In his Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase made the term “Extravagant Generosity” mainstream in the lexicons of many of our churches. This summer Michael Reeves and Jennifer Tyler release Extravagant Generosity: Heart of Giving. I am grateful to have received an advance copy from Abingdon Press and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
This is a four-week program, designed for use with a significant portion of the congregation. Similar to Schnase’s book, there are four weeks’ worth of small group studies and preaching helps to help incorporate the themes into worship. I think this is a very effective approach, as it gets the entire congregation thinking about the same things for a month or so. And it can easily segue directly into your fall stewardship campaign.
At the heart of it is a 28-day devotional guide. Each study participant (or at least each family) would receive this book with the expectation that they would spend a few quiet minutes every day with it.
For the small group study there is a leader’s guide, lifting up some of the themes from the previous weeks’ reading and a short (30 seconds or so) video. There are similar videos to be used during worship as well. I find the videos to be the real weak link in this whole program. Having watched videos as part of the Disciple study and nearly all of the studies put out by Adam Hamilton, I expected the videos to really add some content and sizzle to the study. But I find them long on style and short on content. Viewers are presented with no spoken words, just text on the screen with absolutely beautiful backgrounds and music. I personally kept waiting for the video get to started, to get to the point, and it never did. You can get a feel for the videos through the promo video posted on Youtube here.
And if you have people in worship who are not part of the study, the worship videos will not help them get caught up. I imagined myself in that situation and decided I would feel like an outsider watching something I didn’t understand, almost like an inside joke.
Clearly the strength is the 28 days of devotional reading, written by Bishop Schnase. I found them very interesting and well-written with enough variety to keep me engaged. If yours is a church where doing these kinds of reading matches the culture, then this program has real potential. My wife leads the small group study that we attend, and we agreed that with the middle-aged parents that attend our group the chances of us doing our homework and reading this every day are really pretty slim.
(By the way, if you won’t be offering the study in your church, at least pick up a copy of the devotional book. There is stewardship preching gold in there.)
So the bottom line is whether or not I would endorse this study for use in your church this fall. It really depends on your church’s culture. If a good chunk of your congregation will read the devotionals on a near-daily basis, then I would heartily encourage you to offer this. But if not, there is little offered to help everyone “catch up” to maximize the impact in worship.
And if you do decide to use it in your congregation, check out online retailers who offer discounts significantly below the “sticker price” and offer free shipping, a real help if you are buying dozens of books for your small group studies.