Nearly four years ago, my wife, Melody, and I moved to southern California. Since then we’ve probably made more than 50 trips to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. Melody can identify most of the tigers by name, and lately we’ve enjoyed watching the clumsy frolicking of two baby elephants.
I have discovered that the zoo is an incredibly successful nonprofit that understands the importance of funding its mission. I am continually struck by the fact that every employee of the zoo knows the mission of the organization inside and out. It doesn’t matter if you talk to the person who takes your ticket or the keeper who gives pedicures to pachyderms, all sta members are integral to the zoo’s mission and can invariably boil that mission down to two simple words: ending extinction.
The zoo’s mission is not to provide a great guest experience or to bring visitors to San Diego. It is to end extinction. Every employee has been trained to not only know this mission, but to point it out to anyone who will listen. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard these words, almost verbatim: “Just by being here today, you are helping us to accomplish our mission to end extinction around the world. The San Diego Zoo is a nonpro t organization, which means that we pour all of our resources into accomplishing our mission. Your admission fee, your t-shirt purchase, and even the hot dog you buy for lunch helps to save snow leopards just like this one. Thank you for being a hero for wildlife.”
What We Can learn from the Zoo
Generally, people coming to the zoo do not give to keep the lights on. They are not motivated by the need to pay salaries and administrative expenses. They give because they are passionate about saving wildlife. They give because the mission compels them. I believe that the church can learn something from the San Diego Zoo.
The church must consistently connect giving with mission. However, this has not always been modeled well for us. I can’t begin to count the number of conferences, assemblies, camp meetings, or revivals where the o ering has been announced with words like these: “Hasn’t this been a wonderful time together? It’s like a little slice of heaven. There’s just nothing like a Nazarene family reunion when God’s people get together. Now we’re going to receive an offering to help cover the costs and expenses of this gathering.”
I understand the need to pay for the convention center or hotel. I understand the need to cover travel expenses and speaker fees. These words do not connect giving with the mission of the church. While they may a rm the person who is already committed to the organization, they rarely compel the new or uncertain giver to open his or her wallet.
Unfortunately, that model has drifted into the local church. We collect an o ering because it’s that time in the service. Sometimes we nearly apologize for it or tell visitors that they shouldn’t worry about letting the plate pass them by.
In my current ministry role, I visit about 40 churches each year. Regrettably, I don’t often hear anything that connects the offering time with our God-given mission.
I know giving is an act of worship. I know that we give to glorify God. We give because God calls us to give, because the Bible tells us to, and because 2,000 years of Christian history has modeled generosity for us. I know we give as an expression of gratitude for all that God has given to us. These are the primary reasons many Christians faithfully give.
However, I think we are often missing a key component that matters to people who invest in ministry—communicating how generous giving helps us to accomplish the mission God has given to us.
Giving and the Scope of our Mission
Our mission is far more important than that of the San Diego Zoo. As much as I love the zoo, and as glad as I am for people who work to protect and preserve the world that God gave us, the mission of the church is even more important than ending extinction. Our job is to bring lost people to the feet of Jesus— to help people experience life transformation now and for eternity. Yet we are often timid about asking God’s people to give generously toward accomplishing God’s mission.
Many of us have been part of a January stewardship campaign on the Three Ts: Time, Talent, and Treasure. Historically, this has been a tried and true method of approaching stewardship through a holistic lens, helping us to understand that stewardship isn’t just about giving money to the church, but about o ering all of ourselves in faithful obedience to God.
In many contexts, though, that tried and true formula has become tired and toasted. The wise church will nd ways to consistently connect giving to mission. Some churches share a story of a transformed life just before passing the plate. Others are intentional about linking generosity directly to the success of a ministry, either locally or globally. The o ering can be a celebratory time where we are invited and inspired to partner with God. People give to mission. They give to ministries that bear fruit.
Creative Preaching Paths and Giving
Creative preaching paths can also help us present generosity in fresh new ways. Those who have the honor of preaching God’s word need not look far to find scriptures that illustrate the importance of stewardship and generosity. We can present a familiar story in a fresh light simply by being alert to the narrative of generosity woven throughout the tapestry of Scripture.
As we preach the story of God, we can highlight themes of sacrifice, generosity, and stewardship. The mission of the church is worthy of asking the people of God to support it with their finances. May the following sermon starter ideas help God’s people be formed to increasingly reflect God’s image to the world.