End of One-Size-Fits All: Cultural Influences in Church Giving

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Yes, it IS more blessed to give than to receive, and the richness of cultures that have, over time, come to America will bless us and our churches as we acknowledge and embrace the differences they bring to us, our churches, and our communities.  The blessings are of mutual benefit, and to ignore them is to impoverish ourselves and our churches in every way. 

“It’s more blessed to give than to receive” is the kind of text that we have heard so often, whether from parents urging their children to share, or from fundraisers presenting their appeal to donors, or from pastors urging their congregations to fill the offering plate.  Certainly there is plenty of evidence verifying this biblical injunction.  Research conducted by prestigious universities and research centers has proven that those who are generous will live longer, be happier, and be healthier.[i] 

So on an individual, personal basis it’s beneficial to be generous.  “Religion and faith are both drivers and indicators of giving. Religious organizations capture a significant proportion of all money donated. Moreover, donors who report being actively engaged in a faith community are more likely to give—and to give more—to the full spectrum of nonprofits and causes.”[ii]  The benefits to the nonprofit sector and specifically to churches of embracing and encouraging generosity are self-evident.  Collectively we benefit from both the act of giving as healthy congregations are formed, and as we make opportunities available to individual church members. 

However, do most church leaders approach giving in the same vein as some advertisers of products such as socks, stating that “one size fits all?”  If so, many opportunities for including diverse populations and their desire to also enjoy the benefits of generosity as well as the functions of nonprofits, including church life, might be overlooked.  People, church members in particular, will give when their preferences, traditions, and motivations for giving are understood and respected. 

This may require something that an author writing in Harvard Business Review called “code switching,” defined as the ability to modify behavior, to accommodate various cultural norms, to have a capacity to manage the psychological challenges that arise when cultural knowledge is translated into action.[iii] 

Church leaders are (or should be) known as those who embrace, value and include differences in their organizations better than anyone else—if we follow the example of Jesus—yet sometimes perhaps these leaders are culturally challenged, or may find it too much of an effort or too complicated a step to take when addressing and including the differences that members of their church, would-be members, or even community members bring to our context.  Admittedly it may not be easy, as differences can be misunderstood and can lead to conflict.  But perhaps these following steps can help in moving ahead in increments until a level of comfort and competence is achieved:

·      Become aware of differences—ask, study, research, explore.

·      Internalize the values.  Believe in diversity.

·      Gradually implement measures that check on inclusivity.

·      Revise procedures and processes if necessary.

·      Involve others in planning and implementation.  Ask questions to identify common beliefs and values among people of each cultural background.

·      Get involved and interact with people of each culture.

·      Be straightforward and honest in communications with people from different backgrounds.

·      Above all, determine and know their values! What is important to the particular population group is critical to acknowledge, and from there work down through each level of community, family and finally the individual.

Yes, it IS more blessed to give than to receive, and the richness of cultures that have, over time, come to America will bless us and our churches as we acknowledge and embrace the differences they bring to us, our churches, and our communities.  The blessings are of mutual benefit, and to ignore them is to impoverish ourselves and our churches in every way. 

 

Lilya Wagner is the Director for Philanthropic Service for Institutions in the North American Division

[i] For a summary of these research studies, please write lilyawagner@nadadventist.org.

[ii] Mark Rovner, Diversity in Giving:  The Changing Landscape of American Philanthropy, Blackbaud, Feb. 2015, p. 5.

[iii] Andrew L. Molinsky, et al. “Three Skills Every 21st-Century Manager Needs,” Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2012).