Planned giving versus project giving

When you need funds to keep the church running, is it better to make special appeals or to rely on regular planned giving to fulfill the needs?

Donald E. Crane is an associate secretary of the Ministerial and Stewardship Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Planned giving versus project giving is a topic of considerable debate within some Christian fellowships. While some believe that all giving should be planned giving, others believe that project giving is better in some cases. Which, then, is the right approach? Is there a reliable methodology for deciding when and how much to give? Or is it possible that both planned and project giving are at times right and Biblically correct?

In an objective consideration of the options, it is important to first of all define our terms. For the purpose of this article, planned giving is "an agreement one makes to give to the Lord continuously and regularly a percentage or an amount of his income." For example, a Christian family practices planned giving by following the Biblical principle of tithing--returning 10 percent of their income to God's storehouse. Project giving is essentially "giving whatever seems right to whatever seems worthy." It is often more spontaneous, but generally of shorter duration than planned giving. An example would be a spontaneous gift to keep a religious broadcast on the air.

With our terms defined, let us consider a few basic giving principles that may guide us in understanding the advantages and disadvantages of both planned and project giving.

1. The Bible teaches that we are to give to God the first part of our increase or income. "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase," we are told in Proverbs 3:9. Giving the firstfruits to God was an honored tradition in Israel, and is still among Orthodox Jews. Special offerings of the choicest firstfruits were made at each of the three great annual feasts of Israel--Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

We find the God-first principle in the New Testament, too. Paul exhorted the Corinthian church members to set aside an offering every first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2) for the poor believers in Jerusalem. The key word in Christ's exhortation to His followers in Matthew 6:33 is "first." If we put God first, He says, "all these things shall be added unto you." Thus it is clear from both the Old Testament and the New Testament that God's portion should be set apart before meeting personal, family, or business needs.

2. We are to give to God as continually and generously as He gives to us. God provides daily for our existence. He sustains the life-giving currents that circulate through our bodies. He is the source of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17). "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22, 23). As Christians we have much to be thankful for. We should especially be thankful for what Christ has done for us through the plan of redemption. "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is 'good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy" (Ps. 107:1, 2). In Ephesians 5:20 we are told to give "thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Certainly, if we are to give continuously and generously as God gives to us, our praises and our giving will not be sporadic or according to how we happen to feel at the moment. Rather, our gifts will flow as continuous expressions of gratitude.

3. Giving is a sign of allegiance to Christ as our sovereign Lord, and an expression of our stewardship relationship to Him. Abraham gave to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, "tithes of all" (Gen. 14:20). In this record there is no statement to suggest that tithing originated with Abraham. On the contrary, the inference is clear that it was something well understood at the time, that the custom of returning the tithe was of very ancient origin and that it was in existence before the formation of the Jewish nation. In Hebrews 7:17 Christ is referred to as "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." If Abraham, who is the father of all the faithful, returned the tithe to Melchizedek, it would be reasonable to believe that tithing is not merely a Jewish custom but rather is Christian in substance. Jesus Himself endorsed the tithing principle in the context of the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23).

4. We are to give to God as an act of worship. In the Jewish economy, gifts and offerings were an essential part of the worship service and a joyful expression of praise to God. For example, in Deuteronomy 26 we find the special instructions the children of Israel were to follow in returning the firstfruits to God: "And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God" (verse 10). In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the apostle Paul lists giving as a "grace" and a "service." Thus the act of giving is not simply a means of supplying the wants of the saints. It is also to be a grace and a service to glorify God.

5. We are to give to God in proportion to blessings received. In the Bible system of tithes and offerings the amount given by different people varies greatly because it is proportional to income. "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee" (Deut. 16:17). In the New Testament, Paul declares, "It is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Cor. 8:12). And again, "as God hath prospered him" (1 Cor. 16:2). Thus giving should be based not on the merit of certain projects or on one's personal preferences, but rather on the basis of blessings received from God.

6. Our giving to God should include an honest return of the tithe (one tenth of our income) plus liberal freewill offerings. In Malachi, God posed the question as to how Israel had robbed Him. Then He answered, "In tithes and offerings" (chap. 3:8). God's plan has always included a faithful return of tithes and offerings (Ex. 25:2; cf. 1 Chron. 29:9).

