How do you live generously? Is it by writing a check to your church or favorite cause or making a double batch of cookies and dropping off half at the neighbor’s house?
Maybe you’re helping sort and distribute food at the local food pantry, welcoming newcomers to your home, church or community, or offering a sympathetic ear to a friend going through a hard time.
While these all look very different, they all are ways of being generous. Through research conducted with Barna,* Thrivent identified five primary ways people tend to express generosity:
1. Monetary support
4. Emotional/relational support
We call these The Generosity Expressions® and they can be categorized into two groups: giving of things and giving of self.
“Not everyone thinks about generosity in the same way, nor do we usually express it in just one way,” says Jan Engkasser, director of Member Engagement Strategies at Thrivent. “How it shows up in your life will be different from your neighbor. And that’s a good thing. Imagine how ill-equipped we’d be to make a difference if we all served in the same way.”
A 2022 survey conducted for Thrivent by Barna** found that respondents in the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations primarily associated financial giving with generosity. Millennials most strongly associated it with gifts, and Gen Z respondents commonly thought of generosity as emotional/relational support.
“It doesn’t mean they aren’t being generous,” Engkasser says. “They’re just expressing it in different ways. Older generations are often in their economic prime and have the financial resources to give. The younger generations may be paying off student loans, raising a family and paying a mortgage.”
Some expressions of generosity are more evident than others, Engkasser says, and you may miss seeing the good others are doing. It’s also important to realize that while one or two generosity expressions may come more naturally to you, he says, we really should be living out all the generosity expressions in some way.
“Even though it may be easier to give money or to show hospitality, for example, we all are called to give, serve, welcome and show mercy,” he says.
Find out how these clients are expressing generosity:
Jonathan and Natasha Alexander, Fresno, Texas Shelly Halverson, Amelia Island, Florida Amy Bullis, Brandon, South Dakota
An open door & open hearts
The door is always open at Jonathan and Natasha Alexander’s home in Fresno, Texas, and the technology is turned on, too. “Our heart is to serve, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in people’s lives,” says Jonathan.
For the Alexanders, that means inviting groups into their home for small group teaching and fellowship, or offering a safe place for someone going through a hard time. While mostly in person, these connections also could be via Zoom or a chatroom.
Jonathan, a branch manager for an engineering office in Houston, leads a men’s group that meets once a month and sometimes more. They get into some deep conversations as they figure out life together. He’s also started mentoring young men, listening and sharing life experiences with them.
“I’m just in awe of the relationships that we build, and how we can be transparent with one another,” he says. “It’s a humbling experience.”
The couple also monetarily supports their church, River Pointe Church, as well as sponsoring children through OneChild and ChildFund. And they do hands-on volunteering at the food bank, which provides for the homeless, children and families in need. Jonathan and Natasha are open to serving any other need they feel God is calling them to do.
“I have a student loan, so we may not be able to give 100% monetarily,” Natasha says. “But we’ve asked God to allow our lives and our marriage to be a reflection of what he wants us to be, so if there’s a need, we’ll find a way to help.”
Natasha is a lead project manager for a health care system and a university professor teaching project management and business. She published a memoir called What’s Your Sacrifice? She leads a mentorship program primarily for women, and more than a year ago, she and Jonathan started a group called Sacrificial Hearts.
“We are about 20 people strong and do community service however and whenever God says. We’re not limited to location,” Natasha says. For example, earlier this year the group packed 300 bags of essentials for people experiencing homelessness.
“We strive to do what God calls us to do,” she says. “He makes room and the time for it.”
Planning for the end of one's life
Shelly Halverson recently moved from Minnesota to Amelia Island, Florida, so she’s making some adjustments in how and where she volunteers as she learns the needs in her new community. But there’s one passion that has no state borders for Halverson—helping people prepare for the end of life.
As a certified celebrant with a specialty in grief, it’s her ministry to walk alongside those who are nearing death and their family members. Just in the past few years, she has walked alongside 14 family members and friends who have died.
“I believe every life should be valued and celebrated,” Halverson says. “Not everyone has a church home or a connection to a pastor. This is my ministry.”
If was after Halverson served as executor for three different family members that she saw a need to help others. Even though each had done great planning, she still encountered some surprises along the way.
“We plan for everything in our life. We plan for weddings, children, buying a house, vacations, retirement,” she says. “But few plan for death, and it’s the one thing we all are guaranteed.”
She set out to change that with a binder and workshop called A Lifetime Gift. The binder includes a checklist and tools to help people leave a guide behind for their families. And it’s not just about wills, powers of attorney and trusts. “I talk about the other things you know in your head but no one else knows,” she says.
“It’s hard to walk in a room when people have just suffered a loss and are trying to figure out how to make sense of it all. I’m just honored to be with them on the journey if that’s the support they need.”
Discovering new ways to be generous
Amy Bullis always loved doing hands-on volunteering at her church and at local food kitchens. A chemist by trade, the Thrivent client from Brandon, South Dakota, also volunteered at a care clinic.
But four years ago, Bullis was diagnosed with a painful autoimmune disorder that limited the use of her hands. She had to leave her job, and she found she couldn’t volunteer in the same ways either. And then the pandemic hit.
“I felt so guilty that I wasn’t on the front lines working with my peers,” she says. “I had these skills that I was no longer physically able to use.”
Bullis hadn’t sewn for years, but she started making masks. It was something she could do. She applied for a
Her projects over the years have grown to include winter hats, blankets and dishcloths, among others. “I loom knit, that is, using a knitting loom since I can’t hold the needles anymore,” she says.
Bullis joined a national group called Crafting Change, and she crafts with others through Zoom. She connected with a local group to make pillowcases and tote bags for children in foster care. The pillowcases can be used to carry the few belongings the children may have when they move, she says.
“My giving has gone from more hands-on and physical work to things I can do at home,” she says. “I always have worked full-time and volunteered. It’s been important for me to go home at the end of the day and know I made a difference in someone’s life. I can still do that.”
Bullis wanted to become a full-time volunteer when she retired; she just started early. “I believe in the mission of Matthew 25. I believe that is how we are supposed to live. Not being able to work and having limited funds, I’m grateful that Thrivent Action Teams have allowed me to be able to do what I can to continue to serve my community and others.”
Thrivent launches new generosity workshop
Thrivent launched a new workshop, The Generosity Story: A New Page in Christian Giving. It’s for pastors and church leaders to learn about the culture of generosity at work in local churches. Church leaders can email
How Thrivent can help
Thrivent has a variety of resources that can help you live generously.