Millennials and Giving
Do millennials in your congregation practice the tithe? Do they give at all? If not, what would it take to get them involved?
Christianity Today reports that a recent survey from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA) found that millennials “will give you more money if you encourage them to make a ‘meaningful’ gift rather than a ‘generous’ one.”
The survey also found “Almost all millennials surveyed...gave to their church in the past few years (92%). About a third gave to denominational ministries (35%); slightly more gave to secular charities (39%).”
The EFCA surveyed over 16,000 people and compiled a treasure trove of data. Read the full CT report. Millennials are open to being charitable and are looking for causes they can support. They are more prone to give to causes that connect with their passions and are driven by making a tangible difference in the world. Appeals for “meaningful” gifts connect with millennials’ desire to be world-changers.
But in light of the findings, church leaders should also ask why appeals on the basis of “generosity” are less effective. The EFCA report should not be read as a manual for fundraising rhetoric or as a basis for technique. Generosity is a Christian virtue and should be seen as an independent good. Generosity is cultivated through discipleship and directly reflects on our understanding of grace.
Consider Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. Paul lifts up the example of the Macedonian Christ-followers, who gave generously out of their poverty and during persecution. Paul writes that they “voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means” and that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.” Paul then urges the Corinthians, “Now as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you--so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”
Paul does not call ministry a meaningful undertaking, though it is. He calls it a generous undertaking with which the Corinthians can join. Paul’s basis for generosity is given in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Paul is not only referring to Christ’s material poverty, but also his self-emptying that brought about our redemption, described in Philippians 2:1-11.
Once again, Paul does not refer to Christ’s action as a meaningful act, though it is. He calls it a generous act. The salvation extended to us in Christ is a generous act prior to its being found a meaningful act. Stated differently, the salvation offered in Jesus Christ is seen of meaningful precisely because it is first generous, the most generous gift ever bestowed upon the world.
Meaningful gifts can still be meaningful, but can also be given out of a self-centered motivation. But generous gifts are given freely, as a response, as an act of faith that the gift given will be stewarded well, and with no strings attached. Generous gifts are also meaningful, but their root, or basis, can be very different and truly others-focused.
In teaching millennials, our challenge is to impart generosity as a virtue, and then the challenge before leaders is to steward that generosity well in order that the gift may deepen in meaning and serve to increase the joy of the fellowship. Our gifts are a response to what Jesus Christ has done, and thus our willingness to give is rooted in the gospel. Generosity is a deeper starting point for meaning. Generosity is a pointer to the most meaningful act in human history which is also the most generous: the gift of Jesus Christ.