Maybe it’s a coincidence.
Maybe it’s not.
For the first time ever, Philadelphia Eagles fans get to celebrate a Super Bowl title. It just so happens that the championship came two weeks after Eagles fans took a big step toward turning around their less-than-stellar reputation.
Let’s be honest. Few NFL fan bases have a worse reputation around the league than the Eagles. Just a few weeks ago, The Thrillist ranked the Eagles fan base as the fifth most obnoxious in the NFL. But this is an improvement. In 2015, they were the most hated fans in America, according to Sports Illustrated.
That’s why no one was particularly surprised when they hosted the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game and things got a bit heated. One couple reportedly had their Vikings hats taken off their heads, tossed into a urinal, and done to them what you might think something tossed into a urinal would have done to them. That’s only part of the boorish behavior Viking fans had to endure. But of course, that’s what most people expected from Eagles fans.
It’s what happened next that shocked everyone.
The Generosity of Eagles Fans
To everyone’s surprise, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer woke up a couple of mornings later to thousands of dollars in donations flowing into his charitable foundation. Accompanying the donations were notes asking Zimmer not to judge all Eagles fans “on a few bad apples.”
The Eagles may have been the most surprising fan base to do something like this, but they were not the first.
A few weeks earlier, right as the NFL’s regular season was coming to a close, the Buffalo Bills were on the cusp of making the playoffs. They had already won their final game of the season, sealing their record at 9-7. If the Bengals could beat the Ravens, the Bills would be in the playoffs, which they had not been in since 1999. When Bengals quarterback Andy Daulton tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass at the end of the game to seal a Bengals win and a Bills trip to the playoffs, Bills fans were ecstatic. To say thank you to Daulton and the Bengals, Bills fans flooded Daulton’s charity with gifts (and sent the Bengals more than 1400 chicken wings, too).
A few weeks after that, Vikings fans sent Saints punter Thomas Morstead’s cancer-fighting charity “What You Give Will Grow” more than $175,000 in just a few days. What had the Viking punter done to deserve this? He painstakingly took the field to kick a meaningless extra point at the end of one of the most dramatic games in NFL playoff history. He did this after suffering a cartilage injury to his ribs earlier in the game.
No doubt about it. NFL fans had a generous January.
But the NFL’s month of generosity should be an eye-opener for churches looking to engage givers in their midst.
People Want to Give
You may have heard the opposite, but don’t believe it. Giving is not in decline. In 2016, Americans were more generous than ever, giving away more than $390 billion. Let’s be clear: If people aren’t giving to your church, it’s not because they’re stingy.
It’s likely because you haven’t given them a reason to give—or really made them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. The fans of the teams mentioned above gave to acknowledge specific actions taken during NFL games. They didn’t give to abstractions.
We’d like to think our churches don’t need specific reasons for people to give. We want to believe they’ll give because of their spiritual convictions or because they like us. That may be true for some people, but not for the majority.
If you want people to give to your church’s work, you have to provide a reason why. For example, share your vision. Rick Warren often says, “People give to vision, not to needs.” Show people what you believe God wants to do in your midst. People are waiting to give to something big like that. People will give when you give them a compelling reason to do so.
Guess what? You’ve got a better reason than football team fandom can offer for giving: You improve the community. You comfort the lonely, feed the hungry, save the lost, and train the next generation. Make that vision clear to those you lead.
Note also that these fans gave as part of a community. They were a part of something bigger than themselves. People are born in Eagles’ fandom. They die into Eagles’ fandom. The same is true for for the followers of the Vikings and the Bills. It may not seem like a big deal to a non-sports fan, but to many of these fans, it is. They weren’t giving alone. They were giving with other people who cared about something they did, too (an NFL team).
Your church’s givers want the same. Training givers isn’t just about providing them something to give to; it’s about providing someone to give with.
Give people a reason to give and a family to give with, and your church will have givers for a lifetime.