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Emerging Picture of Generosity Across Generations

By: Matt Randerson, works for Thrivent, where he specializes in developing creative learning experiences and tools that help pastors across the country.


Photo courtesy of Matt Randerson.

How do we collectively understand what it means to live a generous life? This question was at the heart of the multiple research projects that Thrivent commissioned Barna Research to explore over the past few years.

Specifically, there’s a tension that exists with many church leaders when it comes to the topic of generosity—especially when you add different generations into the conversation. At times there are assumptions and perceptions that younger generations are not monetarily generous, this assumption is plausible. Only 13% of millennials surveyed would say they are most frequently generous though financial giving. The low numbers are not exclusive to Millennials. Only 1 in 5 U.S Christians would say they most frequently express generosity through monetary giving.

Do the numbers mean that U.S Christians are not generous? According to the research, no. In fact, across generations from Gen Z to Elders there’s a high level of importance placed on generosity, 88% of US Christians would say generosity is extremely-very important to them, with Millennials leading the way at 95%.

A great opportunity is in front of us as church leaders. The opportunity is to expand our definition of generosity.

Kristina Paparo Iiy5yxy8wky Unsplash

Hospitality is one of five major types of generosity. Photo by Kristina Paparo on Unsplash.

I hear pastors ask and contemplate the question: “How generous is your church?” This answer is often a numerical one. As I work with pastors across the country there’s a tendency to measure the health of generosity by how well the tithes and offerings are doing in comparison to the budget - Or the answer is connected to how successfully they are filling all the volunteer spots needed to make church service a success. I am not minimizing the value and importance of these two particular expressions but our opportunity is to expand our definition of what it means to be generous. The people surveyed in the research have fascinating things to tell us about how they live out generosity and it’s not associated to just one day of the week – It’s a wholistic, every day, intentional focus for U.S Christians. Emerging from the research was five major types of generosity.

Hospitality: openness, welcome, unqualified acceptance, lacking judgment. 13% of Millennials identified hospitality as their more frequent expressions of generosity compared to 1% of Elders. Only one-third of U.S. Christians limit hospitality to hosting people in one’s home
Emotional-relational support: being there for someone, compassionate listening, verbal encouragement, and support. This is the second highest expression amongst U.S Christians at 25%

Volunteering-service: helping one another through unpaid labor. Highest expression amongst U.S Christians (31%).

Volunteers Photo By Matt Brodie South Carolina Conference

Volunteer service is one of five major types of generosity. Photo by Matt Brodie, South Carolina Conference.

Monetary giving: giving financial resources to create a positive impact. Just 1 in 5 U.S Christians say monetary giving is their most frequent expression of generosity
Gifts: The giving of non-financial presents. 12% of Millennials would say this is the most important form of generosity, U.S Christians 9%
These five Generosity Expressions offer us the chance to expand our definition of what it means to live a generous life beyond the offering plate.
Are you curious to know your primary expression of generosity? We created a tool to help you capture the vibrant picture of generosity. Visit

And what does generosity look like in your church community across generations and beyond what takes place on Sunday? Visit and click “Church Professionals” to get your church started today!

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