Tithing in a Kickstarter World
The way we interact with money is changing:
- A 2014 study showed that almost 1-in–4 Millennials carry less than $5 in cash.
- You can easily pay for groceries with your cell phone and thumb print—soon your face!
- Apps like Venmo allow you to instantly send money to friends, taking the hassle out of splitting the dinner bill or chipping in for gas on a road trip.
- Digital products and services—everything from software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop to streaming music like Spotify—are moving to recurring subscription models.
I could go on and on, but I know you get the picture.
And, as a side note, if your church doesn’t have an online/digital giving option, read the first bullet point again…
But aside from the logistical ways we give and receive money today, the way we think about money is changing as well.
The internet has facilitated the rise of crowdfunding—the raising of money from family, friends, and complete strangers over the internet.
From medical bills to recording studio time for a band to a cool new invention or publication, sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo have made it possible to turn anyone’s cause or idea into reality. And platforms like Patreon have made it possible to support creatives on an on-going basis.
A Shift in Power
What’s great about this shift is that we are no longer limited to the ideas and products that traditional gatekeepers think are
good profitable. We don’t have to trust corporations or institutions anymore. Instead, we can make evaluations on our own and fund causes or purchase products that we think are great.
This is a fundamental shift in how we think about and spend money, and the church needs to pay attention. The days of the old thermometer poster showing pledges toward the church budget are over.
What This Means for the Church
The idea of giving 10% of your income to an organization or institution just because it has expenses is the opposite of how our relationship to money is trending. The people in your congregation, particularly the younger generations who will only become a higher percentage of the population, want to invest in things they feel are important and make a difference.
Let me say that I still completely believe in tithing. It is something that God asks of us in Scripture, it is a spiritual discipline, and generosity is still one of the fruits of the Spirit.
I am also completely aware that keeping the lights on and paying for staff healthcare are necessary even if they don’t kindle feelings of adventure.
But budget items like the light bill and staff healthcare should be in service of the adventure that is the Gospel. If you are simply keeping the lights on so that you have a place to surf Facebook during the week, then maybe your congregation’s money would be better spent by an organization like charity: water.
And even the rationale for tithing in Scripture isn’t “because I said so.” It is an act of worship. It is a way of remembering and celebrating the fact that God is the source of all that we have.
So how do we craft our communication about stewardship to resonate with how people are thinking about money?
1. Take the focus off of your organization.
You may live, breathe, and anxiously sweat the budget of your ministry, but the congregation doesn’t. Your church and its bills are not the endpoint of your congregation’s money. The literal buck does not stop with you.
As A.J. Thomas of the Joyful Giving Group said on a recent Art of the Sermon episode, the perspective you’re trying to build in your congregation is that we give regardless of the deficit or surplus in the church budget because the church budget is not the point.
2. Put the focus on God.
There’s the old joke that the answer to every question in Sunday School is “Jesus.” Well, that’s pretty much true with stewardship as well.
To whom do we give? Jesus.
Why do we give? Jesus.
How do we give? Jesus… er, cash, check, or online…
Remind your congregation how much God has given us, even if finances are tight. Remind your congregation that God is merciful and that God understands our financial situation. We are to give what we can with the goal of tithing and perhaps one day offering more beyond that. Remind your congregation that we give in response to the love and grace of God—not in order to earn it.
3. Highlight the mission and vision of your ministry—and their participation.
As noted previously, one of the biggest shifts in how we think about money is that we increasingly have the power to evaluate and support causes and ideas with our funds. We give to things we believe in and want to be a part of.
While the particulars of your budget should be made available as an act of transparency, be sure to translate those line items and numbers into mission and vision. How does keeping the lights on contribute to making disciples of Jesus Christ? How does paying the salaries of the staff allow the members of the congregation—not just the staff themselves—to fulfill the mission of loving God and loving others?
Emphasize that giving to God through the Church is a way of participating. And remind them that stewardship extends beyond just money to our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
4. Show tangible proof that the mission and vision are being lived out.
If you haven’t read the viral blog post “12 Reasons Millennials are Over the Church,” you should check it out. Reason number 2 is “We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements.” This may seem to contradict the point above, but it really doesn’t. It isn’t that Millennials don’t value mission or vision, but they are tired of empty phrases that don’t lead to action.
A common practice of organizations in the non-profit world is to create impact reports that share the difference that they’re making. This gives donors confidence that their money is being well-spent. The same should be done in the Church.
Some parts of our mission and vision may be hard to quantify, but if you can’t point to any tangible difference you have made in your community, you have a much bigger problem than whether or not people are giving.
5. Embrace the power of storytelling.
When it comes to money, it can end up being all about numbers. And chances are good that your church’s finance people are numbers people. They think in spreadsheets, charts, and even the dreaded thermometer. To them, that is the most logical way to represent the income, expenses, and even the impact you have in the community.
But the best ideas—whether they are traditional products or Kickstarter projects—don’t gain traction because of their sheer practicality. Ideas catch fire and go viral because they tap into something deeper.
A key to digging deeper is storytelling. It is how our brains are wired. It is how we experience life and connect with one another. As you share the impact you are making, don’t simply tell your congregation how many dollars they have donated to local causes or how many hours they have served in the community. Talk to the people whose lives have been changed because of those dollars and hours. Share the stories of the people who joined your church because Jesus used your church to change their life.