Chris Mavity talks with Jim Sheppard, CEO & Principal of Generis, about the importance of budgeting in the church, a tip or two to help you get started, and what churches can do in the next 2-3 years to kickstart a culture of generosity. 

Read the full audio transcript here:


Mavity: Well, hey gang. Welcome. We are continuing with Jim Shepherd from Generis. Jim’s written a book called Contagious Generousity. He is the number one finance guy to understand money, the flow of money, and all of that. That’s why we’re interviewing him, so I don’t wanna take all his thunder. Let’s hit it. Well you brought up budgeting. It’s kind of a dirty word.

Sheppard: That is a dirty word isn’t it.

"...everybody likes to talk mission and vision but they don't talk mission and vision when they sit down to do their budget..."

Mavity: But I know that you’ve got some specific thoughts on budgeting, and if you won’t get into too much of a rant, you think you can still be Christian and talk to me? I wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts on budgeting. Not only that the broken areas fixed but also your philosophy of budgeting.

Sheppard: So, probably the biggest thing I see out there, Chris, and again I’m giving you a lot of generalizations, not everybody fits into these things. I’m giving a lot of things that I see way too much of, that I think that, if you can fix these things, you’d see a much better future for your church. Everybody likes to talk mission and vision but they don’t talk mission and vision when they sit down to do their budget, and specifically they don’t connect the spending priorities to the mission and vision. That’s a disconnect man. I mean at some point it’s gunna come home and it’s really gunna cause issues for you because you don’t have the money to allocate the things you say are really important. Part of what I like to say is: don’t just let the financial people run the budget process. Yeah, they’re the compilers and they’re gunna be the ones who kinda gear and do the discipline and all of that, but it needs to be a collaborative process for everybody, speaking into the plan from a perspective of ministry power. The things that you said are important to your mission and vision – make sure those things are getting appropriate priority when you sit down and do your budget plan for next year, because you basically said: that’s where we’re going to allocate our money in 2017. That’s the actual purpose of a budget; is to predetermine where you’re going to allocate your money for the coming year. So, I think just the notion of connecting it to vision and mission and making it collaborative.

I see way too many – and those are my people. I love the financial folks – but they can’t be the ones who make all the determinations. At some point somebody needs to say no, no, no, this is important and this is what we’re doing. And your executive pastors, in particular, need to be very, very plugged in to that process and senior pastors. Even in very large churches they need to speak into it. Look at the large categories and then step back and say, “Is that really what’s important to us as far as where we’re spending our money next year?” I think those are two big ones and I think everybody can do those two. I’m trying to stay out of the really low levels of specific tactics that sometimes you have to be a little more sophisticated to do, or may not apply to certain levels of church

Mavity: So, let’s say I haven’t been doing that. I’m a pastor, a church leader. I haven’t been doing as you just suggested. What’s a tip or two so that this next time I can start down that road? Successfully, instead of, like, blowing up the whole system.

Sheppard: So, my favorite process is: get the folks in the room that you think you need to speak into it. And this could be on any issue, not just on this issue in particular. Get the people in the room who really have a voice and let’s say it’s six or seven people that are on your leadership team, and just start from ground zero. Don’t put any numbers on the table and just say, “Guys, if we had, let’s just say for example your budget was $1.5 million for next year. If we had $1.5 million for next year, where do you think we oughtta be spending that based on what we think is important?” Let’s just talk about it. Now, the chances are pretty good you’re not gunna come out with the right exact numbers, but you get some good directional indicators that might represent a reset for where you been going.

I think it’s that collaborative process – get voices other than the financial people, and everybody has a voice in there, and then you can turn it over kind of process and let it go from there. There needs to be a reset because you’ve been going down a path where you don’t have that built in. You gotta kinda get everybody to own it as you move forward. That’s what you’re doing with those seven people in the room. You’re getting them drafted into the process. They’re gunna own it because you let them speak into it early.

"I love financial folks—but they can't be the ones who make all the determinations..."

Mavity: Perfect. I wanna take just a little bit of a shift. This might be a little bit more personal, but I want you to share with people listening. Why is it that you do what you do?

