If We Want to Cultivate Generosity, We Need to Understand Each Other

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How do we cultivate generosity in our lives and in the hearts of those we influence? Recently I was reading from Psalm 37 which reads,

I have been young, and now am old.  Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his children begging for bread.  He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. (37:25-26)

A marked characteristic of those who have tasted the generosity of God is that they are “ever lending generously.” The early church portrayed this trait, and it was perhaps one of the profound differences between believers and the world. Generous people are hard to forget, especially those who have cultivated a pattern of generosity into their daily life habits.

The Psalm goes on to say that “his children become a blessing” (37:26). We all know that our children see and mimic our behaviors. What is important to us becomes important to them. We disciple them daily, not with an open book and pen, but with our lives, our choices and our regular patterns.

How can we be a people who are characterized by the world as “ever lending generously?” How can we do this in our churches so that it passes down from one generation to the next?

Children are more likely to highly value generosity if they grew up in a home where generosity was displayed by the parents.

Before we can begin cultivating and teaching generosity, we have to start by asking the question, “what is generosity?” Every day we have an opportunity to give of our “time, talents and treasures.” But let’s be honest: in our pulpits our sermons on “generosity” are largely tied to the last “t”: treasure. Individually and collectively, monetary giving is one of the easiest things for our churches to measure and quantify. But what about other forms of generosity that are not as easy to measure?

In 2016 Thrivent Financial commissioned The Barna Group to conduct research examining the current state of generosity among U.S Christians and more specifically, approaching it with a multigenerational lens. We all have assumptions about other peoples’ generosity by certain activities or lack thereof, but Thrivent and Barna set out to verify or debunk myths and assumptions commonly held amongst church leaders when it comes to the generosity of a particular generation: Millennials. The journey proved to be far richer and more challenging than anticipated. They uncovered a way of thinking about generosity that stretches far beyond the offering plate on Sunday morning.

The research revealed that the perceptions and practices of giving are changing. Each generation values and displays generosity differently.  Furthermore, each generation tends to think that the way they prefer to give is more generous than other ways. 

Here are a few research headlines from “The Generosity Gap”:

  • 4 out of 5 U.S. Christians do not first think of money when they think of generosity.
  • Only 10% of Christians say “to serve God with my money” is their ultimate financial goal.
  • 18% of U.S Christians strongly agree with the idea that it’s okay to volunteer for their church instead of giving financially.
  • Children are more likely to highly value generosity if they grew up in a home where generosity was displayed by the parents.
  • 34% of millennials (more than any other generation) are likely to say that generosity is extremely important to them. (Elders 25%, Boomers 20%, Gen-Xers 32%)

The President of Barna, David Kinnaman, says in the study, “Navigating generational differences is an especially urgent task for Christian leaders who are trying to create and sustain intergenerational community.” If we truly want to cultivate generosity in our homes and churches, we must first understand the different expressions of generosity displayed amongst each generation.

To learn more about the Barna study and the different expressions of generosity, check out generosityworkshop.com. This workshop is designed to look at the topic of generosity across generations for the purposes of discipleship and engagement at your church. If we want to cultivate generosity, we need to understand what each other means by generosity. Let’s work together to disciple our people to be “ever lending generously,” in many different expressions in our church and home, so that our children will also “become a blessing.”

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Sarah Greene Engelman

Sarah Greene Engelman is the Church Engagement Specialist for Thrivent whose mission is to help Christians be wise with money and live generously. She was recently married to Chris Engelman at Binkley Chapel (Southeastern Seminary), where they both graduated and where she received her Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. Sarah is passionate about resourcing the church to be on mission and is leading a local workshop on generosity for church leaders.

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