Oct 5, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Jim Sheppard & Julie Bullock on Generosity & Discipleship

This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, Jim Sheppard (CEO of Generis) and Julie Bullock (Senior Generosity Strategist at Generis) join Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman to discuss generosity. Together, the four explore common barriers to giving, the root struggles pastors face around money and how to disciple a church towards generosity.

On Discipleship Towards a “Giving From” Posture
Kinnaman shares recent Barna data showing that only 42 percent of Christians say it’s “very important” that individual Christians donate money to their church. Meanwhile, just over one in 10 from this same group (13%) say that it’s unimportant to give money to their church.

Bullock addresses some of the underlying issues that pastors need to face when building a church culture where generosity is prioritized. She notes, “There’s this interesting dichotomy when you think about the giving to, and the giving from that givers do in the Church. [….] There’s a discipling opportunity in the giving from rather than the giving to.”

She shares the benefits this has for a full community, explaining, “Whenever the local church does what it does best in discipling givers, giving to your church rises, and giving to other kingdom enterprises also rises. That’s our unique role as disciplers; the local church is actually teaching people how to give, not just how to give to your church.”

Sheppard adds, ”You’re giving as an encounter with you and God over your money and possessions, and then the Church becomes the beneficiary of what happens when you and God have that encounter […] We give because of our relationship with God, not because my church needs my money.”

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On Common Barriers to Generosity
This same Barna study found that four in five churchgoing Christians (80%) agree that their church informs their congregation about the impact their giving has. Despite pastors willingness to share about giving, leaders still face many challenges when trying to activate their church towards a broader posture of generosity. 

Sheppard says, “We’re seeking tactical solutions to a transformational challenge. We’re applying more of a fundraising ideology over the top of a biblical stewardship problem, and that’s why we’re blocked at getting solutions. The answer is we have to really flip the script in America. […] All the other things are just symptomatic of the larger problem than it is a spiritual issue. Our relationship as followers with money is not financial, it’s a financial tool, but our relationship is spiritual.”

Bullock shares some other reasons people don’t give. “There are people that are just unable to… but a lot of [people] are unwilling because there is some type of a misperception or something about the church that’s a hindrance to them,” she says. “A lot are not just uninformed and uninspired practically, but truly uninformed and uninspired spiritually […] So you’ve got to inspire and inform them spiritually first.”

On Opportunities After the Pandemic
Both Sheppard and Bullock see tremendous opportunities for discipleship in generosity, both for church congregants and church leaders, especially in light of trends throughout the pandemic.

Sheppard says, “If we suspected we had a discipleship problem in America, we now know we do. The discipleship culture of the American church has been exposed as being insufficient—COVID did that.”

“Hard times don’t cause giving to go away; they just accelerate a trend that was already in place,” Sheppard notes. “So if you show me a church that’s really struggling in COVID, I’d take you back to 2019 and show you where they were already struggling.”

Bullock leaves pastors with a word of encouragement, saying, “I know this has been one of the most weary seasons. […] We love you. We pray for you constantly and this particular subject. When in doubt, just stick to Scripture for what you’re calling people to in this season, and we have seen some incredible, encouraging leadership come out from so many of you.”

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About the Research
Mission India: This data is based on a representative sample of 2,000 U.S. Christian adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from June 8 to June 28, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Featured image by Pierre Jeanneret on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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