Sheppard: You know, it might not be the most popular topic that people wanna talk about. I’m willing to speak prophetically, and by that I mean boldy and biblically and through the lives of these pastors and these people that I get a chance to influence. But I think it goes back to the holy discontent that God gave me about the state of the church in one of the wealthiest, probably the wealthiest nation on the face of the Earth. Why is it that we have more than we’ve ever had, and we’re giving less than we ever have? And is there somebody out there who would be willing to take this on? I don’t pretend that I can change the church as a whole. I’m kinda like the guy who’s on the seashore with all the starfish. I can’t save them all but I can save that one. I mean you’ve seen that video before. That’s kind of how I see it.

You know mine and Nancy’s story. I became a Christian in 1983. I started becoming a generous Christan in 1985, so I didn’t come home for Jim and Nancy until two years after the fact. So, we thought that was just our journey. And out here as I began to share and listen to people I can’t tell you how many people it’s not exactly like my story, but what they’re saying is."You’ve gotta turn that boat around and get it moving in a different direction..."" I became a Christian, and I started becoming a generous Christian some time after that. It’s almost like a second conversion. Not exactly a theological term, but I mean it’s almost like a second converstion. And so I’ve seen this thing happen in my life replicated out here so many times and that gives me credibility to speak about.


Well let me tell you what happened next. And the other thing is, Nancy and I try the best we know how just to live a very generous life both to the church and beyond the church. The kingdom causes that we have a deep affection for. And it’s been one of the biggest blessings of our lives. It’s just been meaningful to us.

My financial planner at one time started talking about how much money I have, how much money I could have in my retirement, and I was like, wait a minute, oh, cut – don't even go down that route. We’re not talking about that. That is non-negotionable because we’re not gunna store enough money here, were investing in eternity. I think I would still go back to probably way back in 1985. I didn’t know it would lead to this but he was preparing me already for that journey. And I’m kind of in a place, Chris, where my business background and some of the ministry stuff that I’ve done inside the church – I haven’t been on staff but I’ve served in a lot of roles in the church and this is the perfect intersection of both of those. So it’s great for my passion environment – that holy discontent really feeds a lot of that. I still have that, by the way.

Mavity: I’m glad God’s empowering you to help us. Hey, give us a quick head since you have this wide swamp of not only influence but information and input, forecast a little bit for us, not 20 years from now but 2-3 years from now, what do you see the church wants to begin this process of generosity? You can’t flip a lightswitch all of the sudden. What would that look like as it fleshes itself out, at least in your mind?

Sheppard: You know we’ve been big supporters of financial for a while and actually working on our content for Expotential East. It’s where the church planters are. I love coaching those guys and here’s why – because they have a blank canvas and they can make generosity a high value from day one. It’s a little harder for somebody who’s been out there for twenty, fifty, one-hundred years of traditional church or whatever kind of church that they are. You’ve gotta turn that boat around and get it moving in a different direction. But these guys can do it, and I tell them that in the sessions. They’re the luckiest guys in the room because you get to set this path and if you don’t set it now, then you’ll come back to me five years from now and you’ll say, “Jim I wish I’d listened to you.”

If you’ll go ahead and do it now, it’ll be much easier down the road. I can show you some church plants that have done that and they don’t regret it because they’re successful and they don’t stress out about money. So there’s that one piece. Then you’ve got a larger church, and now the larger churches gotta deal with this in terms of making it a high value. You take somebody like a Chad Moore, send out a community church in Arizona. Chad is one of the pastors who’s done a fantastic job of that. If you go to that church and you talk to somebody who’s been there more than 1 or 2 times they will tell you immediately, oh yes you’re not from around here – give, save, and live on the rest. Give, save, and live on the rest. So they’ve brought it down real low on the tree, Chris. Who can’t remember that? Give, save, and live on the rest. Which is really what God teaches us about. The problem is in America it’s live, save, and give on the rest. And so we’re involved in just trying to flip the equation from the consumer’s materialistic view point. Live, save, and give on the rest to a biblical viewpoint, which is give, save, and live on the rest.


