Do UK churches lack a culture of generosity?

Do UK churches lack a culture of generosity?

A friend of mine speaks regularly in churches, both in the US and the UK. In one case, a US church gave him an honorarium of $3,000 (£2,000) plus travel expenses plus an expensive and thoughtful gift. In contrast, a couple of weeks later a church in the UK church gave him a fraction of that, no travel expenses and no gift. He says this is almost always the case.

‘No big deal,’ you might say. ‘The US church is clearly more wealthy than the UK church.’ Not so. The US church has a young congregation of under 200 and is in a very mixed area, socially and economically. The UK church is much larger, older and is located in a quite prosperous area.

(I don’t know the identity of either church so I can’t provide any further demographic information – just in case you were thinking of asking.)

A mutual friend of ours spoke at a church weekend. He was away from Friday to Sunday where he gave four talks which involved four days preparation. Six days work in total. He was given a £30 gift token. I wouldn’t mind if it were a small church in a poor area, but again it was a large church in a prosperous area.

My friend’s explanation is that US churches have a culture of generosity which UK churches lack.

It could be that the church collectively is generous or it could be that the members are generous. But I suspect there is a strong link between the two (and not just in the sense that individuals giving generously enables a church to be generous). A collective culture of generosity encourages individuals to be generous which enables collective generosity.


14 thoughts on “Do UK churches lack a culture of generosity?

  1. Good question Tim – it’s hard to answer without generalising & in the process potentially pigeon-holing. However, my experience of the US church is that it is generally more wealthy than many UK churches (a look at the size of Pastoral teams & their salaries would confirm this), but they also do tend to be far more generous in the US than the UK (as a whole). I think the generosity of Americans (whatever the motivation) is one of the characteristics we Brits could learn from.

    There are certain places and people in the UK where generosity is a defining characteristic, so I don’t think we can say it’s not there, but whether there is a culture is a bigger question.

    I am staggered by Christian attitudes towards money – both from those giving and receiving. Too often those who give are the ‘widows giving their mite’. I have found over and over again that many times those I expect to give don’t & those who I don’t expect to do. Having said that, whilst a workman is worth their wages, I also think that those of us speaking in places have wrong expectations towards money & gifts.

    To give a recent healthy example, this past week I spoke at a student group belonging to the IFES movement I work for. I travelled to speak, which necessitated a day out of town and the expenses that incurs. I went with no expectation of any expenses (it’s part of my work after all), but was pleasantly surprised and thankful when the student leaders gave me a small ‘book token’ gift to say thank you. It wasn’t much, but it expressed a sincere gratitude. I think they set a great example of gratitude that doesn’t follow the models of this world. Oh for more people like those students… (I have plenty of examples of both sides of the coin (!) however!)

  2. Having neither worked commercially or ministered in the USA, I can’t comment on the American side of the equation. However, I am frequently shocked by the lack of generosity from the church here. Watching very rich people set a salary level for their pastors which will cause the pastors and their families financial hardship is an appalling sight. Sometimes such meanness is justified by an appeal to comparisons with what other churches are paying; but when did market economics become the basis of Christian morality!?! Likewise on the commercial side of the equation, anyone who has ever worked in a field like publishing, IT or AV will know that churches routinely expect suppliers to operate at a loss by giving them unrealistic discounts. It seems that the appeal to the ‘market-price’ doesn’t apply here for some reason!!

    The itinerant preacher faces a huge challenge in planning their family budget, as some churches are extraordinarily generous, whereas other churches are spectacularly mean. Some don’t even cover the costs of fuel for preachers, never mind any recognition of the investment of time. My observation is that some of the churches that pay too much, have a very long, strong tradition of ‘professionalised ministry’; whereas church traditions which have emphasised lay-preaching, and no formalised clergy, culturally just expect preachers to be basically self-funding.

  3. Spot on… As Treasurer of our Church we’ve just upped our missions giving on a trajectory to 15% (perhaps not enough, but increasing!). Would be interested in any other ideas on how a generous spirit could be incorporated intentionally into a church’s budget?

  4. I had a conversation about this with someone quite recently. 3 attitudes came to light that especially worried me- first, that if someone’s chosen to be a pastor, they’ve opted out of the ability to “earn” money, and so a low income and simple lifestyle is what they’ve chosen. It’s a poorly paid profession because that’s what the market makes it, so paying the minimum that allows them to cope financially is appropriate. Secondly, that paying a pastor generously (whether it be one off payments or salaries) is unhelpful because it might lead them to sin and love money. Thirdly the church, it was argued, needs pastors as examples of living without the love of money. So we love our pastors and the church well when we pay them poorly because we avoid presenting them with this temptation. There was a fourth point, which is that paying generously in the way you’ve described, tim, ties up money that we could be using to fund what my friend called “gospel work”. Exploration of this point made it clear that there is a widespread perception that pastors don’t give financially to the work.of the church. Since having this conversation I’ve seen these attitudes worked out in a number of different contexts. I wonder if we British like our pastors poor, and if it’s because we buy into some of these wrong perceptions?

  5. Tim,

    I think a key factor is cultural.

