Raising kids who give generously

Written by Matt Bell
Published on April 10, 2023

The minute your children begin receiving money, whether from an allowance, a gift, or some other source, encourage them to give at least 10 percent to God. If your young kids are using a three-slotted piggy bank, keep it somewhere visible. Every time they receive money, teach them to put portions into each section right away, the first portion to God, the second portion for saving, and the third portion for spending. And, right from the beginning, be sure to teach them why. 

I had coffee one morning with four young men, all in their twenties. All had been raised in Christian homes. All had seen their parents giving to their church. None of them understood why. 

“I knew that my parents tithed,” Matt said, “but it seemed like something they did just to check a box.” Will agreed: “I remember seeing my parents giving, and they would give me a dollar to put in the offering. But as far as understanding why they were doing that, I don’t know that I ever made a connection.” 

So help your kids understand that our generosity is a grateful response to God’s generosity. He gave us everything we have. He gave us our very lives. He gave us His Son, Jesus. And He continues to give to us every day—the sunrise and the sunset, the roofs over our heads, the food on our tables. Giving is one very meaningful way to say thanks.

In addition, there are a lot of needs in the world, and He invites us to come alongside Him in addressing those needs. When your kids give toward those needs, help them understand that they aren’t giving to churches or ministries. They’re giving directly to Jesus:

“The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

It’s important for our kids to see that the money they give is impacting real people in real, life- changing, and even eternity-shaping ways. The church that our family attends does a wonderful job using videos to tell the stories of life change that God is bringing about through the initiatives and ministries we are all involved in. Seeing those videos is encouraging, moving, and inspiring. It helps us see that our giving is making a difference.

One of the ways we’ve tried to make our family’s giving feel real is by supporting several children through Compassion International. We know the names of the children, we have their pictures, and we exchange letters with them. One evening over dinner, we talked about Aziz, a young boy from Burkina Faso. We sent him some extra money for his birthday, and he sent us a picture in response, showing the extra rice and soap he bought for his family with the money.

The next morning, Jonathan, who was about six at the time, wandered into the kitchen rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Being the loving father that I am, I hit him with a pop quiz about money: “Hey, Jonathan, do you remember the three things you can do with money?” He thought about it for a minute as he stretched his way through a big yawn and said, “You can spend it, you can save it, and, ah . . . you can give it to Aziz.” I loved his answer!

As I talk with other parents about how they’ve taught their kids about generosity, I hear again and again about the importance of getting kids involved with generosity as early as possible, even if that means giving just ten cents a week. It’s also very important for our kids to see us giving regularly and hear us talking about it. 

I heard about the importance of cultivating a bigger- picture view of others- centered living that is expressed in ways that go beyond giving money. For Dick and Sibyl, that meant having their boys share a bedroom, encouraging their kids to have something to contribute to the conversation at the dinner table, teaching them how to warmly welcome visitors into their home, having them participate in writing sympathy and get-well cards, and more. 

Not far from where they raised their family in Cincinnati, there was a bus stop that served a poor community. When Dick and his sons noticed that the grass by the bus stop tended to get very overgrown and the area around it was littered with trash, they adopted the bus stop, regularly cutting the grass and picking up the trash. 

“Yes, we taught the whole ‘give some, save some, spend the rest’ sort of thing,” Dick said, “but I think the more important lessons were in how we lived.” 

That’s a philosophy Keith and Cag were also intentional about living out when raising their four children: “I think they grew up seeing that it’s important to have people in your home and to cook meals for people when they’re sick,” Cag said. “It’s that sort of thing, regular acts of generosity, bit by little bit. They see that, and it becomes part of who they are.”

It takes teaching our kids by word and deed about biblical generosity. Yes, let’s teach them about firstfruits giving, about proportionate giving, and about tithes and offerings. But let’s make sure they don’t grow up thinking of generosity as a bill to be paid or a box to be checked. Let’s raise our kids to live others- centered lives. Let’s foster within them hearts that break for the world’s great needs. And let’s equip them to boldly and bravely partner with Jesus in helping meet those needs, whether that means serving in a third-world country thousands of miles away or joining the kid who’s sitting all alone in the school cafeteria. An others-focused perspective will infuse their lives with great meaning and joy, and it will enrich their relationship with Jesus and others as nothing else can. 

If your kids are very young, teaching them to put ten cents of every dollar into the giving slot of their piggy bank may seem like a small thing. However, the exponential returns God can generate through a life lived generously will go on and on, impacting your children’s lives—and the lives of others they touch with their compassion—in countless good ways.

Taken from Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management by Matt Bell. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Focus On the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Matt Bell

Matt Bell is Managing Editor at Sound Mind Investing, a Christian company that helps people invest well and grow as stewards of God’s resources. Bell is the author of five personal finance books and the Matt About Money blog. He has been interviewed by U.S. News & World Report, WGN-TV, Chris Fabry Live, MoneyWise Live, and many other outlets. Bell, who earned a master’s degree from DePaul University, offers video training on biblical money management through Right Now Media. He has spoken at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the U.S. His unintentional reenactment of the Bible’s parable of the prodigal son completely changed his life, opened his eyes to a whole new way of managing money, and gave him a passion to help others manage money well. Matt lives with his wife, Jude, and their three children near Louisville.

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