Generous Giving

The latest report on giving by United
Methodists reveals generosity beyond expectations. It also reveals the power of
the internet and changes in giving that will require serious analysis and
accommodation.

United Methodists were unusually generous in their giving to the church in 2005 according to figures released this week by the General Council on Finance and Administration through the church’s treasurer, Sandra Lackore. She told United Methodist media in a webcast that giving was up 50% over the previous year with a significant part of the increase directed to humanitarian relief in response to the tsunami and hurricane disasters.

Ms. Lackore’s remarks should be encouraging to all who see the glass half full rather than half empty. Beleaguered United Methodists have a tendency to see the latter and not the former.

I think it’s way too early to draw conclusions but I also think this report points to several trends that church leaders should consider. First, the response to the hurricane and tsunami was media driven. The messages went around traditional communication channels and gatekeepers and directly to the audience. The media delivered compelling stories to the broader audience which includes members of local churches and they responded. There’s a message here about the way people get information today and how they will respond if they are provided with accessible ways to give.

The second learning is that people give to other people. It’s an old saw in fundraising but we seem to need constant reminders. When the emotional trauma of the flooding in New Orleans and the destruction in Mississippi and Alabama was made clear, people responded out of an urgent desire to help.

The third interesting learning from Ms. Lackore’s remarks is her mention that giving online increased by 30%. That’s a quantum increase for a mode of giving that has never been a part of the giving history of the denomination. And, as she said, this giving did not flow through traditional channels such as the local church offering plate nor denominational funds. Yet, it’s not clear that local church giving was helped or hurt by this additional channel.
She’s correct to say that this will require more analysis and evaluation because we’re in new territory here.

And finally, I am mindful of the social context in which people gave. 2005 saw the continuation of plant closings in basic industries in the United States, stagnant wages, increases in health care and fuel costs and the lowest savings rate (in fact, a negative savings rate) since the Great Depression. Despite this, people gave.

I know that as we drill deeper into the 2005 giving statistics there will be additional learnings and I suspect they will tell us some things we don’t really want to hear. However, I can’t help but think that overall this is quite a remarkable report. And I think reviewing these statistics along with other research into attitudes and beliefs will give us a view of the changing landscape today.

Until someone can convince me I should think otherwise, I’m going to find hope in these figures.

I choose to see this giving response as a sign of compassion and concern. When we saw people drowning we wanted to throw them a lifeline, and we did what we could under the circumstances. We reached for our wallets, we sat down at our computers and responded as quickly as possible.

I’ve heard plenty of critique about this. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It doesn’t involve deeper commitment. It’s a quick fix for guilt. It’s superficial. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe so.

But maybe we saw that we’re in this mess together and if we share just a bit we’ll all be better off. Maybe we looked inward and found a touch of compassion that hasn’t been squeezed out of us in a cynical and grasping materialistic society. And maybe we rediscovered our humanity as we saw others in distress and we remembered that life, every life, is fragile and any one of us could be consumed by the swirling waters. Maybe some common understanding broke through our defenses and for a brief moment we remembered that we are connected in ways that are easily forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.

So that’s how I’m going to read these statistics until someone can give me a compelling and convincing case that I should believe otherwise.

And all I’m going to say to those who gave is,Thank You!

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