“The Smiths are great. They will be the perfect couple to lead our premarital counseling ministry.”
Dennis was the senior pastor of a midsized church in the St. Louis area. Recently, the couple who had run their premarital counseling program moved to another state. This was significant because the church had three couples that needed to go through premarital counseling before their rapidly approaching wedding dates arrived.
When it was suggested the Smiths take over the ministry, Dennis could not think of a better couple. They had been a part of a church for a few years, seemed to have a strong marriage, and had a counseling background.
“Problem solved,” Dennis confidently thought.
But the problem wasn’t solved. In fact, a new problem was introduced. The church required all volunteer leaders to demonstrate regular giving to the church. There wasn’t a particular amount they looked for, just a demonstration of consistent financial generosity.
When the Smiths’ giving records were pulled, what they saw was shocking. Nothing. The Smiths had never given to the church.
“That’s not possible,” said Dennis.
But it was. The Smiths would later confirm they had never given to the church.
“But why? And how?” Dennis thought to himself. “And who else?”
The fact that some who regularly attend church do not financially give can surprise church leaders. But the reality is more common than some leaders realize. How or why does this happen?
While the potential causes are numerous and often complex, here are a few reasons why people do not give to their church:
1. They don’t know they are supposed to give.
In a previous generation, attending and giving to the local church was simply what a person did as a good citizen of their community. It was a known expectation. Long gone are those days. And long gone are the days when church leaders can assume that attendees know what the Bible teaches about generosity. Many either did not grow up in a church or grew up in a church that avoided the topic of money and generosity.
The primary way a church attendee will know what God says about money and generosity is by teaching what His Word says about the topic and setting generosity expectations prior to a person becoming a member of the church. So, because they don’t know they are supposed to give, they don’t.
The primary way a church attendee will know what God says about money and generosity is by teaching what His Word says about the topic and setting generosity expectations prior to a person becoming a member of the church.
2. They don’t recognize the importance of the first fruits principle.
For many Americans, finances are tight. There are simply too many bills and too little in the bank account each month. The genesis of these problems may be self-induced or from external causes. Regardless of what is to blame, many wait until the bills are paid and wants are met before they give.
Giving is about the leftovers. And often, there isn’t much left over.
They don’t recognize that God has called us to give our first and our best. They don’t know that generosity is an act of trust in God’s promises and provisions. They just see their ever-dwindling financial margin and put their faith in themselves rather than God. So, because they don’t recognize the importance of the first fruits principle, they don’t give.
3. They don’t understand the importance of the local church.
There are those in the church who do not understand the reason for church attendance or the God-directed mission of the local church. Every week, they show up because “good Christians go to church.” And they miss out. They miss out on seeing how God uses the local church in their own life and the life of others. They miss out on seeing how God uses the local church to reach the community and the world. They don’t give because they don’t understand what they are a part of. So, because they don’t understand the importance of the local church, they don’t give.
4. They think the little they can give is simply not worth giving.
For some, they look at the amount they can give, and it almost seems pointless. What could God do with such a small amount of money? What difference would my gift make in the church anyway? They feel their gift is insignificant. They don’t understand that God is a God of multiplication and how that applies to their generosity. They also think that giving is about a number instead of a heart. They missed the message of the widow’s mite—In God’s economy, the amount sacrificed always supersedes the amount given. So, because they have little, they don’t give.
5. They felt burned by a previous church.
Some attendees had a bad experience relating to church finances. Maybe they attended a church where the pastors used the pulpit for personal, financial gain. Maybe they attended a church where accountability and financial security measures were not in place, resulting in the disappearance of funds. Maybe they attended a church where stewardship appeared to be a very low priority. Maybe they attended a church where funds were not used for their intended purpose.
Their prior experience still directs their current perspective. They feel as if church leaders cannot be trusted with money. They also feel that they can better make stewardship decisions for the Kingdom than the church. They may give elsewhere, but not to the church. So, because they felt burned by a previous church, they don’t give.
6. They distrust current church leadership.
Sometimes, attendees do not give because they felt burned by a previous church. But sometimes, their hesitation exists from a distrust of current church leadership. While they still attend the church, their experiences with one or a few leaders created concern.
The concern may be about financial stewardship, or it could be about ministry decisions and direction. Sometimes the concerns are legitimate while other concerns boil down to personal preference. Either way, they’ve lost personal trust in leadership. Many of these attendees will not stay with the church for long, especially if they feel that change is not likely to occur soon. So, because they distrust current church leadership, they don’t give.
A person may not give to a local church for a variety of reasons. Church leaders should be intentional about educating attendees in the area of biblical generosity, teaching on the importance of the local church, and ensuring financial accountability mechanisms are in place. While these initiatives are not a silver bullet, they can help disciple individuals in the area of generosity.