Are people in the pew pinching their pennies? Across the country, congregations and denominations are recording year-over-year declines in giving. For some it’s reached panic time.

What’s going on? Have general economic conditions made people stingier? Apparently not. National statistics show that overall charitable giving has actually increased in recent years. And donations are expected to increase more this year. But giving to churches continues to shrink.

As churches face budget shortfalls, the church consultants and clergy bloggers have been feverishly churning out list after list of strategies to plug the drain of dollars. “10 Ways to Increase Giving in Your Church.” “5 Things You Can Do to Increase Giving in Your Church.” “15 Ways to Increase Your Church’s Offerings.” The recommendations in the lists are rather predictable:

  • “Talk about stewardship–often, every week.”
  • “Explain the church’s financial situation.”
  • “Use online giving systems.”
  • “Offer finance classes.”
  • “Ask new members for their pledges right away.”
  • “Invite your big givers to share their giving testimonies.”
  • “Hire a stewardship consultant.”

The trouble is, some of these techniques may be making things worse. Church financial tactics sometimes scare people away–provoking them to join the Dones. One of them commented, “It was always a plea for money. Fear tactics were used to promote getting folks to give. They created a give-to-get mentality, as if God is a bill collector in the sky. Pay him or he will repossess your good health or punch you.” Yikes.

Now, I understand that a church has real financial needs. And I understand that God encourages people to be givers. But perhaps it’s time to give the top-10 giving lists a rest. And consider some approaches that actually work with real people. Here’s a view from the pew.

Don’t shame me. Inspire me. I remember a hired-gun fund-raising consultant who chided the congregation for spending our money on vacations instead of contributing that money to the church’s building fund. That tactic backfired. Conversely, when I’ve heard how my gifts will be used to make a real difference, I’ve been motivated to join that effort.

Tell me a story. Give me actual examples of our gifts at work. Tell me about the little girl who heard about Jesus for the first time at our church’s VBS. Tell me about our youth group members who built a wheelchair ramp that granted freedom to a disabled man. Tell me about the water well that brought life to the isolated village in Kenya.

Shape a budget that builds the Kingdom, not an empire. When administrative and facilities costs inundate the church’s budget, givers look elsewhere to make our gifts accomplish more. If the church wants me to give selflessly, show me how my gifts go well beyond church amenities that are designated to placate me and my fellow church attendees.

Ultimately, when the relationship with Jesus becomes the central focus, his people want to give–not out of guilt, or obligation, or obedience–but out of love.