I have noticed that the word “tithe” is often received as a dirty word. For those who have come to Unity from other denominations, the word can conjure images of grim self-sacrifice, suffocating rules, and a strict accounting of whether one’s financial gifts are adequate. But that’s not the lesson I learned about tithing.
Shortly after I joined Unity in 1993, I was invited to participate in Stretton Smith’s 4T Prosperity Program. I’m sure many of you remember it: The program at that time consisted of a series of 12 cassette tapes and a workbook, which were meant to be listened to/read together. Each participant agreed to tithe—that’s the full 10 percent—to their Unity community during the program, plus committed to meditating daily on prosperity and regularly attending church. What set the program apart was a money-back guarantee: If your life is not transformed, your money is cheerfully refunded. All of it.
The 4T program made a believer out of me. When I began, I was so broke that I couldn’t afford the $40 fee for the workbook and tapes. By the end of the 12 weeks, I had a lucrative new client (I was a freelance editor) and an unshakable knowing that God is the source of my supply. The daily affirmations, learning the power of the “I Am,” and the gratitude—expressed through tithing—for every good thing that came my way changed my life. Twenty years later I still believe in the power of the tithe as an active demonstration that I am putting my trust in God first and always. A community of people who believe this will ensure the vitality and longevity of the entire congregation to which they belong.
Transformation = Increased Giving
Every Unity center exists to uplift the consciousness of all, both within the congregation and outside it, through exploring and following the teachings of Jesus. This requires a place to gather, staff and volunteers to keep things running smoothly, and resources for adult and youth education, music, outreach, and other programs. These things cost money. The million-dollar question (no pun intended) is this: How do we convey this message to our congregations in a way that promotes financial stewardship—such as the recently updated 4T program—as opposed to resentment at being asked for money (again)?
J. Clif Christopher, author of Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate and Rich Church, Poor Church, says it is no longer enough to answer the question, Why should I give? Churches need to answer the question, Why should I give to you?
When people give, they want to see transformation, in their own lives and in the lives of others. They want to feel that they are part of something larger, and that their contributions make a real and lasting difference. If they are simply asked to give in order to expand the building or to keep the lights on—although these are valid needs that must be addressed—the response will be lackluster. If we want passionate, engaged givers, Christopher says, we must take a lesson from the nonprofit world:
[We must] focus on mission rather than survival, compelling communication rather than facts communication, debt principal rather than debt payments, asking rather than not asking, humility rather than arrogance, [and] high expectations rather than low expectations . . . (from Rich Church, Poor Church)
(Watch Christopher’s message to Unity ministers on this topic at:
In his earlier book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, Christopher says churches are in the business of changing lives—that’s the “product.” If the community leaders can’t demonstrate how this is achieved, the level of giving will suffer.
“Now Open Your Hearts and Purses”
Unity co-founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore also understood the need for meaning in the message. In the June 1905 issue of Unity Magazine, they asked for $100,000 (several million in today’s dollars) to carry forward the work of the Unity Society:
Money is being hoarded and is lying idle in banks all over the land that ought to be used to educate and spiritually enlighten the human family. If you have a surplus over and above your needs, you are not fulfilling the righteous law by letting it lay idle. Set it into circulation by giving it to some good cause—lending it to the Lord—and it will return to you again in due season multiplied. . . . Now open your hearts and purses. (Timeless Treasures: Quotes from Unity Magazine by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore)
The Fillmores freely acknowledged that Unity is of two worlds, the spiritual and the material, and that the resources of each are necessary to support the other. In 1906 the Fillmores offered all donors to their new building the opportunity to have their name put in the cornerstone (“This connects you with this health and success centre as long as the building lasts.”). What cornerstone will you offer to your congregation? And what kind of guarantee, money-back or otherwise, are you willing to make?