The Awkward Relationship Between Money and The Church…And What You Can Do About It

Today’s post is written by Jim Sheppard. Jim is CEO & Principal of Generis, a consulting firm passionate about helping churches accelerate generosity towards their God-inspired vision.

By Jim Sheppard

Money and the church. It’s an awkward relationship. Have you noticed that?

If I had to guess, I would say that there is no topic that is more on the minds of senior pastors on Monday mornings and less on their minds as they plan sermons. This is not a critique, just an observation.

The conversation about money and giving in the church has become taboo. We don’t talk about it; and yet, all of the church leaders I know want to see giving increase. They want their people to become more generous with their finances, loosen their grip on money, and give back to the One who has provided it all in the first place.

To add to the tension, a lot of pastors fear playing into the stereotype that the church is all about money. So they never talk about money or wait until they need it. That’s a mistake.

The reason you need to talk about money is more about what you want for people than what you want from them. People argue about money every day, and you can help them win with it.

In addition, without casting an authentic vision about money, many will never release the gift of generosity in their life. Giving is a discipleship issue that too many church leaders ignore.

If you truly want to see church members embrace biblical generosity, you have to talk about it openly. You need to normalize the giving conversation and take the awkward out of it.

It starts with the acknowledgement that giving is first and foremost a spiritual issue, not financial. Our giving back to God for the work He wants to do in this world is a reflection of who He is in our lives. It shows our worship and reverence.

Giving is first and foremost a spiritual issue, not financial. - Jim Sheppard Click To Tweet

That is why we give to God. It’s not to fund the church budget or advance projects. Those are merely secondary effects of what happens when we give to God’s work in and through the church.

This is where we often get it wrong and add to the awkwardness. We communicate that the main reason we want the people in our church to give is so that our church finances will flourish. That’s not it. That is not the primary reason we want our people to give. We want our people to give so that they can experience what it does for them when they give to God’s work. Our giving to God is meant to transform us!

When we treat the spiritual discipline of generosity as an exercise in fundraising – we end up nominalizing what God intended as a means to grow us.

Teaching about giving is an integral part of making disciples. 

All of the church leaders I know want to make more disciples. Therefore, we have to teach and equip our people on giving if we are really serious about making disciples.

Most of the people in our churches have no idea of the spiritual implication of managing (or not managing) well the money and possessions that have been entrusted to them. For us to take the awkwardness out of it, our focus must be on growing givers’ hearts.

A couple of leading voices in the American church have spoken to this and it bears mentioning here.

In the second message of the series Money Talks that Andy Stanley preached in February 2019, he says it this way. “Until Jesus is first in your finances, Jesus isn’t first. You’re not a follower. You’re a user. And Judas tried that.”

That sounds direct but it is hard to argue. If we have put Jesus first in other areas of our lives but we have not done so with our money and possessions, we have missed it. We have not fully put Jesus first.

The issue gets compounded because we are not good at self-assessing. We think we are more generous than we really are.

Tim Keller, in a talk he gave at a Generous Giving gathering some years ago, says it well in this excerpt. “…Nobody thinks they’re greedy. Nobody. In all my years as a minister, I have heard almost every kind of confession. Nobody has ever come to me and said, ‘I spend too much money on myself.’ Nobody has ever done that. But here is what I want you to consider. If Jesus talks about greed and materialism 10 or 20 times more than he talks about other sins, and he says that nobody ever thinks they’re doing it. Then we should start with a working hypothesis that it is probably a problem for me.”

Giving is a spiritual issue. If we want to develop cultures of generosity in our churches, we have to own this. We can’t just hope it will change. We have to do something if we want to see it change.

Until Jesus is first in your finances, Jesus isn't first. You're not a follower. You're a user. And Judas tried that. - @AndyStanley Click To Tweet

Five Areas To Address When Taking The Awkward out of the Giving Conversation

So, where do we start? There are five areas where I would recommend we start:

1. Regularly Teach Biblical Generosity

The senior leader must teach on generosity and stewardship on a regular basis. A series every now and then is helpful, but also consider other means. When generosity comes up in the text of a passage you are using to make another point, take time to cover the generosity point in the text.

Perhaps the single best way to teach regularly is through the offering moment. The few minutes before you receive the offering in service each week is a key time to teach on the importance of what is happening.

