[Part 2] Why People Don’t Give to Church: Storytelling

Statistics show that only 20 percent of regular church attendees regularly give financial support. Why are the other 80 percent getting lost? There are lots of possible answers to that question, so we’re giving them time and consideration in this 4-part series. In Part 1, we considered the barrier of simplicity, and today, we’re considering how the 80 percent need a deeper connection to the story of giving.

Possibly the understatement of the century is that storytelling is important. Storytelling is in the DNA of Christian Theology. Our “Storytelling brains” fill in the gaps between facts with narrative naturally—so filling in the gaps between facts with a story is a powerful way to reach people. It’s been natural to tie financial giving to a narrative of some kind:

  • You can sponsor a child
  • Give a micro-loan
  • Give a goat or pig to a third-world family
  • Buy a well
  • Build an orphanage
  • Contribute to the building fund
  • Buy a pew or a brick for the courtyard with your name on it.

This type of narrative giving is as old as the church itself.

A Personal Story: The last time I gave using cash

The last time I put cash in an offering bucket (like most of my generation, I prefer to give online), there was a personal connection. I was attending a special event at a local church (which just so happens to be a Pushpay client!) where a college friend of mine was speaking. As the offering buckets were passed, the pastor said the gifts were being collected to thank Tina and her husband for their time and investment.

I knew the church had put on the event for free for their community. The staff had planned and pulled off a classy and professional event, including a food truck “happy hour” dinner. They even invited me, an unplanned guest, to the green room for a beautifully prepared and presented volunteer-made dinner after the event. I knew that Tina had worked and sweated over her teaching material. I felt good about putting my money in that offering bucket.

When I donated at the event, I knew where it was going—I understood a sense of the value I had been given, and, in a way, my gift was really the return of a grateful heart. It was a gift of thanks.

This is a perfect example of giving prompted by the story. But what about the other side of the argument: Why do we need storytelling? Shouldn’t giving be about obedience?

The Flip Side: Shouldn’t giving be about obedience more than storytelling?

As Bruce Wydick puts it in an article for Christianity Today, Jesus was clear with the Pharisee who hosted him for dinner that gifts should not always depend entirely on a value exchange, or even on understanding:

Then Jesus said to his host [a prominent Pharisee], “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)

Sometimes giving is about the heart-act of obedience, and knowing an exact outcome (or story, in this case) is not required.

Why then is it important to build a giving story around your church’s finances?

Are the 80 percent simply in need of some basic obedience training? Shouldn’t they be giving to church with or without a story?

Proverbs 29:18 says: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed” (MSG).

This popular verse is often used in reference to church mission statements, but it applies to finances as well. Casting a vision of ministry impact, tying tithing to an outcome, managing and creating special projects for additional giving opportunities; these storytelling practices paint a picture of the work God is doing and extend an invitation to be a part of it.

Free ebook: Why 80% Don’t Give

Non-profit groups implicitly understand the importance of casting a vision. Rather than relying on obedience, they paint a picture and tell a story. In fact, keeping the impact front and center is now a best practice used by many companies in a category called Social Business or Social Enterprise. These companies recognize a need in the world, understand money is required to solve the need, and find a business model to create money and solve the problem simultaneously.

One such social business is 1:Face, a charity watch company that donates money by selling different color watches.

The story here is that giving accomplishes something of value in the world. Gifts of time, talent, money, and resources are ways to solve problems, reach people, and answer needs. Your church has the same story.

What lessons can churches learn about storytelling from Social Enterprises like 1:Face?

  1. Ministry becomes more effective with financial resources
  2. Millennials, in particular, love transparency with their gifts
  3. We all want to feel that our gifts are effective, that we’re making the world a better place
  4. Storytelling doesn’t have to be at odds with the principle of obedience

While scripture is clear that God asks each of us to give out of obedience, we, as churches, need not fear the use of story to help spark that obedience. Just as money, time, talent, and resources are tools to enact change in the world, storytelling and vision are ways to invite the 80 percent into the joy and connection of giving.

