You’ll hear one word more than any other during the holiday season.
I’d like to say that word is Jesus or Gospel or even gratefulness. But it’s not.
The most popular word, by far, is gift. Everyone wants to talk about gifts they’re giving or gifts they’re getting. It’s not just a national obsession. It’s a global one. We spend at least a month—and these days, likely two months—in a mad dash to find the right gifts.
Many people think that the idea of giving gifts at Christmas began with the wise men bringing their presents to the Baby Jesus. It does begin in the Bible, but it isn’t the wise men who gave the first Christmas gift.
It was God himself.
The most famous verse in the Bible says it like this: “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die” (John 3:16 CEV).
Jesus was the original Christmas gift. God loved us so much that he gave.
That’s why it’s natural to encourage people to give to ministry and missions causes during the holidays. Most churches have some sort of end-of-year-giving campaign.
It’s a time of year when people tend to have giving on their minds—and when many people are giving to other nonprofits around their communities. Did you know that nearly one-third of all donations to nonprofits are in December alone? In fact,12 percent of all giving to nonprofits happens in the last three days of the year!
No doubt about it. People give during the holiday season more than other time of the year. So if you have a giving campaign over the upcoming holiday season—whether it’s for a missions cause or a ministry need or a new building—here are a few tips to remember.
1. Share a compelling vision.
People don’t give to meet needs. They give to fulfill a vision. People give when a big dream captures their imagination. People give when they get a big-picture view of what you’re doing in the world and how their generosity can play a part.
At Saddleback, we’ve been privileged to be a part of some of the largest giving campaigns ever. People ask me all the time, “How do you raise so much money? How do you get big gifts?”
You get big gifts with big dreams. By far, your most important responsibility when inspiring generosity is to cast the vision. The vision isn’t the amount you’re trying to raise. The vision is what God wants to do with the money. It’s about the people you’re going to reach. It’s about the needs you’ll meet.
Always start with the why—never the what. Vision is about the why. When you clearly communicate the why, God will show you the what and the how. Make sure you answer these questions for your congregation: Why should people give to this cause, and why must they give now?
Once you’re clear about the vision behind the need, you can help the people in your congregation understand their part in fulfilling it.
2. Remind people that generosity is an attitude, not an amount.
God couldn’t care less how much your people give. He cares about how they give and why they give.
Radical generosity is an attitude, not an amount. The Bible says, “If you are really eager to give, then it isn’t important how much you have to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you haven’t” (2 Corinthians 8:12 TLB).
God doesn’t need our money. But he does want our hearts.
That’s why it’s so important to encourage everyone to participate in any giving opportunity you have. It’s a myth that some people can’t give. Remember the story from Mark 12 of the widow who had just two small coins and gave it all to God. People can give in lots of ways. If they don’t have cash, encourage them to make a pledge of faith toward a later time. It’s really a matter of trust for those who give.
By the way, this is one reason we never have a corporate goal for a giving campaign at our church. If we don’t want the campaign to be about an amount of money for our members, it shouldn’t be tied to an amount of money for our congregation as a whole.
Plus, people tend to focus on the goal instead of the vision. I don’t want people to give so we can reach an artificial goal. I want them to give as a step of faith. I want them to give because God is leading them to give. I don’t want them to give money that God isn’t leading them to give.
3. Give people a model of generosity.
We learn generosity best through models. I learned to be generous by watching my parents. All these years later, they’re still the most generous people I have ever known. I watched them give everything away in their lives to other people. They gave away hospitality, food, income, energy, effort—whatever they had. But what really caught my attention was seeing how joyfully they gave. My parents taught me what it means to be generous.
But let’s face it. Not everyone has parents like I had. It’s safe to say many of the people you’re leading every week have never seen what generous living looks like up close. That’s why you have to lead the way in generosity.
I’ll never forget our third giving campaign in 1995. Kay and I eventually decided on an amount to give over a three-year period. To put it in perspective, the amount was equivalent to my entire three-year salary at the time. I had no idea where I would come up with the money.
Around that time, I was reading the story of the Israelites raising money for the temple in 1 Chronicles 29. David explicitly states what he would give to the effort. I sensed God wanting me to do that as well.
I didn’t want to do it. I figured I couldn’t win. Some people would think I was giving too little. Other people would think I was showing off. But I obeyed and began our giving campaign by telling the rest of the church about the pledge. When I did so, I had absolutely no idea where we’d get the money.
But God came through (as he always does). As we prepared to give the offering five weeks later, I was able to tell the congregation how God had already performed a miracle. During those few weeks, Zondervan had asked me to write The Purpose Driven Church. My advance was the exact amount we had committed to giving.
When I told the congregation about that, the place went crazy. It motivated many others to give.
4. Focus on raising people’s faith—not funds.
Like I mentioned earlier, God isn’t interested in our money. He doesn’t need it. God could fund whatever ministry, whatever project you’re raising funds for in an instant. He doesn’t need your congregation to do what he wants to do in the world.
God is far more interested in growing the faith of those you lead than whatever cause you’re raising the funds for. Because of the elevated place of money in our society, giving is an incredibly important act of faith. I’ve often said that if you want to get an inside look at people’s spiritual maturity, see how they spend their money and how they spend their time. Our congregations need to be constantly encouraged to say no to consumerism and say yes to generosity.
Our job as churches is to build disciples. You can’t help people become like Jesus without teaching them how to give. No one gave more than Jesus did. Although I’m always excited about what God will do through the gifts, I’m much more excited about making disciples who are growing more like Jesus as they learn to give sacrificially.
I know many pastors who don’t like to talk about money. The thought of leading an effort to give toward a specific cause may make you break out in hives. But you can’t make disciples without teaching people to give. It’s what God calls us to do.