Should Pastors Know How Much Church Members Give?

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I still remember the first time I overheard how many church members hadn’t contributed a penny to the church’s annual budget.

It’s an understatement to say numbers aren’t my thing. But even I could calculate the difference if these same members had been giving something. . . anything!

You read correctly — I used the word "overheard" because during my years as a parish pastor, I never wanted to know how much church members were (or weren’t) giving. I didn’t think it was any of my business. I realize now that I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I was missing the fact that some people have never learned how to manage their personal finances, or just aren’t very good at it. I wasn’t considering those who live with such burdensome debt they’ve lost all hope of escaping it. 

Whatever the circumstances, knowing who is struggling is the obvious first step toward helping them.   

But what about those who give regularly and even generously? Why learn at the details of their giving?

Here, I take my cue from the Apostle Paul who doesn’t shy away from encouraging eager church members to continue giving. In 2 Corinthians, he spends two chapters discussing this. It’s almost uncomfortable!

Paul understands even generous givers can grow weary in giving. The pitfalls of giving reluctantly or under compulsion need to be named and believers called to give cheerfully so that “all grace can abound.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NIV)

Then there are those who need to be thanked. Some give in particularly sacrificial ways during unique or trying times in the life of a church. Timely and targeted giving requires timely and targeted thanks. But it’s impossible to deliver this thanks if you don’t know who the givers are in the first place!

I get the pitfalls here – the concerns about stepping on toes, meddling, and/or pandering. Pleading ignorance about member giving can be framed as acts of piety and protection. But the responsibility for leadership that is both pastorally sensitive and even responsible outweighs these concerns.

Now, when I see pastors who make knowing what members give their business, I see it for what it is – good leadership and solid pastoral practice.  

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Good thoughts Phillip.  Of course knowing how much a person or household gives is still just part of the equation.  You would also need to know approximately what their income is, since biblical giving is in proportion to income, not the inherently unjust per member assessment the CRC has for so long been trying to do.  I have preached on giving but never on per member or per household amounts, always giving in proportion. Takes a while for churches and their leaders to shift away from the old pattern of thinking.  Takes even longer for Classes to approach a tithing model of congregations giving in proportion to their resources, rather than simply number of members.

Thanks, Colin. Obviously, most folks are careful about sharing household income but an anonymous survey would give people the freedom to choose a range of income which is helpful information too. There's another piece here too that I haven't touched on which is financial literacy. Providing resources around growing budgeting and saving skills is another part of good leadership.  

I think it is very important for pastors AND elders to know how much the congregants are giving because it also may indicate a spiritual problem or that someone is unhappy with things in the church and doesn't wish to support it any more financially. In the Bible it says that where our hearts are, there will our treasure be. Church leaders need to find out why nongivers are holding back and address those reasons personally with the reluctant giver.

 

While I agree that pastors should have access to offering information for pastoral reasons there are plenty of elder and deacons who will not agree, especially at churches who "don't have a giving problem."

If you are looking for reasons beyond those listed in this article and the comments, a good resource on this topic is, Not Your Parents Offering Plate, by J. Clif Christopher. His follow-up book, Whose Offering Plate Is It?, is also good, but I would recommend reading the first one, first. The second offers further clarification and feedback received following the first book.