Give Your Marijuana to the Church: A Story of Stewardship
“We decided that any conversation about giving should start not with need but with abundance.”
And, while hand-wringing and flop sweating can be found in abundance, what is harder to find are pastors and churches with practical solutions to the problem. (Besides simply badgering their congregations to “give more. Give more! No seriously … GIVE MORE!”)
This was the challenge facing the team at The Rock Church in Point Loma, Calif., in the fall of 2010. Having grown from 0 to 12,000+ in only a decade, The Rock was one of the fastest growing churches in America. This growth, however, did not insulate The Rock from the financial difficulties facing churches around the nation. If anything, it only compounded the issues created by diminished giving.
Saddled with a sizeable mortgage but committed to making an impact for The Kingdom throughout San Diego County, the team at The Rock began brainstorming ways to engage their congregation on the subject of giving without peppering every service with repeated appeals for increased giving. They wanted to talk about stewardship—particularly sacrificial stewardship—without any of the guilt or awkwardness that the subject so often elicits.
“We live in one of the wealthiest cities in America,” says James Lawrence, The Rock’s Chief of Staff. “Because of that, we decided that any conversation about giving should start not with need but with abundance. We wanted people to start thinking ‘look how much I have’ instead of ‘look how much the church needs.’”
Changing the conversation, however, was only the first step. According to Lawrence, the greater challenge was to help people put their intentions into action.
“Getting people to view their purchases as an opportunity for generosity is great, but what good is it if they are not able to respond in the moment?” asks Lawrence. “We needed a way for our members to take action whenever and wherever the opportunity to give presented itself.”
As it happens, a solution was already waiting for them. Around this same time, The Rock was in the process of transitioning their online giving over to Mogiv, a cloud based electronic giving system for churches and nonprofits. In addition to providing a host of essential digital giving features (i.e., scheduled giving, multiple campaigns, embeddable giving forms, mobile giving, etc.), the Mogiv system also included a built-in feature that would enable members to give not only quickly and securely, but sacrificially as well.
With this feature (called “GivUp”), a giver could simply text the name of an item they wanted to sacrifice as well as the dollar amount of that item to a special address provided by the church. Following a brief confirmation process, their gift would be processed alongside a record of what they had “given up” for the church.
With the GivUp tool at their disposal, The Rock challenged their congregation to begin thinking critically about their consumption habits. Where was their money being spent? What things were needs and what things were merely wants? What things might they be willing to do without in order to dedicate more of their resources to the work of The Kingdom?
Using bulletin inserts, graphics and announcements on Sunday morning, The Rock’s team introduced The GivUp Challenge to the congregation. They then sat back and waited to see who—if anyone—would respond. They didn’t have to wait long. Before the service was even over, GivUp gifts started flying in. They haven’t stopped since.
From spa weekends to breakfast burritos, from fancy dinners and new wardrobes to frozen yogurt and golf outings—the list of things “given up” over the past four years by The Rock’s congregation now stretches to nearly 2,000 items.
Some people found basic, everyday purchases that they could do without. $3.50 for Starbucks; $5.00 for a week’s worth of snacks from the vending machine; $10.00 for a movie.
For others, the sacrifice had a higher price tag. $200 for an afternoon of hair and nail maintenance; $500 from a pay raise; $4,000 that had been earmarked for new wood floors in a member’s house. A pair of candid givers even gave up items rarely associated with the Sunday morning collection plate: $200.00 for alcohol and $25.00 for marijuana.
“I think it’s safe to say even the most optimistic of us were amazed by the response,” says Lawrence. “While the campaign was going on, we would put a list of items people had sacrificed that week up on the screen during the offering, which in turn provided a great teaching opportunity. The ability to connect the concept of stewardship with tangible items that we consume every week continues to impact the way we talk about giving at our church.”
Matt Hayes, a co-founder at Mogiv and one of the architects of the GivUp feature, says that this connection between buying and giving is the very thing that led his team to create the GivUp tool in the first place.
“Look at the way generosity is described in the Old Testament,” says Hayes. “People would bring fruit, grain, livestock and other valuables into the temple. I think giving was so much more concrete back then. Today, I’m obviously not going to put the lunches or lattes I’ve skipped into the plate on Sunday morning, but GivUp is a way of modeling that same behavior in our digital age.”
While advising against viewing technology as a “magic bullet,” Mr. Hayes went on to say that churches need to be more creative in how they think and talk about stewardship.
“The same techniques that worked 20 and even 10 years ago, may not work today,” says Hayes. “The Rock is a great example of this. Their willingness to embrace a new giving channel and to combine that channel with a compelling message of ‘radical generosity’ has impacted far more than their bottom line. It’s changed the hearts and attitudes of their givers. And isn’t that what it’s about anyway?”
Looking beyond the specific circumstances at The Rock, Mr. Lawrence said he believes the response of The Rock’s congregation can serve as an encouragement to other churches as it indicates a solution that is programmatic or technologic as opposed to spiritual or generational. Churchgoers want to give. Church leaders simply need to find the tools and messaging that will help their members capitalize on their best intentions.
Whether or not The Rock’s story is prescriptive or merely anecdotal, it is—at the very least—an encouraging data point for anyone depressed over the troublesome state of religious giving today. And it couldn’t come at a better time. With giving to American churches trending downward for the fourth consecutive year, there will certainly be dozens of churches facing difficult decisions in the months ahead. It is heartening to see what can be accomplished when a congregation tries “giving up” before they give up.
Nathan R. Elson is a Christ follower, relentlessly obsessed with “better” and on a mission to see everyone around him be the best version of themselves. He serves businesses, non-profits, and churches around the world with branding, technology, and communications. More from Nathan Elson or visit Nathan at http://nathanrelson.com/