Shifting Generosity: Understanding the Warning Signs

We’re honored to have Phil Ling guest posting for us today. He is the founder of The Giving Church, helping churches leverage vision to grow cultures of generosity.

When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra unleashed the cataclysmic tsunami on December 26, 2004, it propelled a storm estimated to have had the power of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The storm radiated as far as 3,000 miles and despite the several hours it took from the time of the earthquake for the deadly waves to reach the devastated shores, nearly 230,000 people lost their lives that day. The puzzling part of the storm afterwards was why some beaches, such as Phuket, Thailand, had been able to avoid fatalities while still be struck with the same disaster.

The answer was simple- they heeded the warning signs. In Phuket, a nine-year old girl noticed quickly receding waters and a frothy foam head on the tops of the waves and immediately began to warn everyone. Tilly Smith had just completed a science project on Tsunamis before her family left for their vacation in Thailand. All 300 people on the beach were saved because they heeded the warning signs she learned in her science class just before her Christmas vacation.

The Warning Signs

The COVID-19 Pandemic microwaved and accelerated warning signs for the American Church in many areas. Trends in generosity had already been shifting but now the shifts have become tectonic. The warning signs are clear as churches struggle to survive or face a very real financial lid to growth and world-changing ministries. Prior to the pandemic our team studied the giving patterns of 4,000 churches. 45% of the average American church gave less than $200 in a year- and that’s just counting those who actually give in a trackable way. COVID-19 certainly has not impacted that number positively.

Church consumerism has created a mix and match buffet where families often identify with multiple churches in their community where the family attends different ministries. As donors become less attached to the church, discipleship of biblical generosity remains lacking and leadership remains void. A storm is beginning to take shape that will not only place a lid on growth but will ultimately extinguish churches. We have the warning signs. The question remains- what will we do with them?

We have a couple of choices. First, we can continue as usual. We can hope that the small minority who currently gives the majority continues to do so and somehow, they will rub off on others. That strategy is short-sighted and unfortunately will only last as long as those donors last within the church. It leaves the church open for disaster and destruction in the event of the death of a key donor or a critical crisis- such as COVID-19. At the most, the approach lasts for the current generation.

The second option is to prepare for the impending storm and to build a culture of generosity. Craft a clear, crisp, and compelling vision that elevates participation, creates momentum, solidifies unity, builds authentic relationships, and depends on a big God. Begin to teach biblical generosity and provide inception opportunities for new potential donors. Begin to embrace generosity as a critical ministry of your church from this point on- not just a bucket by the back door or a plate that is passed on Sundays while we make announcements.

The options are simple. The outcomes are very different.

What Stops Us?

So why would we not choose to intentionally build and develop a culture of generosity? I’m convinced the answer to that question comes down to fear.

During the greatest depression ever seen, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States on Saturday, March 4, 1933, in which he gave his 1,883 word, 20-minute speech that left a mark on Americans. He began the speech by dispelling the idea of fear by saying,

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

I’ll admit that I have seen a lot of unjustified terror bring paralysis to church leaders and pastors while turning advance into retreat when considering the concepts and ideas of teaching biblical generosity. Yet Jesus spoke and taught openly on the subject. I have seen churches take bold steps of caution because of a fear that permeates the topic.

Churches that talk about generosity and truly begin to develop cultures of intentional generosity are the churches who will survive the impending storm. The warning system has been sounded. Will you heed the warning? Will you craft a clear, crisp, and compelling vision that elevates participation, creates momentum, solidifies unity, builds authentic relationships, and depends on a big God? If so, you will not just survive the impending tsunami but bring an impact to countless real lives for very real eternities.

About Phil // Prior to providing energetic leadership and strategic direction to The Giving Church, Phil served as Vice President of Development for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and as Executive Vice President for INJOY Stewardship with John C. Maxwell, leading the mega-church capital campaign division. Phil has helped 1000 churches from 40 different denominations realize their vision through generosity.

Thank You to This Article’s Sponsor: The Giving Church

As a church leader you know that your ability to execute your vision comes down to Staffing, Facilities and Programming. All of those needs are fueled by one thing: Generosity. The Giving Church, led by Generosity Coach and Founder, Phil Ling, has worked with nearly 1000 churches of all sizes in over 40 different denominations and raised over a billion dollars to fuel ministry. Don’t run out of fuel for your ministry. Transform your ministry with innovative capital campaigns and leadership coaching.

Visit for a FREE PDF, 5 Ways To Grow Your Church Giving.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.