Are you using a broken playbook from the 60s?

Are you using a broken playbook from the 60s to encourage giving in your church?


In 1987, Bob Knight could do no wrong. He had just led the Indiana University Basketball team to another national championship (his third) and the Indiana University Basketball program was one of the most desirable programs for any young athlete that wanted to play at the highest level of collegiate basketball. Flash forward just 13 years later and Knight was fired by the university for poor treatment of his players.

If you know much about the culture of collegiate athletics, you understand that a “rough and stern” approach to coaching was the norm for most of the 20th century. Coaches often screamed at players and sometimes even got in fights with them.

However, as more stories of abuse and poor treatment of players came to the surface, as well as the athletes ending tolerance of such treatment, the culture shifted. Programs like Knight’s at IU stopped getting good players. The best recruits opted instead for programs where they were treated with respect.

Knight used a playbook he’d learned from a different era and for a while it worked. With it he won 3 national championships. Then the culture changed and his playbook was no longer effective. Knight was given opportunities to adapt at different schools, but that playbook kept him from ever returning to the pinnacle of the sport.

There is a similar culture shift taking place in charitable giving and a need for a new playbook. Church giving is facing an epidemic in the United States. According to a study co-authored by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, in 1990, 60+% of all charitable giving went to churches. Today, churches receive half of that amount. This means that despite greater charitable giving numbers than ever before, the church is facing a recession in giving that’s been in place since the early 90s. Unless churches take action, this trend will continue to squeeze the church and hinder its expansion.

One of the facets driving this trend? Churches using a playbook that no longer works.

In 1947, part-time preacher Oral Roberts resigned from his pastoral ministry with the Pentecostal Holiness Church to found the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association that became a thriving multi-million dollar organization by the 60s and with it, language that churches continue to use today when encouraging people to give.

Have you ever encouraged someone to give by quoting passages like Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it”

Or, what about “We give in response to God who gives good gifts?”

If you do, you are using a playbook as old as Oral Roberts.  A survey of church history shows that Roberts used this passage to great effect in helping finance the operations of his ministry.  Interestingly, prior to Roberts this was not a passage widely used in direct connection as a teaching for why to give to a local church.  Roberts took a passage of scripture and created a new playbook around it.  It was very effective for many years and continues to be used on many church website giving pages and in sermons on giving.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t work anymore. It’s actually getting in the way of your church connecting with donors. When surveyed, givers want to hear about how their contribution furthers the work of the church. Today’s givers are focused on impact and results. This is one of the reasons that NPOs (not-for-profit) organizations are gaining an increasing share of charitable giving dollars, they are adapting to the desires of the giving base, while the church uses language that was effective for a time, but no longer.

So, when you think about the language you use to encourage givers to support the work of your church, are you using the same playbook birthed by Oral Roberts? Or, are you presenting an authentic case for why someone should consider partnering with and supporting the work of the church? If you are doing more of the former and not more of the latter, be prepared to see continued struggles in raising the needed support for your church.

There is language that we hold onto as if we believed that it was always spoken like that. In reality, someone somewhere began using fresh language to inspire new generations and the whole culture shifted. This happened with the work of Oral Roberts.  He built a new playbook for giving to churches and ministries around the Malachi 3:10 passage and inspired many to give generously.  It worked for decades, but it not any longer.  The benefit is that there is freedom to come up with new language for new generations, or to create language closer to the intent of the passage of scripture. Let’s imagine a new playbook!

Questions for discussion with your church’s finance team:

  • When surveyed, why do the givers in our church give to our church?
  • Apart from our church, what other organizations do our givers support? What reasons do they give to support those organizations?
  • What language could we use to authentically communicate our need for support without dipping into a broken playbook from the 60s?

If you need help with a new playbook, consider joining our IGNITE coaching program. In this program we spend significant time building the case for funding your church that will serve the church for years (and hopefully decades) to come. Not ready for IGNITE? Sample some of the concepts in our free CHURCH GIVING MAKEOVER.

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