Let’s start with some great news: Generosity is thriving across all generations.
Perhaps that feels like an inconsistent statement when you look at the reality that less than 10% of younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) would say they most frequently choose to be generous through monetary giving. Beyond younger generations, the numbers are not much better. Across all generations, just 1 in 5 U.S. Christians would say they most frequently express generosity through monetary giving. This is according to a multi-year generosity study conducted by Barna, commissioned by Thrivent.
Generosity is in a reawakening; to examine what it means for your church community, consider the following questions:
Question 1: How do you define what it means to live a generous life?
Traditionally, measuring generosity happens by examining dollars given and hours served. Giving significant amounts of either of these resources can be accompanied by the idea that you are a generous person. With the help of our research, I would like to offer up expanded definition of generosity as “giving to others.” And it is showing up well Monday through Friday for all generations. This definition is inclusive of so much more than dollars and hours as you will see. Additionally, we found that U.S. Christians are placing a special priority on generosity in their lives. 88% of U.S. Christians say generosity is extremely or very important to them, with Gen Z (92%) and Millennials (95%) being the highest among all generations. That’s right: the younger generations are leading the way when it comes to prioritizing generosity as an important value to pursue.
Question 2: What exactly does generosity look like?
Generosity looks like discipleship.
As I talk with pastors and other church leaders across the country, we often look at discipleship as the ongoing process of coming into a greater knowledge of who God is and the responses that accompany that experience. Generosity is a response to comprehending what we have received. In other words, as we come to a deeper understanding of Christ, the understanding of what we have received and what can be given to others also grows deeper. Certainly, we’ve been given financial resources, but we have been given so much more than that.
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) sets us up well to understand a broader picture of generosity and specifically the five major Generosity Expressions™ we found in our research with Barna.
The 5 Generosity Expressions
- Hospitality:Being open and welcoming to others—especially to those who are different from you. (V. 30, 32)
- Gifts:Nonmonetary resources being offered for the benefit of others. (V. 34)
- Emotional and relational support:Being there for someone through compassionate listening and encouragement. (V. 33)
- Monetary support:Using financial resources to offer aid. (V. 35)
- Volunteering or service:Giving time to serve the needs of others. (V. 34-35)
Additionally, the parable of the good Samaritan teaches us about a significant driving force behind much of our generous behavior: Compassion drives generosity.
83% of U.S. Christians surveyed said their generosity is always or often driven by compassion, with Gen Z and Millennials leading the way. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.” (Luke 10:33 ESV)
Question 3: How are you talking about money?
Fewer than 1 in 5 U.S. Christians surveyed said their pastor talks about topics like saving for the future, and personal debt management when they teach about money. In fact, pastors are 3½ times more likely to talk about church giving than to address personal debt. Our research also told us that 40% of the time when a pastor talks about money, it includes a request to give financially to the church.
Money is not an easy topic to talk about; I get it. But a powerful opportunity is at-hand for churches. More than ever, people need practical knowledge and tools that will help them make wise financial choices. Wisefinancial stewardship is not just the 10%, but also resides deeply in the 90%. How can you help the people in your church community make wise financial choices in the 90%?
Strengthen the culture of generosity in your church
Thrivent commissioned Barna to conduct original research on multigenerational generosity in 2017 called The Generosity Gap.An additional phase of research was completed in January 2019. Thrivent’s focus in this research is to equip churches with meaningful tools and insights that will help Christians make wise financial choices and inspire them to live generously.
Matt Randerson works at Minneapolis-based Thrivent in Church Engagement. In 2014, Matt received a Pastoral Ministry Degree from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is deeply passionate about equipping local churches with creative insights that help pave a path forward into the next generation of discipleship. Over the past several years, Matt has been working extensively with the Barna Group to conduct multigenerational research on the topic of generosity, which has led to the development of several learning experiences for thousands of pastors across the country. During his free time, he enjoys time on the golf course and the lake with family and friends.