Contagious Generosity

Contagious Generosity

George Thompson

In August’s episode of the CSN Podcast, our Host George B. Thompson welcomes special guest, Chris Willard. As Keynote Speaker for our CSN Forum Dallas in February, Chris presented a message titled, “Accelerating Generosity In Your Church.” In this conversation, you’ll hear George and Chris talk through biblical stewardship strategies and practical approaches to help people take their next steps in discipleship in the areas of stewardship and generosity. We hope you find this discussion helpful as you a build healthy stewardship ministry and develop new ways to connect with people in your church. If you have questions or to provide feedback on this podcast, please contact us at We would love to hear from you!


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Chris Willard

Chris Willard is a connector, consultant and communicator and is the co-author of Contagious Generosity, Creating a Culture of Giving in Church.  He has more than 30 years of ministry leadership experience and served as the executive pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando. During his tenure there, Discovery launched three multi-site venues and experienced a season of unprecedented growth.  Chris also is a member of the team of elders at Discovery. Currently, Chris serves as director of generosity initiatives for Leadership Network and as a senior generosity strategist for Generis. He has consulted with the leaders of many of the largest and most effective churches in America and Europe, helping them to accelerate growth, spiritual health and a culture of generosity, stewardship and giving. Chris and his wife Susan live in Orlando and are the parents of three young adult children.

Want to read more about this month’s episode? Here’s our transcript*:

George: Welcome to the Christian Stewardship Network. We are here to empower pastors and leaders in the local church to be the best they can be for their congregations and to be kingdom builders in the community. You can learn more about CSN by going to My name is George B. Thompson, your host for the Christian Stewardship Network. I serve as pastor of stewardship and finance at Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles, California. It is my honor to host today’s conversation. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) We are honored to have Chris Willard with us here today. Chris is the Co-Author of “Contagious Generosity.” Welcome, Chris.

Chris: Thanks, George. It’s really good to be with you.

George: I want to ask you a question. What made you write the book “Contagious Generosity”?

Chris: That’s a great question. It started with someone inviting me to speak at a conference, a pastors’ conference. I was asked to speak on some of the things that I have been learning in working with so many churches on this topic of how do you accelerate generosity and stewardship, how do you create a culture of giving. So, I put together an outline and delivered that breakout session. Someone in the room said, “You know, that’d be a good book.” I thought, “Well, it wasn’t even really that good of a breakout session, but; maybe it could be one day.” Then, I got smart and invited my dear friend and colleague Jim Sheppard, who is the CEO of Generis, to help co-write the book with me. That’s when it turned into something that we think can be helpful to pastors. Essentially, the book “Contagious Generosity” just answers the questions: What does it take to create a culture of generosity, stewardship and giving in the church? Jim and I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of churches over the years, and we’ve learned an awful lot from them. We share this in the book.

George: I want to talk about how to make a church have contagious generosity. When I listened to your session at the Christian Stewardship Network Forum, one of the things I realized is that you have a very extensive background. You’ve worked inside of churches for over 25 years, you’re an executive pastor, have been in Orlando for quite some time, and you’re also setting up satellite churches. So, my question to you is, “How does a church get contagious about being generous? How do you start a generous church?”

Chris: Well, I would say that it starts with the church figuring out what they believe the Bible says about generosity, stewardship, and giving. Meaning a church has to identify what they want to teach, what they want to preach, and what they are going to communicate about what they think the Bible says. And I’ll tell you George, one of the fundamental questions that a church is going to need to answer is, “Are we going to teach generosity and stewardship in giving because we wanna raise money? Or are we going to teach it because we believe that stewardship is part of discipleship? That giving is part of growing, and this issue is fundamental to spiritual formation? Because that answer will dramatically change the way, a church tackles this issue. If they’re trying to raise money, they’ll do the fundraising strategies. If they’re trying to grow people, they’ll do discipleship in this area of stewardship. So I would say that’s the place they start.

George: My hands are raised right now because I’m so excited about what you just said. I think there’s been a big change in the decision are we doing fundraising or are we growing disciples? So, how do you differentiate the two and do you think fundraising works without doing discipleship?

