Jeff Manion of Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan spotlights his church’s approach to giving and what they’ve learned along the way.
Name + role: Jeff Manion, Senior Pastor 25+ yearsChurch: Ada Bible ChurchLocation: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USACongregation size: 8.5-10k
What’s your giving philosophy?
The offering baskets give us the opportunity to say please and thank you, but that’s not where we attempt to do our training.
We invest in a sermon series every couple years that covers Biblical financial perspectives—that work is honorable, that we take care of our families, that debt is dangerous, that we’re supposed to live under our means so there’s margin to save and margin to give away.
Our series will include a sermon on generosity, but it encompasses much more than that. We’re concerned with teaching and training, theory, and practical everyday money management strategies. Speaking about money is easier as time goes on because many of the financial train wrecks start to turn around when you invest in training.
Ultimately, it starts at the top. My wife and I live more simply than we can afford to live.
And that makes our conversations about finances more genuine because we’re inviting people into that same lifestyle.
Teaching motivates people to enter into training, ‘You’ve learned why, now here’s how.’ So we normally offer a class at the end of a series.
One resource we’ve found extremely helpful is Andy Stanley’s Balanced. It’s as simple as how to put a budget together. People have a step by step process to follow. That’s huge. We also use the Crown Ministries 10-week course.
What are some of the most important things for givers to understand about their giving?
The way the Bible speaks about money is a very liberating and freeing conversation.
- We’re stewards: God is the owner, we’re the manager. It’s just a different way to see our money. How much would He be pleased for me to spend on me, save, give away? When we realize that God’s the owner, it makes a lot more sense to ask these questions and live within the answers.
- Generosity is anchored in the character of God: We’re generous because He’s generous. One of the first verses any child encounters is John 3:16: “…for God so loved the world that He gave [emphasis added] His only begotten Son…” When we speak of the grace of God, we’re speaking of that aspect of God’s character that is generous.
- God loves a cheerful giver because He’s a cheerful giver. The spiritual DNA of giving is grafted into us. So we ask, how can we be generous with more than just money? What does it look like to be generous with our words and acts too? Generosity includes finances but it doesn’t stop there.
I understand you have a unique way of talking about giving at Ada—can you tell us about the four week cycle and what needs it addresses?
The four week giving cycle started as a way of putting our announcement people on rotation. It grew out of the feeling that our offering announcements kept saying the same thing, week after week, and getting stuck in a rut. We thought we could shake things up if we set up a consistent rhythm where we emphasized different aspects of giving during each weekend of a month:
It was interesting because as soon as we landed on it, all of the people responsible for giving announcements were deeply grateful just to have direction every week and not feel like they had to repeat themselves.
It wasn’t scientific; we didn’t survey before or after, but intuitively, we always say please, thank you, here’s how, and celebrate what God’s doing. We encourage people that if they’re hanging out with us, we’d love for them to help us with the work.
We’re free to do this because the offering reinforces the training we conduct at other times when we pursue more in-depth content, like a sermon series. If I’m honest, there are a few things we didn’t anticipate when we changed our approach and they’re the reason we’re constantly adjusting.
Celebrating the work we’ve been able to do is actually backfiring, interestingly enough.
People are saying, ‘I give to other places because Ada doesn’t need my money.’ They don’t understand, ‘We give because you give.’
So, we’ll continue to train and continue to adjust our approach. We’ve got to remember: it’s never going to be a perfect system.
What are some challenges you face when you talk about giving with your church?
There’s a massive amount of culture that works against us. Some of this may have changed during the housing collapse, but people continue to use their credit cards to buy stuff today and pay it off tomorrow.
You know, there are people whose hearts God tugs to give, but they’re so upside down and they’re in such a [financial] mess that they’re really unable to give. It’s a lot of work to swim against those cultural currents.
You can’t address the issue in a sermon and you can’t address it in an announcement.
Helping people see that we all have more stuff, but enjoy it less, takes time. Helping them see that our houses are larger, but they’re so full of crap that we can’t even get our cars into the garage takes time. Reversing these ideas is an on-going challenge. Poor financial management will never go away; this is an aspect of discipleship that is continual.
You can’t just check it off, ‘Yeah we covered generosity in 2009! We’re good to go forever.’
At Ada, we believe the training and classes are absolutely essential. We have new people all the time so we need to remember that when we do something in 2014, people who joined our church in the last year weren’t a part of that. And other people, just like a fad diet, will get really excited about it and then let it slip away after six weeks. They have to be reminded.
We’re a healthy church financially and yet, I just don’t think we can take our foot off the gas pedal in relationship to how we view our resources and giving.
Do you do anything outside your normal tithes and offerings to encourage generosity?
Two years ago I published a book called Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption. I walked the congregation through the book and paired it with a DVD study. That was a pretty large undertaking in terms of the training we do.
Trying to get people to give of their living wage who are giving nothing can be a massive challenge. Getting people who give 1-2% of their wages to see that as a small starting point to generosity while challenging them toward more impactful steps. And when people get stuck at 8-10%, they tend to see that as the finish line, not the starting line.
In the series Satisfied, for instance, I encouraged everyone to raise their percentage [of giving] one percentage point. Chris, my wife, and I decided to do it ourselves and decided to leave it there. We challenged the Church, “At whatever percentage you’re giving, don’t get stuck there. If you’re at 10%, jump to 11%. If you’re at 12%, jump to 13%.” It was really cool to see the responses.
Go deeper with Pastor Jeff:
Read >> Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption
Watch >> Giving testimonial during one of Ada's weekend services
We're grateful for our time with Pastor Jeff and can't wait to share more from conversations with other pastors.