There is no record in the Bible of tithe being used for the construction of buildings such as temples or churches. Voluntary offerings were used for Temple repair (2 Chron. 24:9, 10, 12) and to meet the operating expenses of the sanctuary (Ex. 30:13-16; Neh. 10:32, 33). There were also special offerings for the poor in both Old Testament and New Testament times. The New Testament church recognized God's claim to the ownership of all their possessions. "They had all things common. . . . And distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 4:32- 35). In the first and second letters to the Corinthians Paul stressed regularity and liberality as giving principles for Christians.

7. A tithe of our increase or income and a portion of our freewill offerings are to be deposited in God's storehouse. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house" (Mal. 3:10). "The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God" (Ex. 23:19). The firstfruits were made up of both tithes and offerings. The tithe, which was a part of firstfruit giving, was considered sacred. "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord" (Lev. 27:30). Many Christian churches hold to the belief that the tithe should be used exclusively for those who minister the Word. "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? . . . Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:13, 14). The tithes and offerings given to God and placed in His storehouse are for the purpose of proclaiming the Word of God and supporting public worship.

8. Some of the freewill offerings that we give to God may be distributed to specific projects and areas of personal interest or special need. There are many Biblical illustrations of project giving for example, the building of the sanctuary and Solomon's Temple (Ex. 25:2, 8; 1 Chron. 29:6-9; 1 Kings 5 and 6). Today's special projects might also include special funds for paving the church parking lot, Bibles for a citywide crusade, special requests for disaster relief, and funding for simple houses of worship in Third World countries.

9. Both planned giving and project giving should spring from the principle of grateful love to God. There should be no sense of coercion or compulsion. The Scriptures clearly indicate that a willing heart is to be preferred over a sense of duty. "Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord" (Ex. 35:5). "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).

With these basic giving principles in mind, let us evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of planned and project giving.

It is plain that planned and project giving both have advantages and disadvantages. It seems obvious, for example, that planned giving is a Biblically sound principle. In planned giving, members are educated to return to God their tithe and a set amount or a percentage of income as offerings. Within this amount of offerings they are then encouraged to distribute to specific needs, such as to the local church budget, regional church development, world missions, and special projects. In this way planned giving supports a proportionate distribution of funds. Every area can receive its fair share. The inequality that frequently results from one special project receiving disproportionate publicity is eliminated. Planned giving also makes possible the church budget plan, which has proved to be a successful and businesslike method of funding church activities.

On the other hand, project giving is also a Biblically supported method, having the advantage of personally involving church members in a given project, and raising the level of member interest. Project giving may also reach segments of church membership who are not committed to or willing to follow the planned-giving method. It may also be the preferred method for funding capital improvements and church construction.

There are, however, some drawbacks to project giving. Some churches have launched a whole series of special projects and still asked church members to support the church budget through planned giving. The result was reduced group support for planned giving.

In project giving, the motivation behind both the project and the giving must be carefully monitored, for in the hands of the unconverted the wrong type of motivation may strengthen selfishness instead of benevolence. To help deter mine the motivation behind a given project, ask yourself: Who is being honored in this special gift or project? Am I supporting this special project because of some personal benefit? (For a fuller discussion of this topic, see "Church Fund-raising" in next month's issue of MINISTRY. )

Whichever method you follow, you must develop plans for fully involving church members through education, commitment and follow-up reporting. Your goal must be to make church members help claim "ownership" of church plans and projects through personal involvement as you match the method to your local church needs. A combination of the two giving modes has proved effective and satisfying to many givers. The following illustrates such a plan.

Joe Church Member likes planned and project giving. He has covenanted with God to return the tithe (10 percent) and to give an additional 6 percent of his income as offerings. Joe divides the giving from his income as follows:

$2,000 INCOME

10% = $200 tithe, for gospel proclamation

6%. = $120 offerings, divided as follows:

     2% = $40 local church budget

     1% = $20 regional church development

     2% = $40 world missions

     1% = $20 special projects

Joe especially enjoys this giving plan because it includes a percentage for special projects of personal interest. This can include funds sent to an underprivileged child in India, an anonymous payment on a student's parochial school bill, a bag of groceries to the unemployed single parent down the street, gift subscriptions to Christian magazines sent to friends and relatives or any other special need that comes to his attention.

This plan allows Joe to give to special projects in a systematic way. It places a budgeted amount at his disposal for fulfilling special needs out of his regular planned giving to God.

In planning stewardship education in your church, first consider the basic Biblical principles suggested in this article. Returning regularly to God an honest tithe, and giving generous freewill offerings, "as God hath prospered," makes it possible to underwrite financially the great gospel enterprise in your local church and around the world.

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Donald E. Crane is an associate secretary of the Ministerial and Stewardship Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

June 1985

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