Chris: Yeah, you know what? Fundraising works actually. If all you want to do is raise money, then you can just borrow the tactics that are used out there in the world, apply them in the church, and you’ll raise the money. But I don’t think you’ll do it in a way that helps people’s hearts be expanded and assist them to grow spiritually. So, yeah, it works. I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t work because it does, but it’s so much better for us that we use a more spiritually-minded approach to this and think about helping people take whatever their next step is in discipleship in the area of generosity and giving. That’s the approach from the churches that we like, respect, and have worked with over the years. We have seen that approach works best.

George: It appears when you work with churches that you have a very specific strategy as to how it works and how you do it. What are some of the biblical-based strategies that help grow people in areas of discipleship? How does that work when you collaborate with a church, or when you start a church, and you want them to have a culture of generosity?

Chris: Andy Stanley framed this up nicely some years ago. He said if you want to inspire generosity and stewardship in the church, I’m paraphrasing now, but essentially he told me you have to do four things. You have to preach it, you have to teach it, you have to celebrate it, and you have to model it. So, preaching is what we do on the weekend, what we do in our printed stuff, on the web, in a video. Teaching is what we do in small groups. If life change happens in circles not rows, then we have to teach generosity and stewardship in small groups. You preach it; you teach it, you celebrate it—you say thank you, you tell stories, you inspire people—and then finally, you model it. A church has to spend and share money well. The church should use the resources God entrusted to them well if they want to expect that others will be generous with the church. So that would be one way of thinking about a strategy for creating a culture of generosity.

Another way that churches do this is they think about the different audiences in the church. The various kinds of people in the church and they ask, “What are we uniquely doing to encourage and inspire and teach these different audiences?” So, George, I know you’re familiar with our friends down at Gateway Church in Dallas, their model is that they have different strategies for different kinds of individuals. So, they talk to people who are struggling financially; they talk to those who are stable, maybe they’re not. They’re one paycheck away from being in trouble, but they’re not in trouble, yet. They talk to those who are solid financially, maybe they’ve got some margin, and then finally, they have strategies for those who have a surplus. So their model, if you will, is more looking at the different kinds of people in the church. There’s a lot of ways to go at it, but you just have to take a comprehensive approach and tackle this thing strategically. Hope, George, is not a strategy. Wishing that to have a strategy.

George: How you teach, it’s almost like layering it. You want to teach it; then you have small groups. But, one of the biggest things, I think that is hidden that people don’t do as much, is celebrating. Like in testimonies. When we started using testimonies at our church, it was just great to see people celebrating because what people were saying was, “Oh my goodness, that’s Shirley. If Shirley can do it, I can do it.” We’re sharing testimonies in different ways, also. Just let me know if you agree with this, where you have people get up and share their story live. When you do a video, it’s really nice. And now with an iPhone or another device, you can just shoot a video now very easily. Even shooting video at events and things that you’re doing. Then, being able to edit them. That’s been very helpful.

Chris: Yeah. The power of story is incredible. When you can have someone in your congregation say something like, “Listen, we were afraid to give. We didn’t have enough money. We were struggling every month. Then, we sensed the Lord wanted us to step out in faith and so, we started to go for it, and the Lord met us there. And it’s been a great journey, and we really have seen the Lord.” You know, those stories are inspiring to others, and you’re right, George, it causes that person who’s in the fifth row to think, “Well, that’s kind of like me. I’m like that. So maybe, Lord, maybe I could step out and maybe you’d meet me too.” So I do think that you…the way Jim and I phrased it in the book, you accelerate what you celebrate. You get more of what you make a big deal out of. So, we need to celebrate people taking steps of faith in this area of generosity and giving.

George: Right. Then your fourth area, I just wanted also to highlight because I think that you hit them, but I believe that these are huge points. The fourth is modeling. I just want to talk about the importance of modeling because in the Bible, follow me as I follow Christ is that we need to model as good behavior. So, what are some ways that you can look at and show to people opportunities for them to be able to model behaviors of stewardship and generosity?

