Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff says the church needs to renew efforts to foster generosity in our children. She shares five principles that can help instill the joy of giving in the next generation of givers.
How can we help our children become responsible, generous, unselfish people? This question is critical to the church as it looks to shape the next generation of faithful givers. It is even more critical to families confronted with the “gimme-gimme-gimme” mindset our consumeristic culture pushes onto their children from the most tender age.
While the need to instill generosity in younger generations is more critical than ever, it is also more challenging than ever before. Some of us are old enough to remember when Sunday school children filled cardboard folders with nickels, dimes, and quarters and when offerings were taken up in every Sunday school classroom. These time-honored ways of teaching stewardship have fallen out of favor. But in many churches, nothing else has sprung up in their place. Moreover, we now face the new challenge of teaching children about money and value in our cashless society.
This situation begs the church to think anew about how we foster generosity in our children. These five principles can guide our efforts.
1. Nurture the joy of giving.
Children are innately generous because they bear the stamp of their generous Creator. Teaching the joy of giving is more effective than teaching the obligation to give for people of all ages. But this is especially true for children. Our task is to foster the spontaneous, joyful generosity that is intrinsic to their nature. Children of all ages can be taught that sharing, caring, and giving are expressions of God’s love and the love between people.
2. Teach giving in age-appropriate ways.
The concepts of stewardship and tithing, frequently used in church conversations about giving, are too complex for young children. Young children — and frankly most adults as well — have no point of reference for understanding the biblical meaning of the term stewardship. And it makes no sense to talk to a kindergartener about giving ten percent when children aren’t typically taught percentages until the fifth grade. Instead of stewardship, use the language of caring, sharing, and giving. Instead of tithing, use a “three jar system” to help children prioritize spending, saving, and giving. (See Teaching Children to Tithe.) School-age children can be taught to distinguish between wants and needs and how money functions in their lives and in the church. Older school-age children and teens benefit from being given agency and responsibility in raising funds for projects they care about.
3. Motivate and equip parents.
Faithful stewardship is often rooted in lessons children learn at home, so successful stewardship education for children enlists parents as key allies. It reminds parents that the most powerful lesson a child will learn about stewardship and generosity is the example set by their parents’ spending and giving practices. Recent research on faith formation in children reaffirms the primary role that parents play. Yet few parents feel equipped in this vital task.
Parents want to raise socially responsible children with sound moral values. And this is an area where they look to the church to help. So, offer a sermon series on shaping your children’s values. Include the subject of generosity in workshops or classes on parenting. Provide practical tips on how parents can use everyday activities as teachable moments. Mealtime blessings, bedtime stories and prayers, shopping, a trip to the ATM, and holiday gift-giving are all opportunities to teach stewardship, gratitude, and giving. And, finally, make parents aware of the many helpful published resources on teaching stewardship in the context of family life.
4. Make stewardship a holistic aspect of your overall children’s ministry.
Congregations tend to view giving and stewardship as a once-a-year focus. But just as it’s important for your adult congregants to hear messages about generosity throughout the year, the same is true for children. Strive to integrate themes related to stewardship and generosity throughout every aspect of your children’s programming — children’s messages in worship, Sunday school lessons, Vacation Bible School, music, and mission and service activities. This also means motivating and equipping your children’s ministry leaders and teachers to give appropriate emphasis to stewardship. You may want to do an in-service training day or a mini-retreat to help them get comfortable with the subject. Give them creative license to select resources and approaches that suite their classroom needs and teaching styles.
5. Encourage children to participate fully in congregational stewardship.
Take some time to think through how children in your church are being invited to participate in the offering. If they are seated with their parents in the pews when the collection is taken, help parents understand that what they put in the plate sets a powerful example for their children. And encourage them to help their children give their own gifts, whether it is offered in worship, during a children’s time, or in the Sunday school classroom. Some churches provide age-appropriate offering envelopes for children and include them in children’s worship bags, children’s bulletins, or Sunday school flyers. If your church conducts an annual stewardship drive, provide a simple, age-appropriate way for children to participate. For example, children can craft a greeting card in place of a commitment card, because they probably already associate the giving of cards with gifts. Encourage parents to discuss pledging with their children as part of their family’s commitment process.
- 10 Ways to Help Children Grow in Faith and Generosity by Ken Sloane
- How Parents Help Children Grow in Faith by Ann A. Michel
- Teaching Children to Tithe by Dan Pezet