Skip to main content

Perspectives on giving vs volunteering from both the pulpit and pew

Barna finds views on the spontaneity of giving vary between church leaders and congregants

Perspectives on giving vs volunteering from both the pulpit and pew

The motivations for generosity are manifold and often complex. What drives this deeply spiritual act differs from one person to the next, particularly when comparing pastors with their congregants. According to The Generosity Gap, a new Barna report produced in partnership with Thrivent Financial, there is little consensus on why people should be generous, what counts as generosity in the first place and what kinds of acts require the most effort.

Generosity: Spur-Of-The-Moment or Planned?
As a rule, Christians and pastors have similar, but not identical, ideas about what characteristics make an act generous, or not. In general, most agree that generosity comes from an unselfish, sincere spirit, not from a sense of obligation or of self-interest. Compared with Christians, a larger percentage of pastors agree that generosity is always “a response to Christ’s love” (66% vs. 47% all Christian adults). Church leaders are also more likely to believe generosity is both an inward attitude and an outward discipline, and are less likely than Christians generally to say it has to do with either spontaneity or a sense of duty.

On the other hand, Christians have a slightly more romantic view of giving. They are more likely than pastors to say generosity is always spur-of-the-moment and a result of compassion. Pastors, are least likely among the groups surveyed to say so: Just one in five say generosity is always (2%) or often (18%) spur-of-the-moment. They are also more likely to say it is never or seldom “sacrificial” (16% vs. 5% pastors).

Younger Christians are more likely than their elders to perceive generosity as always or often a spontaneous response to the circumstances of the moment. Compared to Boomers (28% always + often) and Elders (15%), more Gen-Xers (37%) and Millennials (45%) say spontaneity is a core feature of generosity.

Elders appear to have more cerebral (thinking), less circumstantial (feeling) ideals and impulses related to generosity, especially compared to Millennials. For example, adults over 70 are more likely to say generosity is a discipline (62% vs. 51% Millennials) and is planned (43% vs. 31%).

Generosity: Do Attitudes Matter?
Can generosity turn sour? What do people think might change a potential act of generosity such that it is no longer truly generous? According to pastors, the attitude of the giver is the biggest factor. Pastors’ responses to an open-ended question fall into a handful of general categories, with nearly all focused on the giver’s motivations. One in four ministers offers an answer related to guilt or compulsion, and one in six says either selfishness or grudging unwillingness undermine potential generosity.

This article continues at [Barna] Pastors and Parishioners Differ on Generosity

Back to top