A few years ago, I was out running one morning with a guy in my church who has helped me a great deal in thinking through the discussion that surrounds generosity. In between strained breaths, he recounted for me some of the things that he thought our church was really good at. I knew that a “But” was on it’s way. And then he said it. “But you know what our church is not so good at?” I slowed down a bit so I could catch it before he said: “What’s my ROI?”
Now, before you get upset thinking that he was acting like an American consumer, let me clarify that he was not talking about what he personally got from his giving to our church. He wasn’t referring to the Sunday gatherings where he worships and learns and enjoys community. He was not referring to the Student Ministry where his kids had made solid connections. He was well aware of the kids ministry and coffee bar and even the time he got to spend with pastors like me and he appreciated all of it. What he felt like we could do better with was sharing the story of how the church was investing the dollars people gave to actually change the world, not just his life.
And you know what? He was totally right. With the exception of a couple times a year, we were not putting a ton of time into sharing with people how we were seeking the best return on their financial investments in our church. Many people will blindly and happily give to the church and not really expect to know what gets accomplished with that money, but my friends point was that as you progress into categories of socio-economic ability, you tend to look harder at the investments you make. You look for the ROI.
I took that conversation to heart and began to really think through how we as a church could get better at this. Our Generosity Initiative gave us a chance to really tell our story well and show what kind of impact we are having around the world. Our follow up to that initiative continued that effort. I think we as pastors have lots to learn here, and my hope is that the solutions we come to will be Gospel-centered and truly inspiring. Not the kind of inspiration that makes you write checks, the kind of inspiration that makes you stop and say “Thank you Jesus for allowing me to play a small part in this world change.” My hope is that this becomes a part of church culture, not as a shakedown, but a true inspiration and confirmation of the Spirit’s work. I’m grateful for that one man’s hard but true word for me and I hope he has a little better sense of his ROI today then he did a few years ago.