Recently a colleague alerted me to an article posted on the Christianity Today website that made my head swell and my heart sing. Written by Abby Stocker, the article is entitled “The Secrets of a Giving Church.” In it she reports on research done by the Center for Social Research at Calvin College indicating that, on average, Christian Reformed folks donate at least twice as much money to their churches as most other church folks give to theirs. Not only that, but the rate of giving (6.1 percent of income) has remained steady even through the challenging economic times that followed the 2007 financial market meltdown. Of course, those who give generously to their church do so elsewhere as well.
This stuff matters because we should take seriously the seemingly scandalous words of the Teacher: “. . . money is the answer for everything” (Eccl. 10:19). If that weren’t so, Jesus wouldn’t have talked about money so much: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
I take our Lord’s words to mean that generous giving is a key indicator of spiritual health. Our confessions, our church polity, even our worship and faith nurture are just empty words if they don’t lead, among other things, to a positive bottom line. It’s so encouraging to see that they do. Unlike some other indicators, this one is measurable and palpable.
As CRC folk, we certainly have our differences. But as long as those differences do not affect the way we hit the offering plate, we can be reassured that they have not degraded into divisions. They are not fatal. I find that immensely comforting and energizing.
The study went on to hypothesize a reason for this strong financial commitment to church. It concluded that CRC churches dare to set clear expectations without being legalistic. We are not shy about “making the ask”—unabashedly applying biblical norms on the pulpit and off. At the same time, we rely on God’s Spirit to do the convicting and growing that leads to open hearts and open wallets. We don’t get out the score sheets to shame and blame each other. After all, it’s the cheerful giver, not the surly or embarrassed one, that God loves (2 Cor. 9:6).
Roger Rice, who led this study, concludes: “Generosity is just a natural outcome of spiritual health.” The study backs that up too: those who engage in daily personal devotions give more than those who let spiritual disciplines slide. The closer our heart beats with God’s, the easier it is for us to translate self-sacrificing love into cold, hard currency.
Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 may have been about many different spiritual matters. But I think it is first of all about money. God cares a lot about how and where we invest his capital.
This Thanksgiving (whether you’re celebrating in October or November), I am truly grateful for the sustained generosity shown by my brothers and sisters in the CRC. May it be ever so.