Chris: Well, one of the very first things I would say is that the pastor needs to recognize that generous pastors lead generous churches. I have never encountered a church, which I would say is truly a generous church, which did not have generous leadership, people who were truly generous leading. Now, I have encountered generous pastors, generous church leaders whose churches were not yet generous, but; that’s normally because they weren’t teaching. preaching, modeling, and celebrating. So, here’s what I would say, first thing is a pastor needs to realize that they have to be on this journey personally of growing in their generosity and telling that story to others. Then, I would say in this area of modeling, you know, how a church spends the money that it already has is a powerful message to the congregation. I worked with a church, a large multi-site Church, and I asked one of the leading donors, a young woman, in the church a question. I said, “what prevents you from giving more than you do in your church right now?” Her answer stunned me. She said, “I feel like if I give more money here at our church, they’ll just buy more flat-screen TVs and technology.” So, you see, what she was observing was, “Man, they spend a lot of money on technology around here.” Now, I knew the church leadership had a good reason for why they were spending money on technology, but they had not communicated that to her in a way that made sense. It looked to her like bad stewardship, and it was actually causing her not to be enthusiastic about giving.

George: This goes back to number three, which is celebrating. Maybe saying like, “We use these screens to interact with the younger generation. Those aren’t just flat-screen TVs; those are ministry tools.” Like she didn’t see it that way. It goes back to how they’re celebrating or how the messaging is going out in those areas. That’s great.

Chris: I, also, think that you’ve got a church in this whole area of modeling has to be really careful in thinking about how dollars leave the four walls of our church? Meaning, is our church also being generous in the kingdom? Because if everything is about building our church, building our ministry, making our stuff better, that also can be kind of demotivating to givers who are thinking about where they could give.

George: That’s why you always talk about the kingdom. But, you, also, speak of the city, your city. Like in Inglewood, California, one of the things we do is to always talk about the city, not necessarily our church. You know, we read about this happening in the Bible, in Judea, Samaria and the other areas. Speaking messages in this way would also be helpful.

Chris: Absolutely. You just got to let people know what it is that you’re doing and let them know that the dollars that they’re giving in your church are actually being freed up and sent out to do some good in the community and that motivates them to give more.

George: As I was listening to you, I heard you talk a lot about accelerating generosity in a church. I used to play sports and played collegiately and on the US team while in high school. One of the things we always had is a DNA of a team. You know, like you guys are either winning and you always have a culture. Everybody has a culture. I’ve noticed the churches have the same thing. So, how does somebody accelerate generosity in the DNA in their church? What are some things they could do to get their church to be more generous?

Chris: Well, again, I would say it’s about having that comprehensive strategy. That is preaching and teaching and modeling and celebrating. That is going to help to bubble up and create movement in the culture.

George: Got you.

Chris: I would also say that one of the things that we need to do is what Jim and I in the book called “The Ministry of Asking.” If you want to accelerate generosity in your church, you have to invite people to give, and you have to challenge them to step out in faith. It’s been said that people don’t give to need, they give to the vision, which is kind-of silly frankly. Well, if there’s a hurricane or a tornado, people love to give to need. They, also, love to give to vision, but the other thing they like to give to is expectation. So you have to invite people to give, you have to expect that people who are going to share, you know, you have to normalize that around here, we’re a generous church. God gave first, so we give, too. You’ve got to expect that from people, and I think that can really impact the church.

George: Right. You talked about casting the vision. That’s very important. But, another area you spoke about during the Forum was that the church needs to build trust. Create a culture where everyone trusts and understands why they’re giving, and then we cast the vision. Also, I would like to talk to you about relationships. As far as the relationships that people have within the church, such as the leaders of the members of the church in different areas, what is a way, having the DNA of very good churches, what role do these relationships play?