Read the third part in the series here >>>


Why 80 Percent Don't Give

Jana Gering
Jana Gering

Jana Gering is freelance writer with extensive experience in the non-profit and faith based sectors. She's passionate about using content as a means to develop community.

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Showing 37 comments
  • Chris Coppenbarger

    This sounds like a really interesting concept, but I guess it’s similar to the 1 laptop initiative or the soccer ball initiative I’ve read about, previously. I look forward to what else this initiative entails.

    • Derek Gillette

      Thanks for the comment Chris. Yes, you’re definitely seeing more of this business/ministry approach. It’s a great way to be able to combine our passions and our occupations. Let’s keep it going!

  • Karen Dunlap

    I need help coming up with good stories. Our church does. I can tell stories about the Food Pantry. I need stories about our church family as well. Maybe we need to make memories, so we have them to share.

    • Derek Gillette

      Good thoughts Karen. I would say that creating a venue to easily share and collect stories would be a great next step. Maybe it’s a Facebook post of, “What things can we celebrate with you about this week?” Or maybe it’s an emphasize in your small groups to take time to share and record before each meeting.

      I can guarantee the stories exist, they’re just waiting to be pulled out. Once you start, don’t stop. Keep things consistent and you’ll get more participation.

  • Aaron

    Just learning about Pushpay and 1:Face.

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for reading. If we can give you anymore information about Pushpay, just send us a message in the chat box on the bottom right of the page.

      Happy to help,

  • Larry

    Just getting transferred over to push pay look forward to having it up and available for our people. Have enjoyed working with the push pay team.

    • Derek Gillette

      So great to be able to partner with you Larry. Excited to hear some of the stories of generosity that come from your church!

  • Sean K Rook

    Interesting thought!

  • Chris Ross

    love the thoughts here on telling a story to portray vision. Thats how Jesus taught people, with a story.
    Its in those moments where you are hearing the vision and the story and you are moved to want to help or give. I’ve always wanted to be able to have platform that can work with my website. So while i’m on the webpage seeing/reading the story, that i can give right there without leaving to go to some other pages, while God is moving on my heart. obviously thats just one channel of increasing giving through a story.
    thanks for the great article.
    also i am definitely interested in the watch 🙂

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the comment. I saw a great quote last night from Steve Jobs, “Apple products would eventually end up in landfills but Pixar movies would live on forever.” The power of story!


  • Ryan Elliott

    I love it!!! God gives amazing ideas to help generate funds to help change the world! As Mark batterson says ” pray like it depends on God, work like it depends on you.” God may we be listening to the creative ideas your imparting to help generate the necessarily funds to impact the world!

    • Derek Gillette

      Yes Ryan, there’s no reason we can’t have a bit more creativity in the church. Let us be known for creativity and innovation!

      Wouldn’t that be amazing,

  • Brandon Hoskins

    I love this idea. I am personally drawn towards companies like Pushpay, Warby Parker, Toms and now 1:Face. They encourage generosity through products and services so they in turn can be generous towards those in need.

    I want to personally think Eliot and the rest of the Pushpay team. We have been with Pushpay for 5 months now and could not be happier. They truly love what they do and we reap the benefits of that. I really love this blog and look forward to the information Mike and his team put together as well. I have shared several of these articles with our team. Keep up the great kingdom work!!

    • Derek Gillette

      Wow, thanks Brandon. I shared your feedback with the team internally here, and Eliot came running over to tell me how much he loves working with you guys!

      So much fun, and thanks for sharing the blog. It means a lot!


  • mike

    Thank you for the reminder of the importance of storytelling.

  • Bentley Foster

    With the mentality today being “What’s In It For Me,” even getting people to give out of love is hard, much less obedience. Christians need to understand that they have a greater need to give than the church has to receive. We are created in God’s image after all and He is the greatest giver of all.

    • Derek Gillette

      Good reminders Bentley. We always talk about that first act of generosity being a catalyst for a more generous life. Perhaps the church can use story as a way to make the first gift just a bit more compelling, then use solid teaching and discipleship, along with more stories, to foster the lifestyle of generosity.

  • Jerry Neumair

    I love how Jesus uses stories to convict, inspire and motivate obedience and service.