If you want a step-by-step plan to accelerate generosity in your church, you can download one for free here.

The few minutes before you receive the offering in service each week is a key time to teach on the importance of what is happening. - Jim Sheppard Click To Tweet

2. Model Generosity – In Your Own Life and In Others

Share examples of people who have seen transformation in their own lives when it comes to giving. For people who are not faithful givers, they don’t know what it looks like. They need examples and encouragement. Seeing the journey of someone else accomplishes both.

One thing I hear often when I bring this up is the idea that this is not a topic we are supposed to share about in public. They say, “don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” Without going into a long explanation of the text, that is not a prohibition against sharing one’s giving story. If it were, Jesus would not have talked about letting your light shine before men that they might see your good works.

The key here is to be careful about the motive in sharing. Give credit to God for the increase in your heart’s capacity to give. That’s the real story here!

3. Celebrate Mission Advancement

Encourage your church by calling attention to victories in mission advancement due to giving. This is probably the most overlooked element of encouraging generosity.

Think of a time when you made a significant appeal to the people of your church and they rose up and met it. Did you celebrate it? I don’t mean patting yourselves on the back and congratulating each other, I mean giving thanks to God for the move of His Spirit among your people, and the response of obedience in His people.

If you haven’t been doing it, make sure you do it next time you ask and your people respond.

4. Make Generosity a Priority, a Mark of Discipleship

Specifically identify giving and generosity as one of the marks of discipleship in your church.

Churches prioritize that which they have identified as important. Values get prioritized. Many times, the values a church establishes are connected to marks of discipleship. Prayer, service, leading, and Bible study are frequently on the list of things a church considers the marks of discipleship.

Did you notice which one is not in the list? Giving and generosity. Maybe church leaders just assume if you do the other things, you will be a generous giver. This is not a good strategy.

I have been around hundreds of churches as a consultant and I’ll just say that’s not my experience. It doesn’t just happen. It has to be specifically addressed. Making generosity one of the church’s marks of discipleship is a way to ensure that it happens.

5. Have a Generosity Champion at the table with your lead team

This is a voice to make sure generosity and giving are prioritized. This is probably the biggest single idea of the five mentioned here, and likely the one most leaders have not considered.

It is easy for giving and generosity to take a back seat to other priorities church leaders are addressing at any given time. This is understandable when something really pressing comes along, but it should be the exception, not the norm.

Generosity should be like a thread that is woven into the fabric of the church. Not siloed, but owned by every leader on the team.

A Generosity Champion, whether a staff member or a key lay person, will keep it on the table at all times.

Generosity should be like a thread that is woven into the fabric of the church. Not siloed, but owned by every leader on the team. - Jim Sheppard Click To Tweet

Where do we go from here?

We have to solve this. The stakes are high on two fronts.

1. The people in our churches are spiritually malnourished when it comes to money and possessions.

When we talk about making disciples, we have to be committed to addressing all the areas of discipleship. Teaching in the area of money and possessions is the most neglected one. In a culture that is as materialistic as America, our understanding of money and possessions and how it fits into our faith perspective is critical.

Jesus was concerned about it two thousand years ago. He knew that money had the potential to be another god to us.

In Luke 16, he clearly pointed out that money has the potential to cause us to worship at that altar instead of the altar of Almighty God.

This is a powerful teaching and we tend to blow past it. It speaks to the need to provide spiritual nourishment in the area of money and possessions.

2. Our churches are being limited in the pursuit of their God-given mission and mandate by the lack of sufficient financial resources.

In a country as affluent as America, there is no reason for our churches to have to limit their ministry because of financial resources. Yes, there are churches that are in economically challenged areas. But that is not the norm.

The best research we have indicates giving among believers is somewhere in the range of 2.5% of their income. Think about that. If believers in America gave just half a tithe (10% of their income), it would double the level of giving to churches. The impact of the ministry of the American church would be significantly expanded.

Only by growing givers’ hearts and loosening the grip on what God has provided will we make meaningful progress.

There’s too much at stake.

Let’s commit ourselves to removing the awkwardness and normalizing the giving conversation. For our people and for our churches.

What if you could take the weirdness out of the giving conversation at your church?

The Generis team has been helping churches do this for years.

We’d love to offer you a totally free conversation about how you can build a culture that embraces generosity like never before.

