An Open Secret to Motivating People to Give

Once in a while we stumble onto a principle that really works in our ministries. The fun thing is to go back then and find that not only did the Lord “know” that–smiley face goes here–but He gave us a story illustrating it in Scripture.

Here’s the story.

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury, for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

The principle thus illustrated,the one that can transform your leadership in teaching your people to give, is this: The small gift given sacrificially inspires everyone else to give generously.

One would think it would be the other way around, that pointing out how Mr. Deep Pockets contributed a cool million would encourage the rest of us to dig down and come up with our fair share. Now, we do need those great gifts, let’s make that point. But Mr. Pockets’ gift does not inspire many of us to give sacrificially for the simple reason that we figure, “Well, he has lots of money, he OUGHT to be giving a lot.”

But no one thinks that of the child who gives much or the poor widow who gives sacrificially or the common laborer (you’ll pardon the expression) who sets a high standard for generosity.


It is a principle known to fund-raisers everywhere, but not to many pastors.

I once headed up a campaign to generate a million dollars in our community for a charitable center. The professional adviser who guided our steering committee taught us many things about raising those big bucks. He taught us how to walk into a bigshot’s office and ask for $100,000 (back when that was, as the saying goes, real money).

When I said, “Tom, I don’t know how to walk into a guy’s office and ask him for $100,000.” He said, “Here’s how you do it, Joe. You walk into his office and say,’I want you to give us $100,000.'” We laughed at that. But he was right. Just say the words.

If he or anyone else taught us the principle that small sacrificial gifts inspire and generate the greater gifts, I don’t remember it. But in the years since, I’ve seen it demonstrated repeatedly, in the world and in my church.

You may recall the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, woman who died leaving a small fortune to the University of Southern Mississippi some years back. The fact that she cleaned floors for a living–as I recall; might not be exactly that–and lived only a step or two above the poverty level made her gift newsworthy. And that deed by that generous little woman became the impetus of far greater gifts coming in to that university.

Encouraging people to give generously yields incredible results.

First, understand we are not talking about manipulating anyone. And in a sense, we’re not even talking about raising money. We are discussing encouraging God’s people to give generously to His work.

When that happens, when followers of the Lord Jesus Christ get serious about giving to the Lord through their church (primarily), here are some benefits that flow from such faithfulness….

a) They are laying up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:20)

b) They are funding the Lord’s work. It’s what the Lord called putting “food in my house” (Malachi 3:10).

c) They are supporting their ministers. (I Timothy 5:17-18)

d) They are honoring God. (Mark 12:41-44)

e) They are inspiring other believers. (II Corinthians 8:1-5)

f) And in so doing, they are rebuking the devil, silencing the critics of the church (who accuse us as living by the same standards as the world), and bearing a wonderful witness to the outside world.

g) They are breaking the stranglehold of materialism and greed in their own lives.

h) And surely, ten thousand other blessings that will be seen only from the “top of the tapestry,” when we arrive in Heaven.

Pretty nifty, huh? Such incredible blessings coming from nothing more than making a generous gift to the Lord’s work.

What is generous? It all depends, doesn’t it? For Bill Gates, a million dollars is chump change. For me, it would be the earnings of half a lifetime.

How can a pastor make this principle work in his church?

Here are some suggestions….

1) Ask the Lord to raise up people with limited means who will inspire others by their faithfulness.

2) When you find one–a child whose paper route savings or an adult of limited abilities whose earnings from their garden has produced a fairly sizeable offering for the ministry–then find a way to celebrate this.

Get their permission, and/or in the case of a child or dependent adult, the permission of their guardian. Find an appropriate way to call attention to what they have done.

3) Prayerfully and earnestly seek God’s leadership on how to make the most of their example. Whether to simply call attention to it and leave it there, or to interview the giver and leave it there, or to use this as a means of exhorting others toward the same sacrifice.

4) Until you get the hang of this, seek out the counsel of trusted more mature ministers and leaders. You must do everything in your ability to protect the individual you are honoring, and must do nothing that looks like manipulation. The plan is to do the same thing the Lord Jesus did: point out the generous gift of a faithful believer in order to inspire others.

5) Finding just the right note in celebrating the sacrificial gift of a poor person or a young child can be tricky. That’s why you need wise counsel until you find how to do this. Whether to bring the person to the forefront or simply to refer to them in a sermon, or to write about what they did–these are all important matters.

You see every president doing this very thing in annual State of the Union addresses. The nation’s leader will point out some faithful act by a member of the military or a school child or an unknown laborer somewhere. Then, after doing this, the president directs the attention of the nation to that very individual sitting in the balcony alongside the First Lady. It’s an effective method for encouraging faithfulness and inspiring others to greater service.

Paul did this in his ministry to the Corinthians.

When the believers at Corinth were falling behind on the pledges they had made for the Jerusalem church, Paul wrote to them. He used the wonderful example of the believers in Macedonia to inspire them, and thus followed the same principle Jesus gave us in the Temple Treasury that day.

Brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability–yes, and beyond their ability–they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us, by the will of God. (II Cor. 8:1-5)

Kinda makes you want to go out and make an offering, doesn’t it?

That’s the plan.

4 thoughts on “An Open Secret to Motivating People to Give

  1. I know this is going to spark some controversy but I have a different take on the Luke 21 widow’s mites based on the context of what happened before and after – Pharisees trying to trap Jesus and then judgement in the rest of chapter 21. Read verse 47 immediately preceding in chapter 20 and then beginning in verses 5 through the rest of the chapter 21 -judgement. Open mind here – I know when Baptists meet we take an offering, lol. Even Matthew Henry uses the heading “Jesus commends the widow” over these four verses. Jesus does not say anything good (or bad) about the widow’s offering. I believe that he was condemning a corrupt religious system that was taking advantage of poor widows and people by telling them they could buy God’s favor by their giving. God does not expect us to give everything we have to live on, the widow did. She gave all; 100%, that she had to live on. I know we can presume that she was taken care of by the Lord after she went home. We would like to think that the Lord provided for her later. But open mind here, isn’t that what the “prosperity preachers” are doing today? “Give sacrificially and the Lord will multiply it back to you?” They are abusing the downtrodden and poor giving them false hope.

    The biblical admonitions that you gave are sufficient to not rob God. If all members would follow these commands, the church would be able to spread the Gospel much better. God owns everything. He loans it to us and we should be good stewards of his goodness just like the parable of the talents. He gave us so much and even the one would one talent that buried it, he told that he should have put it on interest. We give out of our love for Him. A well-known preacher once said “Earn all you can so you can give all you can to God.”

    I have heard this sermon dozens of time on the widow’s mites and have participated in discussions with the mainstream thoughts; probably 99% of preachers that this was ALL about giving. But at this stage of my life and ministry, I believe that it is more about corrupt religious systems that promote guilt in people because they cannot give as much as someone else. Jesus said, paraphrased, when you give, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand gives. The Pharisees did that then.

    I am rambling so I will close.

    Dr J

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