    Our church re-plant is looking into pushpay -especially for our upcoming new website.


    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Jerry, that’s great to hear. Congrats on replanting your church. Sounds like an exciting new venture. If you do have a few specific questions about how we could partner with you, you can send them directly to me or type them into the chat box in the bottom right corner of the page.


      Really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on the blog as well. It’s a fairly new venture for us and so the support is hugely encouraging.


  • Marsha Heeter

    A few years ago we had to repaint our church. The cost was over $16,000. We paid for it by borrowing from some trust funds we had and then held fund raisers (individuals hosted events like a poker night, bingo, or bunco where attendees paid to attend) to repay the fund. We had the fund repaid in just over a year. Since then, we have tried to get people to continue hosting fund raising events to raise funds for outfitting our handicapped accessible bus and to buy a new van, but have not been very successful. I’m not sure if they are tired of the events or if it’s because these aren’t as visible to most people as the painting of the church was.

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Marsha, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Creating consistent participation, in anything, not just giving, is a big challenge.

      There’s a couple things I would maybe suggest. One is to see if you can generate a conversation about why people have stopped giving to these events? Openly asking the question in an in-person, safe environment, may yield some good feedback.

      Second, as we talked about in the first post of our series, do people have an easy way to give on the go, not just when they are at church? We find that 45% of all Pushpay donations come on days other that Sunday, meaning folks are prompted in their spirit to give spontaneously.

      Hope this helps!


  • Larry

    I have greatly enjoyed your blog. Connecting a story to our time of giving I believe has definitely helped our giving.

  • Ron Satterwhite

    I like your program and comparison you made regarding the reasons people give. My church is old, (114 yrs.) Giving is challenging, as we are losing many of our senior members.

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your candid response. Engaging the next generation, not just for giving, but also for participation, is a challenge many churches face. The benefit for you is that you see the problem and are not hiding from it.

      I just finished writing an article that addresses the challenge of participation, and it’s currently up on Tony Morgan’s site. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://tonymorganlive.com/2015/05/18/3-secrets-to-increasing-participation/

      Keep me posted on how else we can encourage or support you.


  • Geri Witt

    Looking at the benefits of the online giving option and Pushpay has excellent information!

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Geri,

      Thanks for the kind words. Do let us know how we can help. We’ve got some great new posts in the works and plan on continuing to release about 2 a week.

      If you have specific topics you’d like us to cover, let me know.


  • Cb

    We are really enjoying you posts…
    looking to implement this within the year.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi CB,

      Thanks for the feedback. When you do get ready to implement let us know. I’m sure the team here would love to get you started with a couple months free. -mention you’re an avid reader of the blog 🙂

      Enjoy the weekend!


  • Pastor Kay Dillard

    I enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to getting started with PushPay! We have completed the application process.

  • Selena Tracy

    Thank you for providing these tips. I am trying to find different ideas for our church to reach out into our community and help those in need. We are a mission church and we need to focus outward on others and not on ourselves. Any help with that is greatly appreciated! Thanks again!

  • Nicole

    I guess what I need to do is figure out what stories I could use! I’m a pre-field missionary trying to raise funds to get on the field. Since I am still here in the States, I don’t have stories from the field to share with people. (And yes, I’ve even had a donor tell me I should tell ministry stories, not talk about what I’m going to do when I get there.) I could talk about my ministry here or things from my short-term trips, but it’s a completely different context, and I’m not sure if that would really relate to what I’ll be doing there long-term. I think things will be much easier on my first furlough! lol

  • Lynn Taylor

    Very good information. Relevant, on point, applicable. Thanks

    • Derek Gillette

      Thanks for commenting Lynn! We publish posts like this twice a week and send out an email digest of the top posts twice a month if you’re interested. Simply drop your name and email in the box in the top right corner.

  • Frederick McQueen

    This is such an intriguing article. I can see the difference this approach can make. Even I look for more convenient options to give, and I’m always drawn to a story.

    • Derek Gillette

      Thanks Frederick, glad you found it useful! We’ve got part four of the series coming out today. Would love to hear what you think of it.

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