Generosity is emerging as a key theme in the global evangelical community. In the October 2012 European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) Newsletter, the outgoing EEA General Secretary wrote: ‘”Generosity” (the art of giving) will become an increasingly important subject to deal with in churches and organizations. It is necessary that the European church shows a more convincing example of hospitality, care, giving time, energy, and money for the case of others, in particular those who are marginalized, in distress, and persecuted. For no other reason than the full and unconditional grace of God in his Son, given to us who didn’t deserve it at all’.1
The theme also received prominence in one of the concluding paragraphs of The Cape Town Commitment that emerged from Cape Town 2010: ‘Biblical mission demands that those who claim Christ’s name should be like him, by taking up their cross, denying themselves, and following him in the paths of humility, love, integrity, generosity, and servanthood’.2
To understand generosity and giving trends, the Lausanne Resource Mobilisation Working Group (that became the Lausanne/WEA Global Generosity Network in June 2011) asked participants at Cape Town and Connected 2010 (the South African mission congress linked to Cape Town 2010) to complete a questionnaire on giving in their countries. This article is an analysis of their responses and a reflection on initiatives since 2010 that provide an indication of possible future Christian giving trends.
From the questionnaire, it emerged that Crown Financial Ministries, World Vision, Evangelical Alliances, and student ministries linked to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students are ministries with a global reach in encouraging giving.
There is a general lack of understanding of the Biblical approach to wealth, poverty, dependency, stewardship, generosity, and giving. These issues, together with a lack of teaching and preaching especially on giving as part of whole-life discipleship, were mentioned in all regions as barriers to giving. Often unbiblical teaching on generosity and a lack of understanding of the Biblical perspective on giving result in what is now called the ’Prosperity Gospel’.
Respondents to the questionnaire from richer countries mentioned wealth, materialism, and greed as barriers to giving in their countries while respondents from poorer countries mentioned poverty and dependency as barriers to giving.
There are limited, if any, resources on giving in most languages. Quite often Christian leaders do not know about resources such as teaching materials, ministries, and literature that encourage giving even if the resources are available. Lack of knowledge of where to give also seems to be a serious barrier across the world.
Churches and givers who are inward looking were mentioned by questionnaire respondents in all regions as a barrier to giving. There is a temptation to spend on church facilities and staff instead of giving to Kingdom causes where it is most needed. Pastors were mentioned particularly as a stumbling block to giving. This is in line with the findings of ’The State of Church Giving through 2009’.3
Lack of interaction between givers and ministries causes frustration for both groups. There is not always clarity about expectations, processes, and accountability structures while cultural differences can cause confusion in the giving process. Corruption and poor financial management of ministries also discourage giving.
Very little is being done to encourage prayer for giving. People pray for their own financial needs, but as money is still often seen in negative terms, Christians are not encouraged to pray for a culture of giving.
In North America, generosity ministries such as Generous Giving and the National Christian Foundation are the most important in encouraging giving. By contrast, in Europe it is Christian relief and development organisations such as Tearfund and World Vision; in Latin America local churches and their mission committees; in East Africa student ministries such the Fellowship of Christian Unions Kenya; and in Anglophone West Africa indigenous mission resource mobilisation ministries such as Gospel Bankers and Mission Supporters League in Nigeria.
Eurasia, Francophone Africa, and the Middle East/North Africa have very limited resources to encourage giving. In Eurasia and the Middle East/North Africa, dependency on outside funds was mentioned more as barrier to giving than in other regions. The Prosperity Gospel is a greater problem in Anglophone West Africa and the Caribbean than in other regions.
Religious (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) and cultural influences discourage giving more seriously in South Asia and Southeast Asia than other regions.
Discrimination and persecution in countries where Christianity is a minority religion make Christian giving more difficult. Although Christians have greater difficulty giving financially because of government restrictions, Christians in those contexts share much more with each other than might be the case in other contexts. In Communist and former Communist countries it is illegal to give financially to charities and especially to Christian organisations.
Donor fatigue was only mentioned in Singapore as major barrier to giving, although it was mentioned in responses from South Africa, Australia and the USA.
There was wide interest in encouraging giving but there is a lack of knowledge of how, and of available resources. Christians need resources that teach them Biblical truth about mission, finances, generosity, and giving. Stories of what God has been doing and is doing through generous Christians are especially important.
Financial giving should be part of a generous lifestyle. However, wealthy Christians think they have not enough to give and poor Christians think they have nothing to give (actually that rich people should give to them). Wealth and poverty are connected with the proper management of God-given resources. Generosity, giving and stewardship, together with the related issues of wealth and poverty, should therefore be an integral part of a global discussion on how to increase Christian financial giving to Kingdom causes.
