A May 2012 blog in The Christian Century listed eight reasons church leaders should talk more about money. No. 4: people need to learn more about giving.
Rev. Ken Sloane
"If we never talk about it, or only during a few brief weeks of the year, how can they (members) learn how to give?" the author asked.
The Rev. Ken Sloane said there's a reason talk of money, even the word stewardship, is so dreaded.
"Stewardship has become this painful pill you have to swallow every fall," he said. "We only drag the term out at that point and when it's time to ask people to ... put a number down on the card."
Sloane is director of stewardship and connectional ministries for the General Board of Discipleship.
He said a holistic, year-round strategy for stewardship can include opportunities for people to examine their approach to money and time to teach about giving.
"People are hungry for help with managing finances, how to put together a budget ... separating needs from wants," he said.
It's around those issues, he said, that churches can teach people how to live a faithful life that doesn't require having "a lot things" to "find contentment and joy."
One resource for that self-examination, Sloane says, is the Rev. Adam Hamilton's book Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity (Abingdon Press), which helps people learn to live within their means and identify the things that provide lasting joy.
Sloane also suggests the "Financial Peace" program by Dave Ramsey and "Freed-Up Financial Living" by Willow Creek Association.
Those resources, Sloane said, help people look at their whole financial picture so they can "live in a way that brings joy from giving generously and have a better quality of life" without being burdened by debt.
What's the money for?
"We do need money to fund the church's mission," he said. One key strategy to helping members learn about giving is to focus on the church's financial needs in the context of fulfilling mission.
"Christian stewardship is not about the church's need for money. It's about people needing to give," Sloane said. "If you have a mission that gets people excited then you have a good reason to invite them to give."
People will be more inclined to give, he said, if they know their church is making a difference in people's lives.
Watching the plate go by
Children have traditionally learned about giving by seeing their parents give during worship. They've also learned about generosity by giving to the offering collected during Sunday school.
Both teaching moments are happening less frequently, Sloane noted.With more parishioners using electronic giving, the "offering plate goes down the aisle and nobody puts anything in it sometimes. That can be confusing for kids and new people."
Sloane suggested churches provide opportunities for children and newcomers to witness the act of giving by offering members a card they can place in the offering plate that reads, "I give electronically."
Churches also need to develop specific opportunities for children to give, Sloane said. One way is inviting them to give to a specific mission, such as buying beds nets to prevent malaria, which offers a tangible example of their gifts making a difference.
Discipleship's children's ministry area offers several resources to teach children about giving. Find them at www.gbod.org/minister-to-people/learning-to-give.
"We have to find ways to teach generosity to kids and the faithfulness of being generous," he said.
Tita Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.