    American culture tends to have a greater personal responsibility towards to giving and distributing wealth. The government is often times viewed as inefficient and therefore taxes to government should be minimised. I then decide exactly what causes get my money – so I feel a greater responsibility to give.

    On the other hand tax paying in Europe to fund social services is more accepted. Large amounts of our money is redistributed by the state to ensure services are accessible to all – regardless of income and means. The net affect being that we have a more generous social system and generally less of our money to decide where it goes.

    I think such basic differences in culture and attitude do filter through the Church. Not all of it is good and not all of it is bad. One negative I’ve seen (IMHO) is where people give restricted contributions to the Church – marked for their favourite event or interest. Basically deciding what they want THEIR money spent on. We’ve really resisted giving in such a way and try to just give to the Church and trust those making the decisions, which ultimately we are a part of as members, to decide where it goes.

    Now the specific case of paying visiting speakers. We don’t pay much. But then we struggle to be self financing and are dependent on the generosity of other Churches. Despite this we do give a substantial amount of our money to other Christian workers and missionaries outside of the Church as well as supporting a pastor. One of the areas unfortunately we’re not as generous as we’d like to be is paying visiting speakers. I’m challenged by what you wrote – so maybe there should be cuts elsewhere, but I know we’ve tried very hard to cut down on expenditure and raise income to allow us to be responsible with what we do have.


  6. I tend to agree with Ralph – in so far as I understand US citizens tend to be more generous because they have to be (ie there isn’t the level of social support there is in the UK). That said, it doesn’t excuse our lack of giving – but it is often easier to give where there is a clear or specific need.

    Also, I need to take care if/when evaluating the gifts – how do I know what other obligations a person has, or where else s/he is giving money and time to?

  7. My dad once preached at an evening service where he put a couple of quid in the box. At the end the church secretary said ‘We always give the evening preacher whatever’s in the box’. Yep you guessed it a couple of quid….

  8. I wonder if the lack of generosity toward Bible Teachers/Pastors is a reflection that British society has toward teaching as a whole. In many other countries to teach is a honorable calling — a position to be sought after and respect is given toward teachers. In my own birth culture, (Korean) the title “Teacher” or son-seng-nim is a title of high respect deference and esteem. Contrast that to the well worn British cliche of, “Those who can, do and those who can’t teach.” Not very flattering is it?

    Those who handle the word of truth among us need to be honoured in a gospel hearted way. If I was dying, I wouldn’t pay my attending physician a packet of crisps as a thank you. May God give us repentant hearts for treating those who handle the word of truth so shamefully.

  9. The (well-off) church my wife grew up in has the aim of being a giving church before a growing church, and gives 50% of its income away to support mission elsewhere. I often wonder whether that attitude is linked with its fruitfulness.

  10. I preached in an Indian slum church last year. They gave me a generous gift as we left.I think they understood it as a joy and a discipline of obedience to scripture. Humbled.

  11. Real helpful post, thanks Tim and some great comments that are worth thinking through. I wonder if part of the problem is our British and church cultures. We rarely talk on a personal level about money in the church and we rarely talk about our giving. We may preach on it but not personally help each other with budgetting getting down to the nitty gritty of how much we are giving.

    In terms of church culture many people have grown up only going to church for special occassions and therefore have a ‘collection plate’/’spare change’ attitude towards giving. When people come to Jesus we need to teach them that has financial implications. We also as churches need to be honest about our costs so people are aware of them to encourage giving. People give to vision and sharing the churches vision and what we will do with money in terms of investing it in the gospel is key. Churches also ought to model generosity as should pastors.

  12. That’s a very thought-provoking question. One example given above is among students – I remember as a student CU leader inviting a speaker who did some great work for us over a weekend. He was kind enough to remind us afterwards very graciously, and as a lesson for the future that we had not been generous in return. I was glad that he had been bold enough to say it, and it was true that we had undervalued the work of preparation and therefore been thoughtless to the speaker. I needed that teaching, and I suspect others still do.

    I don’t know the American situation, but are there any differences in this country between Anglican churches, where people can pretend to believe that the financial support of ministers is taken care of “out there”, by the system, and others where (whether generously carried out or not), this responsibility is at least on the agenda of the congregation / leaders?

  13. It seems to me an important distinction to make is between those who are earning a living through itinerant Bible teaching and those who are paid as local pastors by their church and are just doing the odd away-match. As someone in the latter category I would find it excessive (and spiritually unhelpful) to be given £2000 plus expenses and a generous gift for speaking at a weekend away or conference. Expenses and a token gift is plenty. But if I were itinerant speaker depending on such gifts to support myself and my family it would be very different. I certainly know folk who are itinerant whose experience of lack of generosity from UK churches supports your view here Tim about UK church culture.

  14. As a missionary from the US ministering in the UK for over 20 years, my experience is that people in the US have a culture of generosity and give much more freely than people in the UK. Churches in the US talk much more frequently and openly about money than the UK. I believe we should follow the spirit of generosity which is in the Bible, not any culture. Most churches in the USA and the UK, follow their own culture instead of creating culture.


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