support the purchase of a llama.

Keeping the missional aspect of "extravagant generosity" relevant to children is vital to nurturing a spirit of stewardship and giving, says Lisa Conway. Director of children's ministry at the church in Los Altos, California, she has incorporated both local and international projects to encourage giving.

"Asking a child to give 10 percent doesn't mean much to him or her," she says. "But if we tell them that the gifts from their own resources combined with their classmates' gifts can purchase an animal for a family through Heifer International, or provide breakfast for families in our own community, they begin to make the connections."

In a recent webinar sponsored by Discipleship Ministries, Delia Halverson, long-time Christian educator and author of Let the Children Give: Time, Talents, Love, and Money (Upper Room Books), reminded participants that "children learn by watching and grow through action." As children learn about the intersection of the "head and heart" of stewardship and the "hands and feet" of mission, Halverson suggests they must first learn to value the church.

The Rev. Rosanna Anderson, associate director of stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, says, "It's important to engage children and youth with resources that are designed for their age and stage of faith development." Resources such as Earn. Save. Give. (Abingdon Press) and the Advent study Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam (Abingdon Press) can help families "become more personally involved in a churchwide stewardship campaign," she says.

As part of the campaign, children can be asked to join their parents in pledging their gifts, prayers, presence, service and witness. Halverson says that a special pledge card designed for children helps them promise to care for the church by cleaning up litter, tithing from their allowance, greeting and serving as an acolyte.

Nick Haigler, youth minister at Bethesda (Maryland) United Methodist Church, also uses a multi-response pledge system to reinforce stewardship. For example, during a capital campaign for a building addition, youth both pledged financially and committed volunteer time. Haigler says that when children and youth "understand all that needs to happen to care for the church, it invests them in the health of the church. They begin to make the connection between money raised in the church and how it translates to ministry."

Giving with a joyful heart is not limited to placing offerings in baskets as pre-loaded debit cards become more common among young people and adults increasingly tithe through automated giving.

"We realized that with electronic giving, children today may miss the visual and tangible cue of people contributing to the offering," explains the Rev. Ken Sloane, interim associate general secretary of leadership ministries. In response, Discipleship Ministries collaborated with United Methodist Communications to create "I'm a UMC E-Giver!" cards. Sloane says, "Now people who sit in the pews and do their regular giving electronically can participate in the Sunday morning offering by putting a card in the plate as it is passed."

Haigler says the Bethesda church encourages electronic giving. "Technology is part of every day lives. Everything is paid online," he says. "We can buy a fast food burger through automated giving. Shouldn't it be as easy to make a gift to the church?" he suggests.

The Rev. Melissa Hinnen is pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. She formerly served on the communications staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.