Chris: Well, it’s huge, right? Because it’s all about people and it’s all about connecting with them. Pastors love to get givers to give to their vision. I’ll tell you what the wise pastor (especially, when he’s working with a high capacity giver, somebody that God has blessed with wealth), is not just asking that giver to give to the church’s vision. He’s trying to figure out, “what is the vision that God has given you?” What do you think God wants you, as a giver, as an individual, to do with the resources that he’s entrusted to you? Because, as your pastor, I want to help you make those dreams come true. That takes relationship, that takes conversations, that just doesn’t happen on its’ own. It’s not just standing in front of a group and saying here’s the plan, help me pay for it. It’s about really working with people and getting in their life. This illustrates the broader principle that in the church, with regard to generosity and stewardship in giving, we have to talk to different kinds of givers differently. You got to have a different kind of conversation with the person that God has blessed with wealth in your church, for example, then you will have with the individual who attends your church but doesn’t give it all.

George: Right. And Chris I don’t mean to interrupt you, but what you’re saying is so critical to…if you remember everyone, we’re always taught as pastors of stewardship to divide the people up, you know, and we have the categories. Members are struggling and sinking, steady, solid means they’re doing pretty good, surplus, service. But this is the problem; we always tend to tilt toward the people that are struggling and sinking because they scream the loudest. We’re focusing on that struggling, sinking, and steady, and then some of the solid. Because one of the mistakes that a lot of ministries make, that we even made in the very beginning was, if you just focus in on that area then people think, “I only come to stewardship if I have a problem as opposed to the other areas.” Then the people that are the top givers, we just send them a letter, and that’s it. Once a year and in doing that. I guess my question is, “how are the churches supposed to engage with people who are doing well financially and just some strategies to be able to do that”

Chris: I think you’re exactly right, George, you could argue that the most overlooked group of people in a church are the people that God has blessed with wealth. And that sounds funny, but it’s really true because most churches have specific ministries for people who are struggling financially. They have budget counseling, they have benevolence programs. What strategy does the typical church have to encourage and disciple and equip the person that God has blessed with wealth to really see what it is that God wants them to do with those dollars? So, I would say one of the most important things you can do in that area is to recognize that it’s valuable to put the people that God has blessed financially in your congregation, bring them in a relationship with one another so that they can encourage and inspire and help one another. It’s very difficult. As you said, the reason why people that have money are blessed with wealth don’t go to any stewardship meetings is because they can’t share what’s really going on. The lady next to them, the lady sitting next to them is thinking about canceling her cable because she can’t pay her rent and the person that God has blessed with wealth is trying to decide if he should sell his plane. You know, and he can’t have that conversation with her, but he can have it with another person in the congregation who also understands those issues.

George: Right. And we started that a few years ago. Having the people meet and one thing we found out is that, actually, the people that are up in the surplus and the service level, they have a lot of issues and concerns. too. One of their problems is time. I mean like they want to spend more time. They run a business, it’s doing extremely well, but they’re working six days a week, 12 hours a day. By meeting, they can talk to another person, and then while they’re talking they find out, “Hey, I see how you manage your kids.” They start to do things differently or hire another person or just learn differently about things that will help them and just have a Bible study where they can find that also in God’s Word. So I’ve seen that a lot.

Chris: Yeah, and I would say too, the lead pastor is very instrumental in this because in many churches the lead pastor is leading a complicated enterprise. He’s the guy doing hiring and firing and budgeting and risk management and forecasting. All of those are the similar kinds of things that the business owners or the business leaders in your church are doing. So that lead pastor needs to realize he has something to offer that group of people, not to mention what he has to offer from a pastor point of view in terms of his expertise with regard to understanding the Scriptures and being able to really help people navigate some of those personal issues as well.

George: Great. You know when you were an executive pastor, how did you teach stewardship to the church? That’s my first part of the question. The second one is regarding multi-site. How’d you get that all broken apart to where you could go out to a site and get the same thing that you are getting at the main campus? So, the first question is how did you teach stewardship and how did you get it out to the people on a consistent basis based on the four things you said earlier?

Chris: Yeah. Well, we use that strategy. We preached and taught and celebrated and modeled. One of the things that we made an effort to do well was the moments during the service when you receive the offering. We worked at, and continue to work at this to this day in our church; we worked at making sure that we were highly leveraging those few moments. I mean it’s really crazy to think of how often in churches that offering time is just kind of “blah blah blah.” Now is the time of the service when we’re going to give back to the Lord a portion of the blah blah blah. It sounds the same this week as it did last week and it’s probably going to sound the same next week. We need to do a better job than that. So, one of the most important strategies that a church can do is make sure that they’re highly leveraging those few moments during the service.

