August 16th, 2016

Summer Slump or Surplus Season

Inverness signIt’s summer and the temperature is getting steamy in Birmingham, AL. Schedules are cranking up around the church and vacations are in full swing. For most church leaders the beginning of the “summer slump” is a somewhat regrettable season. It usually begins with a lack of resources from the first five months of the calendar year. This is either created by over-spending, under-giving, or a combination of both. Then summer is met with raised expenses due to mission trips and camps. All this while attendance and giving both decline. It can be the perfect storm every 12 months. What is commonly seen as unavoidable is totally curable.

I recently enjoyed a lunch with the Senior Pastor, Bubba Justice, and Executive Pastor, Steve Cole from Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, AL. Their generosity report was very different. Here is what I heard:

  • Tithes and Offerings are up 8%
  • Total income is up 21% over projected budget
  • Giving is 8% ahead of expenses
  • Digital, weekday, and giving received in the mail is up 25%

Needless to say, this is a great way to head into summer and creates positive expectation beyond in both the staff and congregation as a whole. So how did we get here?

Step 1: Inverness Vineyard possessed a clearly articulated Motive (Value) for their organization in their Vision language. It is not a secret, but was collaboratively developed and is top-shelf on the minds of leaders. It states, “We are faithful with everything God has given us.” This clarity provides both a motivational feel and a filter for decisions. It reminds leaders to not live in another world, but to be faithful with their resources on that given day to fulfill the Vision.

Additionally, they possess a clearly articulated Habit (Measure) of a Christ-follower to help their church members better understand the path of spiritual development they need to walk. It states, “Give a regular offering in a God-honoring way.” Successful Christianity was moving beyond a dress code and event participation on a Sunday morning. This Habit is so clearly stated that a believer knows exactly how they are doing. Both a Motive for the leader and a Habit for the believer are great starting points, but they need a plan of accountable action.

Step 2: The church leadership was willing to name a substantial growth area that was hard. After doing some research, it was learned that 50% of the families or individuals attending Inverness Vineyard made no financial contribution in the course of a year. $0 was being given by 50% of the people. The Habit of “giving a regular offering” was an obvious discipleship need. This was shocking information when it was first realized. Inverness Vineyard is an average size church with hundreds of normal people in attendance, all while sitting in one of the most affluent counties in its state. It is certainly known for serving the poor as well as any church I know, but certainly 50% of the people could give something. Many times church leaders lack the grace needed to help individuals grow in the area of giving. Shame and guilt are unfortunately all too common results from how pastors address a struggle with generosity. Not the case at Inverness Vineyard. Grace abounds and practical steps with supporting help were on the way.

Step 3: Further conversations developed and it was learned that there are actually multiple types of givers noted in both the Scriptures and realized in their church. These needed to be articulated, affirmed, and led. Five types of givers developed from the “Consuming Giver” to “Overflowing Giver.” Each giver would have a Bible hero to learn from and follow. Personal growth steps that were helpful and practical would be provided. All ages would be engaged. What was needed was not a fund raising campaign for a project, but an opportunity to help people discover God’s best for their financial lives. It was about the people learning to honor God with their generosity, not about a financial need or crisis in the life of the church. Finally, this would not be a short team emphasis, but a long-term strategy of consistent spiritual growth.

Step 4: The staff had to learn a new language and practice new disciplines. Money can be seen as an unfortunate conversation that is forced or one to be avoided at all cost. Most staff members are more than glad to have their pastor address it, but will stand far back when it comes to vision and generosity. They needed clarity and confidence. The team needed to see generosity as a spiritual discipline just like prayer or Bible study. This released their creative energy. Confidence increased among the team as collaboration began. They were beginning to see how they could be “faithful” as leaders with all God had entrusted to them. When clarity and confidence joins the party success becomes highly probable.

Step 5: So you know this is just the beginning of their generosity story. Inverness Vineyard has only begun living generously and it doesn’t stop with their finances. People are now storing personal resources awaiting God’s voice of where to direct their giving. They are making adjustments as disciples to live for the Kingdom. Five Cities of Hope have begun. (Think small groups set on turbo to become house churches and church plants.) Their goal this year was to start three. God exceeded their expectations as only He could. One City Of Hope is living generously by taking on the mission of giving clothes to the poor in their community. These life giving new units are spread across the metro Birmingham area overflowing generosity. The reach of Inverness Vineyard has expanded far beyond its current location. The spiritual discipline of generosity actually fuels far more than the offering plate. It produces positive energy toward many relationships and efforts. It is safe to say the money conversation has changed forever.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to realize that both avoiding money as a spiritual conversation and chasing money to meet a need can have disastrous consequences. If you are passionate about God’s plan for generous living, then that is a completely different story. God has a vision for your church and all the resources to accomplish the vision. Learn to avoid the fund raising mindset and pressure with a whole new generosity culture. Your team and people will be glad you did.


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