As I talk with pastors and ministry leaders about transforming the way giving is discussed in their congregations, one of the high points I hit most frequently is the importance of using stories when discussing generosity. I’ll say things like “names over numbers” and “stories instead of statistics,” and we’ll talk at length about the deep-seated human desire for narrative.
As wonderful as alliterative couplets might be, they don’t tell the whole story. (Forgive the pun.) Which is why I want to dive a bit deeper today. And I want to do so with the help of a friend who spends a considerable percentage of his days thinking and talking about giving to churches.
Erik Ely is a Generosity Strategist for Generis, and he brings over 20 years of experience to this conversation. Erik and I had a conversation recently about where, how, and why churches need to deploy stories for the sake of stewardship. (Last alliteration. Promise.) Below are the highlights of that discussion. Enjoy!
Kent Woodyard: Hey Erik. Thanks so much for hanging out for a bit. Specifically, what we’re talking about today is how churches and pastoral leadership teams can build “cultures of generosity” in their congregations, and specifically how storytelling is a central part of that. How can churches better weave stories of transformative giving into their conversations? Tell me a bit about what you’ve experienced there, and, in particular, why you think it’s so important for churches to incorporate stories into their conversations about giving.
Erik Ely: Love to! So if you’ve read the Bible at all, you’ll notice that Jesus uses storytelling constantly to help people come to a point of change, a point of decision, a point of challenge. Unfortunately, as churches, we do a pretty lousy job at telling stories. Specifically, the stories of the life-impact and change that’s happening within the church or within your organization.
Giving is such an emotional act. Because of this, there is no tool quite as effective as stories to help engage people’s emotions and to help the giving process feel like less of a business transaction. We do this NOT because we want to manipulate people’s emotions, but, rather, because we want to communicate what good our church is doing. How God is working in our church.
And that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about communicating the effectiveness of God through your ministry. When your congregation gathers for worship on a Sunday morning, they should come away not just with a great message and some songs to sing, but also an understanding of the work being done by, in, and through your church.
KW: That’s great. Any practical advice or specific tips you would share with a church or a ministry who is working to do a better job with this? Any quick steps that they can take this weekend?
EE: Sure. The first step is recognizing that what you’re doing isn’t working as effectively as you would like it to. Then be willing to change and be willing to take risks when it comes to engaging your givers. When it comes to enlisting the storytelling, I’d encourage churches to look at where and how their ministries are being effective. Throw some statistics out to the congregation and say, “Hey, guys, in our youth ministry we had 25 kids go to summer camp this last week, and we were able – because of your generosity – to scholarship five of those kids. Four of them accepted Christ. It’s because of your investing in the ministry here at XYZ church, that these kids’ lives have been changed. Way to go church!”
Just something as simple as that. The story does not need to be about generosity or giving. In fact, the stories shouldn’t be about generosity or giving. They should be about the Spirit of God moving in someone’s life. About how they have been changed and impacted by your ministry. Then just simply add a tagline on the end of that: “Because of the investment of your time and resources, lives have been changed. Way to go church!”
KW: What about churches who may not have those stories right at their fingertips? Anything they can do in the meantime?
EE: Definitely. If you don’t have life-change stories that you can readily get your hands on, look statistically at what’s going on in your church. Is there a ministry that’s growing? Is it missions? Is it children’s ministries? Is it youth ministries? Is it adult small groups? There’s momentum somewhere. Tell the story of that momentum!
KW: I’m thinking about these emails I get from World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and others like them. They’re never saying, “Hey, give some money to help the Syrian Refugee crisis,” or “Give to impact child hunger.” It’s always a picture of a family, and then a story about that family. And then the call to action focuses on how MY gift can directly impact THAT family’s situations. It’s very personal, and – as a result – very powerful. I know those same types of stories exist in our churches, but we just don’t always do a great job of deploying them.
EE: Definitely. That is especially true with Millennials. Millennials don’t like to give to big organizations unless you can personalize what’s going on in that organization. The same goes for churches. Young people don’t want to give money to feed a machine, but they WILL give money to feed a child. They’ll give money to have an impact if you can personalize it, and bring it down to earth. That’s a challenge for any size church to do.
KW: Any other “best practices” to implement or pitfalls to avoid as churches work to tell a better generosity story?
EE: Yeah. One big one: don’t assume that people don’t want you to talk about generosity or giving. We just have to change HOW we talk about giving and generosity. If we approach it from a transactional standpoint, we’re going to turn people off. If we elevate generosity and giving to the level of a spiritual discipline – like it really is – then that opens a lot of doors and opens a lot of people’s hearts. So pastors, go out there, be bold, but have a plan. Have a strategy of how you’re going to implement and start your generosity journey.
Erik Ely is a Generosity Strategist with more than 20 years of leadership experience in the market place and the local church. Erik’s experience in business and ministry allows him to have a unique perspective on ministry. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife and three sons. You can contact Erik at firstname.lastname@example.org.