Pastors, church members differ on generosity practices and motivation

Church and finance |

The motivations for generosity are many and often complex.

The motivations for generosity are many and often complex. The spiritual practice of giving can vary greatly, especially when comparing pastors with their church members.

According to a new Barna report, The Generosity Gap, there is little agreement on why people should be generous and what counts as generosity.

Generosity: planned or spontaneous?

As a rule, church members and pastors have similar – but not always identical – ideas about what characteristics make an act generous.

Generally speaking, most agree that generosity comes from an unselfish spirit, not from a sense of duty or of self-interest. Pastors agree that generosity is always “a response to Christ’s love” (66 percent, vs. 47 percent of church members). Pastors are also more likely to believe generosity is both an inward attitude and an outward discipline.

Church members, on the other hand, have a slightly more casual view of giving. They are more likely than their pastors to say it’s fine for generosity to be mainly a spontaneous act and rooted mainly in compassion.

Just one in five pastors say generosity is always (2 percent) or often (18 percent) spontaneous. Lay members are also more likely to say it is never or seldom “sacrificial” (16 percent vs. 5 percent for pastors).

So what does this research suggest about what pastors might do in terms of teaching on giving and motivation? In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 we read the following:

The collection for the Lord’s people
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.


Paul seems to be suggesting that intentionality based on what we earn is important. This does not rule out the joy that can come from spontaneous generosity, but giving based on emotions alone has its limitations.

Lay members tend to have a more “romantic” view of giving that can lack the discipline and intentionality that scriptures often call for when it comes to giving practices.

For more ideas on how to teach and preach about giving, consider a new resource on the topic titled Generous Living in a Self-Centered World, or contact Beryl Jantzi, Everence Director of Stewardship Education at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.