George: Right. And leveraging means, so I’m translating, just as someone that’s listening that’s a volunteer, someone may be a stewardship pastor that just started or working with the churches. When we say leveraging, so I’m just translating then you let me know if that’s what you’re saying is that. That time to make sure during that time period that you have something new, something different, but then you’re also engaging people on different levels. Meaning that you’re you’re sharing a scripture with them, but then also you may be telling a story one time, or you may be celebrating a person. Or doing it in different ways, but actually, have a game plan and have it set up, so you’re able to do that.

Chris: Exactly, George. Because most mean I think many of us would have to admit that when we’re leading in this church service, we think about what we’re going to say for the offering time as our feet are moving to the microphone and that’s not good enough.

George: Oh, no.

Chris: We got to really plan that thing out and know what you’re doing. Now, with regard to multi-site, I think one of the most important issues we need to address is we need to realize the campus pastor, the lead person on that campus, has to carry this message of generosity and stewardship and giving. Because for many people, that’s the person who is viewed as that’s my pastor. I mean that’s the guy I’ll call in the middle of the night if there’s a problem, that’s the guy who’s praying for me and knows my story. As church leaders, when we identify and select campus pastors for these roles, we’re not just looking for someone who’s a good organizer or somebody who’s a good shepherd. We need a leader who is committed to this generosity and stewardship message, too. We know that generous leaders lead generous churches. The campus pastor’s influence is going to be significant.

George: That’s great. Good. Hey, could you just tell me a little bit about Generis, your role and what they will be doing in the future?

Chris: Yeah, sure. So, Generis is a company that’s committed to helping churches accelerate generosity and stewardship and giving and create cultures in the church that support those things. We work with churches around the country. Many of the churches we’re working with want to do some sort of giving campaign or capital campaign or accelerated giving initiative. And so, we’ll help them put together a strategy that really makes that special for the church and doesn’t just raise money, but as we were saying earlier, really does help grow people spiritually and helps to change the culture of the church. And so, that’s the work that we do at Generis, and I’ve had a ball working with some just amazing churches around the country over the past several years. And then of course, as you know, George, I also serve as the director of Generosity Initiatives for Leadership Network. And in that context, I helped put together cohorts groups of churches that really want to tackle this generosity stewardship issue, and together we tackle those things, and it’s been a great experience as well.

George: Yeah, I get so excited when I listen to you speak because I want people to be generous because we just love giving, and then we receive so much, but I just love giving. And it is not just about giving. It’s in just being content, too. I want to thank you for taking the time today to just come by and let us talk to you a little bit about generosity. And, also, your book “Contagious Generosity,” it’s on Amazon. It’s an excellent book, and I’d like to call you back someday and check-in with a couple of areas that we have about having a culture of generosity and helping people, not only throughout the United States but the world in the area generosity.

Chris: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

George: Good. It’s been a pleasure. To our audience, once again, you can go online for more information about Chris Willard’s book, “Contagious Generosity”. Also, you can find everything we’re doing at the Christian Stewardship Network by going to Visit us online to receive a free e-book through our ministry partner, Generis. We want to give you practical help to grow and do Kingdom business. Thank you so much and good talking to you, Chris.

Chris: Take care.

George: I want to thank you for joining us on today’s episode. Whether this is your first podcast or you’ve experienced several with us, thank you for going on the journey with us today. It is our goal to equip you and empower you with the tools to be a blessing to the kingdom. For more information about podcasts or other great resources, visit us at And if this was a blessing to you, please subscribe to us on iTunes or Google Play and share us with others. Let’s do Kingdom building together. Look forward to you joining us for the next episode of the CSN Podcast.

*Transcript edits were made for grammatical corrections and clarification purposes. To use a portion of this transcript for publication, you must send a request in writing to

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