That’s why people have such a hard time with it. They’re living at 103% because they’ve spent everything they’ve got and put money on credit cards. There’s nothing left for savings and then you talk to them about giving. Like, where the heck is that going to come from? If the math doesn’t even add up? So that’s a problem. Our consumerism and materialism is alive and thriving in the United States and we’ve gotta give that over. If we don’t do battle with that it’s gunna reak havoc in the church and that’s part of what we’re trying to do is to get people to engage that. “Oh, but Jim, we’ve got speakers and people who don’t know Christ and people who’ve been bruised from other churches.” Great, you couldn’t have picked a better day to show up today because this is how we deal with this. We believe that money is part of spiritual development and we don’t ignore it. We don’t make it an obsession, but we deal with that on a regular basis, very candidly. And if you’re checking us out, taking an interest to coming here, this is a great time for you to come. We’ve got a great message today on that – even if you don’t decide to give to our church then become a generous person. Give the money somewhere else. We’ve gotta learn to say those things.

"Our consumerism and materialism is alive and thriving in the United States and we've got to give that over..."

Then you’ve got this other thing some people are starting to talk about. I’ve started noticing it some time ago but it’s now getting a lot of conversation. That’s this idea of church attendance by faithful people. The frequency of church attendance among faithful people that’s people like me and you, Chris, not French [Fringe] people. People who love the church. And as long as we’re in town we’re gunna be there every Sunday. Maybe it’s more than one church for some of us. That group of people, over the last fifteen years, their church attendance has declined, depending on the research you read. Fifteen years ago they were going to church 3.2 times a month and now the research says they’re going to church 1.8 times a month. That is a very small slice of time, sociologically speaking, for a big trend shift like that. I’m not a sociologist, I’m not related to one and I probably can’t even spell it. But I do know that fifteen years, sociologically, for a trend to hit like that – that’s a blip. That’s a really small blip and so what it does is it affects everything. Everything. When the faithful people are only there 2 times or less per month, it affects discipleship, it affects leadership development, it affects giving development, it affects everything across the spectrum and I don’t see that changing any time soon. And we in the church we’ve got to engage that.

One of the ways to engage them, I think Larry has done a real good job at North Coast, Larry said that the biggest enemy of the church today is the club ball on the weekend. And so what he’s done I’m gunna see Larry’s very brash about saying that you don’t have to agree with him but that’s the way he says it. So what North Coast is doing is rearranges worship services so that if you’ve got your kid and you leave Saturday morning you don’t get back till Sunday after lunch from your club ball tournament-- for the weekend you’ve got services that you can go to at North Coast in the afternoon. Lot’s of churches don’t have that, so they’re missing some of their faithful people on Sunday morning. We’re gunna have to make accomadations to scheduling differences.

I think the other thing too is that we some churches are realizing is that small is the new big is that were gunna have churches of ten and fifteen thousand and continue to have churches that have ten or fifteen thousand, but they’re not going to meet in one or two locations. They’re going to be in ten or twelve locations. I was with a church yesterday that’s multisite, and their philosophy is, every time we get to seven hundred and fifty, we’re going to plant a new church we know when we get to seven hundred and fifty, we’re just about to get to camp to be about one thousand a piece. And they’re committed to having fifteen campuses of one thousand over the next twenty years. Big is the new small. Big is the new small.

And what you do there is, and this is another Larry-ism, leaders want it big, people want it small. People want that intimacy, but also when you survey them, all the things that they want in a church are things you only find in what kind of a church? A larger church. A full scale service church that has the kids and the youth and all the other things. When you keep it small with the intimate environment, you allow people to get the intimacy of the community they want, but they also are part of a larger church that offers them the services and things that they want for their kids and their family.

Those are just the realities that I see coming and all of those have implications for giving in the life in the church, getting millennials into the life of the church. I don’t think that one’s nearly as hard a lot of people are talking about. It’s language shift to pair down shift. We want to be generous. We’re just not speaking the languages. It’s like they need an interpreter or one of those things when you go to a foreign country you put the earphones on and it interprets it back to you in your language. I feel like in some of the environments, where I’m in church, is millennials need an earphone because the guy that’s up there talking is not speaking their language. It’s close, but if we had an interpreter, “Oh that’s what he means, got it, yeah, I could get into that.” I don’t think that ones as hard to crack.

