By Matt Randerson
How do we collectively understand what it means to live a generous life? This question was at the heart of the multiple research projects that Thrivent commissioned Barna Research to explore over the past few years.
Specifically, there’s a tension that exists with many church leaders when it comes to the topic of generosity—especially when you add different generations into the conversation. At times, there are assumptions and perceptions that younger generations are not monetarily generous; this assumption is plausible. Only 13% of millennials surveyed would say they are most frequently generous though financial giving. The low numbers are not exclusive to Millennials. Only one in five U.S Christians would say they most frequently express generosity through monetary giving.
Do the numbers mean that U.S Christians are not generous? According to the research, no. In fact, across generations there’s a high level of importance placed on generosity; 88% of U.S. Christians would say generosity is extremely or very important to them, with Millennials leading the way at 95%.
A great opportunity is in front of us as church leaders. The opportunity is to expand our definition of generosity.
I hear pastors ask and contemplate the question: “How generous is your church?” This answer is often a numerical one. As I work with pastors across the country, there’s a tendency to measure the health of generosity by how well the tithes and offerings are doing in comparison to the budget. Or the answer is connected to how successfully they are filling all the volunteer spots needed to make the church service a success. I am not minimizing the value and importance of these two particular expressions, but our opportunity is to expand our definition of what is means to be generous. The people surveyed in the research have fascinating things to tell us about how they live out generosity, and it’s not associated with just one day of the week—it’s a holistic, every day, intentional focus for U.S Christians. Emerging from the research was five major types of generosity.
Hospitality: Openness, welcome, unqualified acceptance, lacking judgment; 13% of Millennials identified hospitality as their more frequent expressions of generosity compared to 1% of elders. Only one-third of U.S. Christians limit hospitality to hosting people in one’s home.
Emotional-relational support: Being there for someone, compassionate listening, verbal encouragement, and support. This is the second most common expression of generosity among U.S. Christians with 25% citing it as the top way in which they give.
Volunteering-service: Helping one another through unpaid labor. This is the most frequent expression of generosity among U.S Christians (31% said it was their top form of giving).
Monetary giving: Giving financial resources to create a positive impact. Just one in five U.S Christians say monetary giving is their most frequent expression of generosity.
Gifts: The giving of non-financial presents; 12% of Millennials say this is the most important form of generosity and 9% of U.S. Christians say it is their most frequent expression of generosity.
These five generosity expressions offer us the chance to expand our definition of what it means to live a generous life beyond the offering plate.
Are you curious to know your primary expression of generosity? We created a tool to help you understand your own giving habits and see a vibrant picture of generosity. Visit generosityexpressions.com.
And what does generosity look like in your church community across generations and beyond what takes place on Sunday? Visit generosityexpressions.com and click “Church Professionals” to get your church started today!
We would love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Randerson works for Thrivent, where he specializes in developing creative learning experiences and tools that help pastors across the country.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church