In an economic downturn, there will be more and more people living out the phrase "it's mine," says one pastor.
And while more people try to clutch onto what they have, Pastor Rob Wegner of Granger Community Church in Indiana is making one simple request – share.
"What's common is to say 'it's mine.' What's uncommon is to share," Wegner told hundreds of Christians at the second annual Generosity Conference, hosted by Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill.
"We live in a culture [where] there's this hidden curriculum that's taught day after day – that you are what you own," Wegner said at the one-day event this past Saturday.
But it's time to take a step toward selflessness, he urged.
Tithing alone would be a major step in that direction.
A Barna survey last year found that only 9 percent of all born again adults gave 10 percent of their income to churches and charitable groups.
According to Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, if Christians all tithed, it would result in an additional $143 billion to what is currently being offered. Half of that additional sum could educate and provide healthcare for all the poor in the world, Wegner pointed out.
"And we'd still have $70 billion left over just to spread the good news of Jesus Christ," Wegner highlighted.
"What if the Church did that? How many think the whole world would just look on and say 'who's this Jesus?'" he added.
"But we don't think about the tithe that way," he lamented. "We tend to think about it as a tax" when Jesus meant it as a means for world and internal transformation toward selflessness, compassion, freedom and simplicity.
The current recession is further driving Christians to close their wallets. A more recent Barna survey showed that 22 percent of Americans have stopped their giving to churches and religious centers and many others have cut back.
Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church, demonstrated the potential of giving among Christians and the troubling reality of how little believers actually offer.
Christians in the United States who actually attend church twice a month or more often or who consider themselves strong or very strong Christians earned a total collective 2005 income of more than $2 trillion, which would make them the seventh wealthiest nation in the world, Ferguson said, citing Passing the Plate.
But there's a problem, he added.
"The wealthiest national body of believers in all of church history ends up spending most of the money on themselves," he stated.
Money is a major struggle for believers, Ferguson acknowledged.
Church reformer Martin Luther even stated that the last thing to be converted is the wallet, with the first two being the head and the heart.
Also, Wegner pointed out that one out of 10 verses in the Gospels is about money. "Over 2,000 verses is about money because he (Jesus) knows in large part, the battle for what your soul will look like at the end of your life here ... is going to get played out in the area of your finances."
Ferguson is hoping the Church can turn things around.
This can be the Church's finest hour, he emphasized. "Generosity can make an impact more than ever before."
"The whole world is clutching and grabbing" out of fear and greed, said Ferguson.
"The January statistics are in. Over 600,000 jobs have been eliminated, consumer confidence is at an all-time low, I think our government is trying to put on the good face but it's desperate for solutions" and surveys show that Americans feel the government should pass the economic stimulus package but at the same time they are not really convinced it will make a difference.
"Out there, right now, outside these doors, they're looking for hope and help," Ferguson told the hundreds of believers.
He urged the Church to be an example of generosity at a time when it's needed now more than ever.
The Generosity Conference comes as Community Christian Church has taken giving and serving to a new level. Thousands of congregants last year participated in a 10-week generosity challenge and joined one of four teams that were developed to focus on reproducing churches, serving communities throughout Chicagoland, helping eradicate poverty in Southeast Asia, and changing lives in Uganda.
During a special service last year, the church gave its entire offering of $252,788 that day to those four areas of mission. It plans to do the same in March this year during its Celebration Generosity service.