Louie Giglio right here in Atlanta has done great job of cracking that. He just had passion here in those 25 and under they gave I dont know two and a half, three million dollars? Come on, they don’t have any money! Not pledges, these are not three year capital campaigns. They gave it right there in the dome of these things he was talking about when you put it in front of them correctly. I know that one out there, how do we get millennials crafted into the giving life in the church? I don’t think that ones nearly as hard. So I don’t mean to say it’s simple, but I don’t think it’s a big ministry. I think there’s attendance, and giving, and getting some of these other lifestyle issues to address – there’s probably a bigger issue.

Mavity: Okay, last question and kind of a parting shout for everybody that’s listening right now. What would you want them to take away?

Sheppard: I would say, Chris, I’ll use my own life and some of the decisions I’ve made in life we’ve all make our share of bad decisions. I’ve made a few really good decisions. I won’t really say the decision to trust Christ was my decision because it was really the holy spirit. Whatever part I had in it obviously – it was a great decision the decision. To marry Nancy. I think the decision Nancy and I made to let giving be the highest priority in our lives, financially speaking, was one of the best decisions that we’ve ever made for a lot of reasons. The blessing of being able to do what we’ve been able to do with our own church and see it do with other ministry or organizations or church start-ups. We love church planting and so we get our fair share of opportunities, we always get excited about that. "You know we sometimes see the uglier side of what happens in the church. Don’t let that deter you from your love for the church. ..."" Things like that that we’ve been able to do and just the ability to put a governor on our lifestyle and know that we’re not standing every time it comes in. That’s a good thing for us. We’ve done pretty well. We’ve not lacked or anything. I didn’t hit a Warren Buffet gold mine but we’ve done well for ourselves. The decision to give and to give generously whenever we can has really put a regulator on our life and not let us run out ahead of what we’re doing and it has prompted us spiritually two or three times in our lives to grow in ways that we might not have grown otherwise. I could give you some other things in my life that I thought were gems but in the context of this conversation I think that one would be one. I love the local church. Your local church is not perfect. I get to see you, I mean you’ve been in a lot of ministry opportunities, Chris, I have too. You know we see kinda sometimes the uglier side of what happens in the church. Don’t let that deter you from your love for the church. The church is the hope of the world. I’ve seen some things, I’ve seen the church and seen some jacked up stuff and seen some great victories that pastors can’t talk about in public and what I always come away thinking is, wow the church is really God’s. It doesn’t belong to men because if men were in charge of this it would be a failed enterprise and it would be out of business. It is God’s church. He is still doing today what he did in the old testament and the new testament and that is using frail, fallen, fallible people to run his church. Love the local church. Love the people who serve in the local church and respect them and help them and support them. I think those are two biggies for us. Nancy and I took a vow many years ago and they came from our parents – great church people – so we learned that from them but it means to be a respectful church person. When you disagree, disagree behind close doors. Cheering your church on – do that in public and invite other people to join you. You know what I’m saying? And that’s been a big win for us and the generousity thing – that commitment that we made in ‘85, ‘87 our lives to be generous – that’s one of the biggies for us.

"make a diligent attempt to listen to people who do not have your viewpoint, but try to understand what they're saying and maybe why they say it..."

Mavity: That’s fantastic, Jim. And I can’t thank you enough not only sharing your time, but the insights that you have and just being honest with us, appreciate that. I know that sometimes we can confuse things but–

Sheppard: Let me throw one other piece, and I wanna add one other thing in there. I’m really kinda hit and miss with my friends. Make a diligent attempt to listen to people who do not have your viewpoint, but try to understand what they’re saying and maybe why they say it. Even if you walk away with the same level of disagreement about the issues then you can at least lean in and say, I can see why Jim felt that way. I don’t agree with where he’s coming from, but I can see that. But just listen to other viewpoints. That’s been one of the big growth points for me over the last year and a half because I haven’t always done that and I’m just discovering just what a gem that is.

Mavity: Okay, great. Well, that prompts one more question. So you take that as far as to say if you’re a Georgia fan go to an Alabama game…

Sheppard: Hey, bro, now wait a minute. We went way off topic. That was not on the list but yeah I might.

Mavity: If they’re playing Georgia?

Sheppard: Yeah, right, if they’re playing Georgia then you had just me and you then yeah I might be in to that.

Mavity: Thanks for joining us. If you wanna get ahold of Jim or anyone on his team, you can go to Generis, So Jim, thanks again and God bless ya.

Sheppard: Thanks for having me here bro. God bless.

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