One of the best things about church is that it is an intentional community where you can live your values. In a world where almost everything is based on a transactional "fee-for-service" system, church is one place where things operate differently. A church shares its services with you joyfully, until you decide that you feel ready to give joyfully back. Giving is an important part of the mutual relationship we have with our churches and with all of the people in our faith.
One of the things I've noticed throughout the years is we always expect adults to give, but sometimes we forget that younger generations in our congregations want to live generous lives too! To me, generosity is an extremely powerful spiritual practice and therefore we must allow everyone an opportunity to practice it. Everyone who walks through the doors of a church more than once can become a steward of it. Three practices to help you promote stewardship and generosity within the younger generations of your congregation are honesty, courage, and gratitude.Honesty
We often think of money as something not to be discussed in polite society, but money is also one of the ways we live our values. Be honest with the younger members of your congregation about what the cost of running the church is. Encourage people to talk about how much they pledge and why. Welcome them into conversations about finances and stewardship, and especially during canvass drive testimonials. Ask some youth to sit in on your Board's budget discussions. As Jacob Lew has said, budgets are an expression of our values. To witness church leadership discuss hard truths about spending and income can be incredibly powerful.
For young adults, be honest that we need their time and talents, but also their treasure, even if their treasure is just a dollar a week. Sometimes we don't know about all of the work and money it takes behind the scenes to care for our spaces and communities. Try inviting your youth and young adults to take care of a part of the church that is theirs to be stewards of. What's that, they have their own room, you say? Awesome, but that doesn't count!Courage Stewardship is hard. Being generous is hard. Asking adults to be stewards and give is hard and asking youth and young adults is especially hard! This is why you need to be courageous enough to ask in the first place. If you're honest and brave, it will go well.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Office of Youth and Young Ministries recently started our new Summer Seminary Alumni Leadership program. One of the goals is to promote stewardship and generosity within the alumni. When I first asked the students, I was really worried that the only responses I was going to get would be, "I would but I'm a broke college student," or "You know I'm only in high school, right?!?" I got a few of those responses, but many of the alumni donated. If I hadn't asked, likely none of them would have considered making a gift.
If the answer you receive is "Sorry, I'm a broke college student," you can encourage them to share their time, passion, and talents instead. Unitarian Universalist (UU) youth and young adults generally prefer to serve than to sit passively by, so give them opportunities to serve in ways that recharge their soul. You can also inspire conversation about generosity by asking your youth group to choose the organizations your congregation will "share the plate" with for a year.
One response you might get is "Why would I give to the church when we have to fundraise for all of our own programs?" Feedback is not always positive, but we are called to listen and examine the ways we are stewards of our entire ministry. Remember part of generosity and stewardship is ownership, and if you create opportunities that create a sense of ownership you'll see the benefits down the road.Gratitude Gratitude is a form of joy, to paraphrase Roan, one of our Summer Seminary 2015 alumni. Both stewardship and generosity are learned skills, and one of the ways we develop skills is through positive rewards. Reminding ourselves and our peers that leading a generous life feels good is a great way to make sure that generosity continues for a lifetime. Visibly and frequently recognizing the gifts the younger generations of your church share will encourage them to continue sharing those gifts. I hear stories from youth and young adults whose service to their congregation went unrecognized because their financial contributions weren't significant enough. The volunteer service of youth and young adults is just as important as that of older adults and sometimes more difficult to manage. Have you seen the schedules of our youth these days? And young adults are frequently working jobs with varying schedules, trying to make their way into their career, and/or balancing school at the same time. Be honest, be courageous, and be grateful. If your congregation promotes stewardship and generosity in children, youth, and young adults, let us know because we want to show gratitude for the work you are doing! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will feature it in a future post! Next steps:
Check out Laurel Amabile's Blog Giving Speaks. As a UU, Laurel provides unique insights into stewardship within our context.
Want to go deeper? The UUA has curricula fostering stewardship and generosity for everyone from primary-school-aged children to adults:
One of my new favorite church resources is Chuck Knows Church. "The Committee" is a series addressing common problems within congregations, especially small churches. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, so it requires some translation. This episode about stewardship talks about the history of tithing as well as best practices about stewardship and generosity. This one is a short video about the history of the offering plate.