When you think about the people in your church who have never given anything, it’s easy to imagine that they’re visitors or newer attendees. The truth is that you probably have people who’ve been with you for a while and have never given anything, too.
While it’s tempting to lump all non-giving attendees into a materialist stereotype, it’s important to realize that they all have personal obstacles to overcome before they can become generous givers. Understanding those hurdles can inform the ways we talk about giving and receiving offerings and help more people give for the first time.
Here are five major hurdles that first-time givers might face:
1. Poor motivation
Every pastor talks to their congregation about giving in their own way, and it’s usually based on what motivates the pastor. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except they never really stray from that messaging. This leaves people who might not be inspired by the same motivation stuck.
There are a lot of reasons someone might be inspired to give. Here are just a few examples:
- God expects it from believers.
- It’s how we respond to what God has given to us.
- Faithful giving supports our church community and staff.
- Faithful giving helps the church serve the broader community.
Remember that not everyone is persuaded by the same arguments. You might think that “God expects it” should be enough to motivate your whole congregation, but some people just aren’t there yet—but maybe they could be encouraged by something that feels a little more concrete instead. For example, it might be their responsibility to their community of faith that will spur them to give. Don’t be afraid to approach the topic from a variety of angles.
2. Lack of trust
It would be nice if you never heard of churches or pastors mismanaging money, but sadly, stories like that aren’t rare. People in your church might not have the trust required to give regularly for a number of reasons. They might have their own experience with churches that have left a bad taste in their mouth.
The key to winning trust is to overdo it on transparency. Make sure the church understands how financial decisions are made. When you start a project, show people the budget and where the money is coming from. Don’t be afraid to talk about church business during the service. Sure, there are people who won’t be interested in those sorts of details, but others will.
As much as you can, don’t leave people to imagine what happens to the money they give. It’s easy for someone with trust issues to fill in those blanks from their own experience.
If you’ve been in the church for years, taking an offering feels completely normal. We forget that passing around a plate and expecting people to put money into it isn’t normal behavior in any other context. That awkwardness is only exacerbated when you have an usher standing over you.
I’ve ministered to people who aren’t comfortable in church services because they find the offering time so strange and awkward.
Many churches are afraid to de-emphasize their offering because of a sincere fear that if they don’t pass the plate, no one will give. But championing alternative giving methods (like mobile giving, text-to-give, or recurring giving) would help make people feel less awkward—and might actually increase giving.
4. Expecting physical cash or checks
Most people in your church are paid with direct deposit. Many of them have their bills set up to come out of their bank accounts automatically. A Federal Reserve study showed that from 2000 to 2012, the number of checks written declined by more than 50 percent as payments through cards, direct deposit and other services more than tripled—and the move away from cash and checks has progressed rapidly in the five years since then.
Expecting most of your giving to come from cash and checks creates a problem. Some people would be happy to give but they don’t have either of those things on them when you take offering, and that’s when they’re thinking about it.
If you have online or mobile giving, promote them as often as you can. Spend time walking your congregation through using them. The faster you can move your church away from a reliance on cash and checks, the better for everyone.
5. Time limitations
I’ve been in churches where the offering happened so fast that if you didn’t have a pre-written check, you were too late. But I’ve never been in a church where they said, “We’ll be having offering in a little while. It happens pretty quickly, so you should probably get your cash and checks ready now.”
This is another great argument for mobile giving. If I can open an app on my phone and give in seconds, that’s way better than trying to write out a check in enough time to catch the plate as it goes by (especially when I’m not used to writing checks).
Changing Your Method and Message
If you have people in your church who aren’t giving, don’t write them off. You’ll be surprised at how changing the way you communicate or receive your offerings can impact your giving. Many of those non-givers are just waiting to be moved by the right motivation or method.