A New Approach to Engage First-Time Givers

Many church leaders are wrestling through this question: how do we engage and connect with first-time givers in a way that builds a long-term relationship?

I recently conducted a small Facebook test. Survey participants were asked to answer three questions about giving. Here’s what I found:

  • 96% of people consider themselves to be generous
  • 80% of those same people want to be more generous than they currently are
  • 92% feel held back by a lack of money

These findings represent a strange tension between who we are, who we want to be, and our perceived lack that stands in the way.

The Relationship between Our Treasure and Our Heart

For those of us who’ve grown up in the church, we’re intimately familiar with the instructions Jesus left us in regards to storing up our treasure. But I’d like to offer a spin on the story.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:19–21, NKJV).

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We think about this passage in chronological order. If our hearts are correct, and in submission to God’s will, then we will be obedient with where we put our treasures. In response to this belief, we craft sermons and campaigns around obedience, teaching about how much we are supposed to give and that God rewards a giving heart. There is nothing wrong with this approach—but how well is it working?

Problem: Engaging New and Young Givers

Surveys show that 80 percent of church giving comes from 20 percent of the congregation. And, in another study, 80 percent of churches baptized less than two young people a year. Finally, in preparation for this article, I spoke with Dustin Hite, campus pastor for Geist Christian Church in Indianapolis, IN, and he expressed this sentiment to me: “How do I connect with first-time guests? That’s a challenge my friends and I have constantly struggled with and still don’t have the answer to.”

What If We Switched the Order?

Perhaps it’s time for a new view of the order of the parable. Naturally, we tend to attempt to connect with the heart of the first-time guest initially, but what if we tried to remove the barriers to obedience instead? The original Greek text for the verse reads out in English like this: “Where indeed is the treasure of you, there will be also the heart of you.” The word “treasure” there speaks more towards a container than it does an object. It’s the greek word, “thésauros,” which is the root of the English word “thesaurus,” meaning a storehouse for synonyms—and in this case, for precious things. So when you read “treasure,” replace it with “storehouse for precious things.” Where your storehouse of precious things is, there your heart will be also. Or, in other words, where you have chosen to put your money—and where you’ve chosen to invest it—is where you heart will be stored and invested, as well.

A Change on the Inside

We know that something happens inside of us when we give something of value away to a person in need. Even if our heart is in completely the wrong spot, and we have no intention of forming a deep relationship, there’s this connection that’s created. This happens because we have taken our money (something of worth) and invested it into a storehouse. In doing so, we’ve brought along a small piece of our heart, as well. Now they are stored together in this safe place for precious things. Living in Seattle, I see homeless individuals asking for money on a daily basis. But when I think back on all of these encounters, I can’t see any faces. I don’t remember any of them, except for one.

I was at a softball game with some friends when a homeless woman approached us. She asked for money, and I was in a terrible mood. I countered her offer with one of my own: “I don’t have any money for you, but I’ll buy you a meal if you’re actually hungry.” I was thinking that this would send her along her way, but instead she readily accepted. It was her, I, my sister, and a friend of ours at Shari’s, a 24-hour diner. The homeless woman ordered a full breakfast meal and a chocolate shake and ate the entire thing quite quickly. As I sat there, I felt something strange. Even though I wasn’t doing this out of generosity, I felt my heart drawn to the outcomes of this woman. I asked her where she was staying, what her name was, and told her that she was special and that Jesus loved her. And now, probably ten years later, I still remember her face. A piece of my heart is still stored up and invested in her outcomes.

This happened not because my heart was in the right place (it wasn’t), but because there happened to be a Shari’s in the same parking lot and I happened to work there, and it was an easy dismissal for me to make the offer. The barriers to acting out in generosity were incredibly low. Once I gave, my heart quickly followed. The truth is that giving changed me, even in just a small way, for the better.

Make the Barriers as Low as Possible

This brings us back to our original problem: How do we engage and connect with first-time givers in a way that builds a long-term relationship? The answer is to create an emphasis within your teaching, culture, and operations around making that initial gift as easy as possible.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How easy is it for a church member to give for the first time?
  2. Can a young Millennial member use his or her phone to give in 30 seconds or less?
  3. Have you created an emphasis around giving for the first time, making the gift as easy as possible?

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