By George Barna
Regal Books
Ventura, California
1997

Reviewed by Thaddious Privette, Director, Allegheny East Conference Stewardship Ministries

The book is based on the observation that although Americans are the most generous people in the world, they have some characteristics that contradict their generosity. Americans are—more likely to sue fellow citizens; ill-informed about their own national history; more comfortable living with debt, but less comfortable living with relatives; workaholics who treasure pleasure; keenly devoted to television while consuming pizza as if it were a drug; likely to transform entertainers into wealthy, pampered cultural icons; more likely to abort babies and divorce spouses. Yet Americans attend church more often than peers of other first-world nations.

They give to people, not institutions. Americans, generally, are willing to give away large sums of money to organizations whose sole purpose is to enhance people’s quality of life. Donors seem to have greater confidence in church, and feel that churches more than likely use the funds wisely. Donors give because of what the church is doing in the community and in their lives. They want to know that they are agents for spiritual transformation in the world. Of the more than $60 billion a year given to religious nonprofit organizations, more than $40 billion go directly to churches, most of which come from individuals—not corporations or foundations.

Three basic motivations: resonance, effective use of funds, and effective application to human need.

Barna suggests that the basic answer to increasing finances in your church is to preach the Word. Of utmost importance is visioning. Without a vision for ministry the people will devote their resources to non-ministry ventures. There is no money problem, just a vision problem. A series of stewardship sermons has been proven to be as much as two and a half times more effective than a sermon now and then throughout the year.

Pastors and church leaders must help people understand stewardship by communicating Biblical stewardship principles, develop a fiscal budget, communicate the church’s financial needs to the congregation, and identify ways people can respond financially. Preachers must explain wealth, where it comes from, why we have it, how we are to handle it, and how God evaluates our performance as trustees of His resources.

For successful fund-raising, a leader must: actively campaign on a consistent basis, use the power of personal touch (people give to people), and maintain a high level of visibility.

Barna ends the book with 14 key principles for effective stewardship:

  • Raise money for life transformation, not organizational survival.
  • People give to people and causes, not to institutions and programs. Both the head and the heart must be reached.
  • There is no substitute for absolute integrity. None.
  • A visionless church is an impoverished church.
  • People give to winners. Tell your story.
  • Fund-raising is a means to an end (ministry and mission).
  • Dream big, pray big, ask big, minister big.
  • Ministry donors don’t just give, they invest.
  • Stewardship is a lifestyle, not an event.
  • Listen carefully, respond strategically, thank people sincerely.
  • Use the pastor appropriately in the stewardship process.
  • People appreciate useful information.
  • Let compassion and servanthood, not dollar goals, be your motivation.

This book was an immediate hit with me and I recommend this book especially for young pastoral interns. The principles contained herein could make the difference between a successful ministry and a painful survival. My thinking and actions are already being affected for the better by this book.

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April–June, 1998

Focus