Normalize the giving conversation in your church and accelerate greater generosity towards your God-inspired vision starting today!

You can schedule a complimentary discovery session with a Generosity Strategist here:

How do you currently talk about giving? 

I’d love to know what strategies you’re trying.

Leave a comment below and let us know!

The Awkward Relationship Between Money and The Church…And What You Can Do About It


  1. Sister Su on March 26, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Unfortunately, many congregations have been misled into investing heavily in things of this world which they then believe they need to maintain and guard. We are warned against this repeatedly in scripture. These physical holdings are a terrible burden.
    A collection plate and shaming and blaming sermonizing will drive people away from the possibility of coming to Christ faster than anything.

    In comparison, many congregations have amazing miracles of provision when they place following the directives of Christ in Matthew 25 at the forefront of their ministries. Some of these congregations have a locked box at the side or back where people can donate to missions or tithe how they feel lead. Others announce they do not need to take up a collection because of specific ways in which they were blessed that week.

    When we sincerely seek to: welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit those who are sick and imprisoned; it is truly amazing what happens!
    Our Father owns the sheep on a thousand hills and the riches of the earth are His.

  2. Scott on March 12, 2021 at 8:51 am

    I visited a church last year in the US. When they said we could donate on the church app my wallet closed tighter than Kamala Harris’ grip on the presidency. THEY HAD AN APP. They don’t need my money.

    • Tony Baird on March 23, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      You clearly missed what Carey said about the purpose of giving. It isn’t to fund the church, it is to free your heart of attachment to money.

      On a practical note, there are several free software apps out there that provide services to churches free of charge. The existence of an app isn’t necessarily evidence of wealth, but you should always make sure that the organization/church you are giving to is one that you believe in and want to grow.

      • Scott on March 23, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        haha…no. I didn’t miss the point.

        didn’t know about the free apps for church donations. good to know, thanks.

        my response was meant to be an example of what a problem talking about money in church is.

  3. Sheryl Hastings on March 10, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    I believe we have found a balance. We never had five min. Presentations for the offering, we do preach on giving 1-2 times a year & in the past reported back if over three months there was a deficit causing concern.
    We regularly say at offering time – “ if you are visiting today then please stay as our guest, but if you are regular member then there are details how to give to the ongoing work of God through this church. in this community on our website .”.
    Due to COVID-19 we no longer pass the plate. There is a basket for cash at the door. Thanks to Covid-19, 90% of giving is online, resulting in more consistency. Our offerings have been sustained with some months above budget. Praise God for these faithful people.

  4. Justin Klatt on March 10, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    So good Pastor! You are amazing!

  5. Zane Bousum on March 10, 2021 at 11:49 am

    Our church is about ready to celebrate our 27th anniversary and we have always had a tithing message right before offering. It is about 5 minutes. We or a member of our leadership or myself share 1 scripture or 1 testimony about giving (Luke 6:38, Malachi 3:10, 2 Corinthians 8, etc. We are also about $14,000 away from paying off a 1.16 million dollar loan from 2003.

    Generosity and stewardship go hand and hand, but our premise has always been that God is a good God who wants His people to be blessed. As it says in Isaiah the willing and obedient will eat the good of the land. We never beg for money from the pulpit or guilt our congregation into giving, but we share that God has a financial blueprint for financial success and it ALWAYS involves giving. The neat thing about our church being almost debt free is that many members in our church have also experienced the freedom of debt free living as well.

  6. Kevin Clubb on March 10, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Very helpful suggestions and especially when so many churches are seeing significant decreases in giving even after what was unexpected generosity in 2020 when the world shut down due to COVID. My guess is that many churches that used to pass the plates/buckets/baskets to receive an offering aren’t doing that anymore. It’s one of the changes that I suspect will be long lasting in the Worship Gatherings going forward. Maybe some additional thinking needs to take place for how we can intentionally and regularly teach generous giving in the service in a different way that was suggested in the post today.

  7. Laura Trent on March 10, 2021 at 11:21 am

    When I send out the worship video to my congregation, my weekly post includes “…give to God through [our] church…” – not just “giving to the church.” The entire act of giving is to God and to God’s work in and through us, and I believe saying so shifts giving into a larger picture.

