UMCGiving

Decentralization and the Changing Face of Generosity

Photo credit: CableFree
Photo credit: CableFree
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It’s hard to imagine anyone on the planet who doesn’t know the term “Wi-Fi.” Many of us struggle to suppress the fear of finding ourselves in a place where there is no Wi-Fi (disconnectaphobia?). Access to the internet—not just in our homes and offices—has become so important (especially during these last two years) that many have argued it should be considered “a basic utility” such as electricity or water.

Far fewer of us are as aware of the term “DeFi,” but it has the potential to affect our lives almost as much as Wi-Fi as we live into the future. Here’s a definition:

“Decentralized finance, or 'DeFi', is an emerging digital financial infrastructure that theoretically eliminates the need for a central bank or government agency to approve financial transactions. Regarded by many as an umbrella term for a new wave of financial services innovation, DeFi is deeply connected with blockchain -- the decentralized, immutable, public ledger on which Bitcoin is based -- that enables all computers (or nodes) on a network to hold a copy of the history of transactions. The idea is that no single entity has control over, or can alter, that ledger of transactions.” – Marc Wojno, Senior Editor for ZDNet, in “The Future of Money” (January 18, 2022), ZDNet, https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-defi-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-future-of-decentralised-finance.

What’s of more interest to me right now is not the technology of De-Fi, blockchains, and the growing assortment of cryptocurrencies, but the cultural shift we are experiencing toward decentralization and how it affects our churches and generosity as a whole.

The rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum has been fueled by the desire of individuals to manage wealth and value without banks, brokers, and the government always being in the middle. In the world of generosity, what I have noticed is a similar movement by donors away from institutions that act as “brokers” for charitable work and compassion toward decentralized options that allow donors to be more involved in those good works.

My parents were of a generation who gave to the church in the conviction that the church was the best institution to manage their charitable giving. Their generation is passing on to glory, and many church leaders are bemoaning that rising generations are not giving in the same way that generation gave, which I’m sure is true in many circumstances. It is a mistake to assume that the difference is an indicator that rising generations are less generous. That is not necessarily the case.

What intrigues me is whether the same generation that is fueling the world of decentralized finance is choosing instead to participate in a decentralized world of generosity. Perhaps what they are seeking is an experience of generosity not brokered by institutions or government, but which they can experience in the first person. Perhaps what they desire is to get closer to the action.

For many congregations, this will be a shift in the way they approach stewardship. It will mean moving from “How do we fund the budget?” to “How do we grow in mission and touch more lives?” It will be a shift from trying to motivate people with numbers to moving people with stories. It will be transitioning from the language of obligation and duty to the language of compassion, community, and hope. It will require new thinking; How do we bring people closer to the impact of their generosity?

excerpt from a story by Ken Sloane, Director of Stewardship & Generosity, Discipleship Ministries

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.