Discussions of the why, how, and where of Christian giving would result in a better understanding of Biblical generosity. Generous living and giving ultimately flow when people get a perspective of what God can do through their generosity. They need to be informed and envisioned about spiritual and other needs around the world that can ignite them to give. A more integrated approach to mission education, mission information, and mission giving seems to be essential.
Church leaders should integrate the Biblical message of generosity and giving into the life of the church. Greater interaction between generosity ministries, churches, Christian networks, mission agencies, givers, Christian business people, and Christian ministries should facilitate this integration. The Lausanne Standards4 have been developed to facilitate better interaction and relationships between givers and ministries.
Global Generosity Network response
Partly in response to the questionnaire responses, the Global Generosity Network embarked on a number of initiatives to deal with the barriers to giving:
- A Generosity Resources CD with generosity resources has been compiled and distributed. The material can be used in teaching, preaching, small groups, and individual study. Some of the material has already been translated.
- A selected Generosity Bibliography has been compiled for use in theological institutions.
- A Generosity Resources List5 with information on generosity ministries, training, books, campaigns, and videos has been compiled and distributed.
- A Global Generosity Network Newsletter with generosity stories, updates, and information is distributed to 3,200 influential Christian leaders, the majority of whom attended Cape Town 2010 and completed the questionnaire.
- Generosity articles, Bible studies, sermons, and other resources are put on the Lausanne Conversation website6 on a regular basis. These resources receive great interest. Feedback from leaders indicates that the resources are used in developing generosity teaching, and as preaching material.
- Stewardship Study Bibles are distributed to Christian leaders including leaders of Evangelical Alliances, Christian business leaders, and ministry leaders.
- Generosity consultations are organised in different regions and countries in close collaboration with Rob Martin, Lausanne Senior Associate for Resource Mobilization.7
- Generosity training in different formats has been developed and launched.
- Generosity champions8 who mobilise generosity and giving are identified, equipped, resourced and supported.
- A Generosity Declaration9 had been drafted for people to sign as their commitment to a life-style of generosity.
- A generosity edition of the Evangelical Review of Theology was published in January 2013.10
- A generosity booklet series is due to be published in September. Every booklet will have a commitment form that people can complete.
- A Global Day of Generosity is being planned for 25 September.
The future of generosity: emerging trends post-Cape Town 2010
Although difficult to measure, there has been a definite increase in giving to kingdom causes since Cape Town. This trend should continue. Influential Christian leaders are emphasising generosity and giving as part of whole-life discipleship. Generosity is specifically included in Christian declarations and manifestos.11
Significant new mission giving initiatives are emerging in the Global South. The Missions Africa Trust Fund12 leaders, for example, have the vision that every African Christian student will give $1 a month to Kingdom causes through this Fund. There is significant interest in generosity/giving training, generosity consultations, and the development of stewardship working groups, which should increase Christian generosity and giving greatly in the future.
The Global Generosity Network vision of a global culture of Christian generosity and wise stewardship in support of Kingdom causes means a culture change among Christians. This will not happen overnight but the first glimpses of such a culture are visible.
Much more has to be done in envisioning people to give more to Kingdom causes especially where it is most needed. Vision is gained from information that is shared in a compelling way. Information on ministry needs and engagement has to be better distributed.
Much has already been done to decrease dependency on funding from the ‘rich West’ but more should be done to see increased giving in countries that became used to receiving funds.
The Lausanne Standards provide a good platform to facilitate interaction between givers and receivers. Their use should be encouraged to enable interdependency in giving and receiving. Financial management in the Christian community and especially ministry community has to be improved. Most givers will not give more unless they know that the money is well used.
The questionnaire exercise at Cape Town provided direction to facilitate increased giving among Christians globally. Since then definite progress had been made to address giving barriers. Perhaps the one area Christians often forget about is that generosity and giving are part of a spiritual battle. To encourage giving is to set Christians free from the power of the love of money which is the root cause of all evil. Prayer should therefore be at the heart of any movement to encourage Biblical stewardship, generosity, and giving.
3 Ronsvalle, John L and Sylvia Ronsvalle. The State of Church Giving through 2009: Jesus Christ, the Church in the U.S., & the 16 No-Progress-in-Child Deaths Nations, 10 Being 84% Christian (Champaign, Illinois, USA: Empty Tomb, 2011).
11 See for example the MANI Manifesto at www.maniafrica.com/docs/MANI%202011%20Declaration.pdf.