Sharefaith‘s Daniel Threlfall recently did an interview with me that will appear soon on the site. He asked me a series of really insightful questions about the basics of Transformational Giving and the Whole Life Offering. As I answered Daniel’s questions, I realized I have never written succinct answers in this blog to some of these most foundational questions about TG. So it seemed to me they bore repeating here. I’ll be posting the questions and answers over the next week and change. Thanks to Daniel for the provocative prompt.
“Transformational Giving” is a term that you use. Can you explain it? Who’s being transformed? How? Why?
Transformational Giving is a general term for the growing movement to teach Christians financial giving in the wider context of comprehensive Christian discipleship.
Churches and Christian NGOs either talk way too much or way too little about financial giving. Some have the idea that increased financial giving comes as a result of better and more creative tools, techniques, and strategies designed to motivate people to give. But that actually doesn’t work. During the history of modern fundraising—roughly the last fifty years—the percentage that the average Christian donates to charity has remained unchanged. It sits right around 3%, whether the economy is good or bad. And even though churches and Christian NGOs have implemented tons of new tools, techniques, and strategies, the average Christian actually gave away a higher percentage of their income during the Great Depression than they do today. They forget that the one power God never delegates to human beings is the power to change the human heart. So God stands guard at the entrance to the human heart and refuses to grant deep and lasting access to the practitioners of these tools, techniques, and strategies. Because it’s not how he grows Christians to full maturity in Christ.
On the other hand, some churches and Christian NGOs assume that people will give more if we don’t talk about money. They consider it a kind of virtue to not talk about money. But this overlooks the reality that giving, like every other element of discipleship, is learned through explicit teaching and guided practice. God commands us to teach Christians how to do it well. Since many churches don’t talk about giving, it’s no surprise that in the United States, 5% of church attendees account for 60% of the giving, 50% of the attendees account for 1% of the giving, and 20% of attendees give nothing.
“Stewardship” is often presented as the answer, but it is pretty weak broth. It looks in the wrong end of the telescope and shrinks biblical discipleship down to the task of making good and generous investments of one’s time, talent, and financial gifts. But in Romans 12:1-2, the focus is not on the transformation of the steward’s resources. The focus is on the presentation of the Christian’s whole life as an offering. God is less concerned about our donations and more about who we are becoming as we make them. Stewardship is too small a category when what we’re talking about here is being transformed into the likeness of Christ!
So Transformational Giving contends that comprehensive discipleship is the biblical framework for talking about giving. It recognizes that the giving of Christians parallels their overall maturity in Christ. So if you want to grow giving in a particular area of a Christian’s life, you have to grow their overall maturity in Christ in that area. A Christian’s financial donation will be roughly the same size as their head, their heart, and their hands in relation to a particular cause.
Embarrassingly, secular fundraisers have known this for years. Beginning in 2001, a series of studies have shown that a person who is asked to become comprehensively involved in a cause will be 50% more likely to give financially to the cause than a person who is just asked to support the cause financially. And that’s common sense, really. We give to what we care about. Transformational Giving says, “Let’s work with the Holy Spirit to grow Christians to full maturity in Christ in the causes Christ cares about. Let’s grow them not only financially but holistically.”