Senior Pastor’s Unique Role in Building Culture of Generosity

By Chris Willard with Warren Bird

When we wrote the book Contagious Generosity, we discovered that generous churches are always led by generous pastors. I’ve never found a generous church that didn’t have a generous pastor at its core.

But there are generous leaders who don’t develop generous churches because they’re not talking about generosity. They aren’t modeling it or teaching it. With that formula, they won’t experience it.

The senior pastor has to lead the charge and take on unique roles in developing Christ-followers with a generous heart.

I recently caught up with Ron Edmondson, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, to talk about some practical ways senior pastors can foster a culture of generosity.

Edmondson and Immanuel have a great story of seeing the heat turned up on their generosity. As part of a four- year revitalization, the 107-year-old congregation went from $600,000 in debt to $600,000 in reserves—a $1.2 million swing.

Here are a few practical thoughts from Edmondson on the crucial role that senior pastors play in leading people to develop a generous heart and life.

Find a variety of ways to talk about generosity

We covered the art of talking about giving during weekend services in part 1 and part 2 of “How to Use the Offering to Build a Culture of Generosity.” But Edmondson says you can talk about it every week without giving a sermon or addressing it on stage:

  • Weekly email: it may be a simple thank-you for responding to a need or helping fulfill the church’s vision. Edmondson uses that platform regularly to share something about generosity.
  • Weekend service program or bulletin.
  • Social media: this can be tricky because the message can reach people outside the church. But Immanuel uses social media often to celebrate the church’s generous nature.

Make it simple for people to give

Churches need to create multiple ways for people to give, and it needs to be easy. Online giving options are a must, and many churches are deploying mobile apps for giving. A kiosk at weekend services works well, and there’s no substitute for the tried and true “passing the plate.”

Help people understand why they’re giving

Immanuel creates an annual report that recaps where giving went. The church also tells regular stories of the impact of giving. And it gathers its top 100 givers annually to celebrate what was accomplished through their generosity.

“These key investors have bought into your vision,” Edmondson says. “So we want to celebrate with them and let them know they’re important.”

He recently added the top 100 givers to a list of key influencers that included deacons, Sunday school teachers, and other leaders. He discovered that over half of the top givers did not appear on any other leader list.

“These people are leading in the area of giving and need to be recognized,” he says. “They may have the spiritual gift of giving, and not even know it. To recognize and foster that helps them grow.”

Model generosity

Edmondson, who came from business with a much higher income, remembers lean financial times and understands the struggle with giving. “I want people to know I understand that if I give this check, I don’t have that money anymore,” he says.

But he also knows the importance of his people seeing and hearing about his generosity if they are going to follow suit.

“I understand it can sound self-serving or like I’m bragging,” he says. “But I want people to understand we are walking this road with them.”

Edmondson and senior pastors like him understand that above all, generosity is vital for spiritual formation. They believe that discipleship includes generosity—as much as reading your Bible or prayer.

“Jesus wrestled with people on this issue,” he says. “It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of trusting God to take care of me. If we’re going to lead people to be genuine followers of Christ, we have to address this issue that has such a hold on our lives.”

Generosity Strategies & Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. Learn more or listen to the Generosity Strategies & Tactics podcast.

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