  8. Andy Satkowiak on March 10, 2021 at 11:01 am

    It’s problematic when pastors shy away from the topic of money, out of fear of what the congregation might think. There are four times as many verses on money and possessions as there are verses on faith. It should be celebrated weekly what is happening through the church because of the generosity of the congregation.

    It’s also true that the generosity needs to be modeled by the church leadership. When it is, then talking about generosity in the congregation will come across as more authentic.

  9. Tim Johnson on March 10, 2021 at 10:57 am

    It strikes me that if what Scripture teaches is indeed for our good…
    if it most certainly draws or points us to the fullness of life…
    if we’re in fact taught and shown the gift of joy…
    then why do we so frequently frame this conversation in language that amplifies or suggests that matters of money and generosity are sort of a drag to reckon with or advance?

    I contend that we’re sheepish because we don’t fully subscribe to the teaching that if we give our lives away for the sake of Christ and his gospel (nothing withheld) that we’ll actually find the life we seek.

    Central to God’s own identity is that God is a giver. Being created in the image of God, this is true of us, as well. Generosity is an expression of our best self. Our problem is that we don’t embrace and live this out in faith, trusting that our deepest identify is as well discovered in great giving and generosity. We lean the other way.

    Speak with or hang out with any truly generous person and one quickly finds that being generous is one of their greatest joys. They wouldn’t trade it for anything. They don’t have to be cajoled to be generous. They’ve found that doing so leads to the life promised.

    My point is not to take issue with the article–I think it is excellent! My point is that I think if our mindset were to shift–that inviting people into generosity and abundant giving is in fact a GOOD thing–that we would find ourselves freed up and excited to speak about giving in bold and compelling and unapologetic terms. There’s a difference between should’s or have-to’s and get-to’s. Difference between Law and Gospel!

  10. Bob Wiseman on March 10, 2021 at 10:44 am


    Seriously. You want to see people stop giving? Stop being good stewards of resources. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve seen firsthand face severe financial constraints (prior to COVID) because they blew a bunch of money on staffing they didn’t need, all the newest technology the minute it comes out, luxurious staff retreats & Christmas parties, and a variety of other things.

    If people can’t trust that you’ll spend the money wisely and be good stewards of the resources, they won’t give them. And you can preach and preach and preach about it, but if you’re not modeling wisdom, stewardship, and even a little bit of restraint in the way you handle the church’s finances, don’t expect anyone to hand over their money.

    I was at a church not too long ago that used 12 (read: TWELVE) 40′ TVs on their stage as the design for the current series. There were two sets of 6, in three rows of two. The top and bottom rows were just blank blue backgrounds, the middle two were the series logo. That was 8 TVs used… to put blue screens on the stage. 12 TVs, all at about $200 a piece, plus a TV wall mount, plus cables. You’re talking over $3000, for stage design (not including all the lighting, and the other set design stuff).

    That same church just laid off over 20 staff members because money is tight. (They had a round of layoffs PRE-COVID as well).

    I’m not saying don’t get a decent sound board, or don’t use lights, or don’t design the stage. All of that can amplify, edify, and magnify… but it can also point to your priorities and if we’re not careful, it can show people we don’t have a plan for stewardship in our churches. If you’re going to ask people for their resources, you better start by being responsible with what you’re given.

    • D. Gremillon on March 10, 2021 at 1:09 pm

      Yep. When was the last time anyone saw a church budget in any detail?

      • Bob Wiseman on March 10, 2021 at 2:34 pm

        In *many* of these churches, especially the larger ones, I’m sure if the average church-goer saw the books, the people would leave in droves.

        Far too many churches are irresponsible with their money at best, sinful at worst.

  11. Gregg Doyle on March 10, 2021 at 9:08 am

    This reminds me of a love song by Tessa Violet titled, “Words ain’t enough”. I have been involved in working with churches to build and expand their facilities for most of my career. The one thing that is always true about fundraising and giving is the direct connection to community and discipleship. Building the church through relationships begins years before you need to build a church. If you have to start preaching about giving then you have not been building disciples or community.

  12. kolawole salawu on March 10, 2021 at 3:10 am

    this is so timely and apt. we must never shy away from talking about kingdom giving and prosperity. We must never be spineless about the responsibility of giving for the gospel and be bold to radically preach it according to the gospel

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